Chennai’s love affair with fountain pens: Why the city hosted two hit pen shows

Watch | Chennai’s love affair with fountain pens: Why the city hosted two hit pen shows
| Video Credit: Thamodharan B

Chennai’s legendary love for fountain pens continues unabated as two pen shows welcome collectors, manufacturers and retailers in hoardes.

March 13, 2024 02:22 pm | Updated March 14, 2024 07:51 am IST

“Did you see the pens in the other corner? I think we should tackle this exhibition by corners to get all the information,” says an excited grandfather to his teenage granddaughter at Chennai’s first-ever pen show at the Makoba store in Nungambakkam. The granddaughter walks to her mother and hands her a bag to hold. The duo takes slow, quiet steps losing themselves in the technicolour world of Ranga Pens, a Chennai-based brand. These are only a few of the 2,000 pens on display, ranging from ₹2,000 to ₹45 lakh. Three generations peruse the pen store, indulging in a collector’s fantasy of one day owning them all.  

A week later, a young woman in a crisp pair of scrubs walks into Fika, Adyar, with a definitive goal. She is among a sizeable number of doctors who are on a hunt for that perfect nib which may write their prescriptions later. Chennai’s second consecutive pen show has opened to enthusiastic crowds, and the sheer number of people crowding each of the 30-plus stalls is no deterrent, as she sifts through Sheaffers and Mont Blancs, past exquisite variants, some of which even cost ₹3 lakh.

Ranga Pens at Chennai Pen Show

Ranga Pens at Chennai Pen Show | Photo Credit: Thamodharan B

Home to retailers, manufacturers and collectors alike, Chennai is not alien to fountain pens. So much so that the city was host to two pen shows within a week. Now, contrary to popular belief that penmanship is steadily fading, a new-found penchant for writing and a liking towards all things handmade steered by the pandemic, have given birth to a new crop of pen collectors and enthusiasts. 

ASA Pens at Chennai Pen Show

ASA Pens at Chennai Pen Show | Photo Credit: Thamodharan B

Nitesh Jain, director, Makoba, says that using fountain pens is an act of patience, a discipline even. The maintenance of the pen, the control that one exerts over the nib all come into play here, he says. “One can’t write as fast as they’d like while using a fountain pen. The writing instrument dictates the speed, allowing you to think before writing a word,” he says. 

Most retailers hail Chennai as one of their preferred customer bases. “I have so many regular customers from Chennai. The main reason why I am here is to meet them in person!,” says Rajesh Pillai of Pune-based The Ink And Pen, one of the exhibitors at Chennai Pen Show, held at Fika.

The show estimates a footfall of 8,000 to 10,000 with collectors coming in from cities like Bengaluru and Kolkata. Naturally, stalls by ASA Pens and Ranga Pens were populated throughout the three days, says Aditya Bhansali, organiser of the Chennai Pen Show. The Pelikan 40th Anniversary limited-edition pen worth 2.15 lakh, is the most expensive buy at this show.

“A standard question that collectors hear is, ‘who uses fountain pens anymore?’ After seeing the number of people who came in, pen enthusiasts were extremely happy that the community is coming together,” Aditya says.

The Montegrappa Gladiator at the Makoba Pen Show

The Montegrappa Gladiator at the Makoba Pen Show | Photo Credit: Thamodharan B

Rare picks
The Montegrappa Gladiator: This pen modelled on the fighters of Ancient Rome arrives all the way from Italy and comes with a stunning display and casing of precious metals. It costs ₹19 lakh. 
‘Kalaignar Pens’ by ASA Pens, Chennai: This range of pens was modelled after the fountain pen used by former Chief Minister M Karunanidhi. The pen could hold more ink than a regular fountain pen, making it ideal for an avid writer. Priced at ₹850.
The Montegrappa Automobili Lamborghini 60°: This limited-edition fountain pen is inspired by the iconic Lamborghini Aventador and looks to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the luxury sports car manufacturer. It is only sold as a set of six, costing ₹45 lakh
Music nibs, Kanwrite: Used specifically to write musical notations. The nib, designed with two holes and two lines, make thicker strokes upon more pressure. 
The Montegrappa Dante Alighieri Paradiso: This pen comes in sterling silver and 18 carat gold.  Priced at ₹6.92 lakh.
The Montegrappa Dante Alighieri Paradiso at Makoba Pen Show

The Montegrappa Dante Alighieri Paradiso at Makoba Pen Show | Photo Credit: Thamodharan B

No looking back

“Why do I collect? It simply gives me a strange sense of satisfaction and happiness. The way the ink rises on the paper gives you a special kind of high,” says Dr Vijay Shanmugam G, a neurologist in his forties and avid collector who is famously guilty of ‘pen-abling’ many of his peers and friends. His initiation into this world happened as a medical intern. He refuses to reveal the number of pens in his collection, but hints that it has everything from different vintages to Japanese Namikis. 

On the other hand, retired industrialist Bimal Desai’s obsessive fascination for colour is what led him to printing inks and subsequently, pens. He whips out a yellowing notebook filled with pages of slogans — all written with inks of different colours — from the standard royal blue to a flamboyant fluorescent pink. “I now have pens worth ₹10 to ₹15 lakhs in my collection.” The smooth glide of the nib is what Desai looks for in a good pen, even when it is a collectible.     

Mathew Mathew, a 56-year-old human resources professional in the city has been collecting a variety of pens for many years and says that he has never left his home without one. In this day and age when screens have virtual sticky notes and online Google calendars, this collector relies on his writing instrument to plan his day. “It is how most things register,” he says. 

Mathew has been chasing a pen from the Montblanc-Meisterstück Around the World in 80 Days series. The website says that the pen is a nod to author Jules Verne’s protagonist Phileas Fogg, who is assisted by technology to travel the world. Mathew has made his booking for the same at the Makoba show. Besides this though, he is also an enthusiast of Sailor, Ferrari, Sheaffer and Parker pens. 

Magna Carta at Chennai Pen Show

Magna Carta at Chennai Pen Show | Photo Credit: Thamodharan B

A common, heartwarming sight at the Chennai Pen Show was that of collectors gifting pens to novices in an attempt to initiate them into the hobby. 

Aditya believes that this interest is more than just a time-specific, transient trend. “A majority of the people who came in are seasoned users of fountain pens. They will keep coming back. We were also overwhelmed by the number of children who came in, encouraged by their parents who picked up pens worth ₹2,000 to ₹3,000. I couldn’t have imagined doing that as a child.”  

In a fair-like fashion, the event was not just restricted to pens. Inks of different colours, neatly arranged to catch the aesthete’s eye, were a hit among those who journal, apart from artists. A Chennai student-duo’s 3D-printed pens, which were prototyped only a week before the show, grabbed many eyeballs. 

Such variants speak for how penmanship is evolving, making it a more accessible hobby. And, “Once you pick up a fountain pen, there’s no looking back,” assures Desai with a wide grin. 

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