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Memories in indelible ink

Filling a newly bought fountain pen with ink, I instinctively pulled the ink pot close to my face to see how it smelled. A distinct metallic flavour hit me, with a tinge of nostalgia similar to what yellowing old letters evoke. But most of all, the aroma was true "royal blue" that the label called it out to be, and a welcome change from the hand sanitisers that tantalise you with scents of alcohol that you can touch but cannot consume!

They say fragrances can bring back memories, but I least expected an unimpressive ink pot to take me back in time.

When I was first allowed to use a pen, ink could be your best friend and most formidable enemy at once — leave a pen’s cap off and you would be left with stained clothes. Or put a fountain pen in your mouth while struggling with a particularly perplexing maths problem, and you were left with more than one "blue tooth".

And yet, the ink pen was the very first pen that any of us was ever allowed to use at school. I still remember spending a princely sum of money buying my first Hero pen as was my family’s tradition, and then spending considerable time and effort understanding how to refill it.

I wrapped my first pot of ink in multiple plastic sheets before putting it in my school bag, having been warned of the consequences of a leaking ink pot by my mother. But holding that pen and finally being allowed to use ink for the first time thrilled all of us, and I made several failed attempts to improve my handwriting. And then came the sense of achievement when I found ways to add more ink to the pen than my friends could; such were the simple joys of those pre-teen days.

In many ways, the transition to ink pens from pencils was the school’s way of welcoming us to the real world — a bunch of pre-teens who had just entered the much hallowed fifth standard. We were the senior-most students on the junior side of the school, even if we couldn’t knot a neck tie. It didn’t matter, because we were finally allowed to write exams and pretend to solve maths problems with ink, which with hindsight, was the first time we were made aware of the consequences of our actions. No erasers would come to the rescue, and the shortest moment of carelessness would be punished with messy clothes and notebooks, and stern scoldings by teachers and parents. But the most humiliating part was facing the class and acknowledging that you didn’t know how to use an ink pen, a corollary of which was that you were not mature enough to be a pre-teen.

Today, I can type away on a keyboard at an extremely envious typing speed. But typing isn’t the same as writing, and the feeling of actually "penning" my words on paper eludes me. Modern technology and cheap manufacturing have taken ink pens out of fashion. But simply holding one in the hand, gives the mere act of scribbling even gibberish a very regal aura, and I still spend a lot of time going through the latest fountain pens.

The pen is often said to be mightier than the sword, though one wonders how true that is in the Internet age. But the ink pen shall always be mightier than the keyboard! Few could put it better than Lord Byron: "A drop of ink may make a million think." For me, ink shall continue to be the medium through which my soul jumps in joy and bleeds in pain.

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Printable version | Nov 30, 2020 5:01:06 AM |

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