The man who re-wrote his future with a fountain pen

L. Subramaniam’s products are popular among connoisseurs because they are affordable and sturdy.

Updated - July 26, 2020 12:29 am IST

Published - July 25, 2020 05:58 pm IST - Kolkata

L. Subramaniam of ASA Pens.

L. Subramaniam of ASA Pens.

L. Subramaniam — who was born in Kolkata and spent much of his life in the city before relocating to Chennai — says that at the age of 41, he quit his corporate career of nearly two decades to start his own venture.

Nothing unusual about that, you may think, until he tells you the nature of his business: in an age when one can do without a pen, he began manufacturing fountain pens.

India has its share of people still making fountain pens, their names more familiar to connoisseurs abroad than at home, but most of them have inherited their businesses, whereas Mr. Subramaniam, now 48, had to start from scratch. Today he has sold his own brand of handmade ebonite fountain pens — named ASA — in 70-plus countries.

Also Read | Kolkata woman makes for a rare collector of fountain pens

It all began with a scratchy Parker 45 that he bought as a 13-year-old from a scrap vendor in Kolkata. “My maternal grandfather moved to Calcutta in the early 1950s and my father relocated to the city a decade later. I grew up in the Lake Market area. The Parker 45 I bought from the scrap vendor had a broken barrel. I was looking for a replacement when a pen seller gave me an idea. He said a replica can be made in ebonite. This excited me and I accompanied him to the place where these pens were turned in lathe. This episode kindled my interest,” Mr. Subramaniam told The Hindu .

Mr. Subramaniam, when he grew up to enter the corporate world, joined an industry that was largely responsible for the death of the usage of pens. In 1995, he joined telecom service provider Modi Telstra (later acquired by Airtel). “I was part of the team which launched India’s first cellular services — and it was in Calcutta. I later moved to Hutch and then had a short stint with Amway India,” he recalled.

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“In 2000, I got married. My wife was born and raised in Chennai. In 2004, when I got an opportunity to rejoin Hutch in Chennai at a senior level, I decided to move as it was a great career opportunity and as my in-laws were already there. It was in 2012 that I had attended a workshop held by my mentor, Udayakumar Goplakrishnan, and that gave me a whole new perspective. It helped me recalibrate my career, to link my passion with my work,” he said.

One reason why ASA pens — the name derives from the first letters of Anand (his nickname), Shruti (his daughter) and Aparnaa (his wife) — are popular among connoisseurs is that they are affordable and sturdy. Ebonite is hard rubber, and it can not only be easily shaped and hand-turned but is also resistant to even highly alkaline and acidic inks.

Also Read | Lamy and the return of the fountain pen

“The designs are conceived at my facility in Chennai, while the basic shells are made at my workshop in Tiruchirapalli. The pens are then assembled, finished and tested by me in Chennai. We are a six-member team, with a pen-maker and two associates in my workshop and two more people in Chennai. My wife helps me with the business aspect,” Mr. Subramaniam said.

He claimed two firsts to his credit: that he was the first pen-maker to move online — that’s how he sells his pens — and that his were the first made-in-India handmade pens to have the option of being fitted with a piston or a cartridge.

“I always tell my customers one thing — that my pen will outlive them,” Mr. Subramaniam said with a touch of pride.

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