The fountain pen ‘magician’ who once fixed Satyajit Ray’s pens has been working there for 40 years
Dilip Basak from Kolkata carefully removes the nib from a mixture of detergent, water and a protected ingredient after soaking it for more than eight hours. As soon as he puts the nib back on the fountain pen and dips it into a blue inkwell, his words begin to flow onto the paper.
“It’s now as smooth as butter on a hot pan,” he sighs with relief in an interview with The Better India. He adds that the pen costs more than Rs 1 lakh. The fountain pen he had been working on for 15 days is the high-end Mont Blanc Meisterstuck Solitaire Calligraphy Gold Leaf.
Located in the narrow lanes of Kolkata’s Devendra Ghosh Street in Bhabanipur, Dilip’s rectangular store, Electromech Vintage Fountain Pen Repair, is one of the few in India that can breathe new life into fountain pens.
Fountain pens, one of the most prized and revered possessions of the new generation, were once used universally to write important legal documents, school assignments, poems, secrets and the list goes on.
It was Dilip’s father, Bholanath Prasad, who opened this store just before the 1975 emergency was imposed after a nearby store owner rejected his job application.
“My father had never studied at school and to support his four children, he accepted odd jobs. Fed up with all the rejections, he decided to create his own thing and that’s where he got the idea of fixing broken pens. At the time, the use and demand for such pens was very high. He never imagined that one day the pens that once helped him put food on the table would be replaced by plastic pens, and later the art of writing on paper would be rendered superfluous with the advent of computers and laptops,” says Dilip, who is now in his 50s.
Addiction to pens
If Bholanath opened his shop in desperation to feed his large family, Dilip joined him for the love of pens.
Financial difficulties soon caught up with Dilip’s education and he was asked to drop out of school. For a few weeks he followed his father and carefully observed all aspects of repairing a pen.
However, when his father was finally able to support his tuition, Dilip turned down the prospect of studying and instead decided to delve into the world of pen anatomy at the age of 13.
Leaving school for a job that didn’t generate as much income as a college graduate wouldn’t have been an easy decision, especially since Bholanath worked around the clock to provide a better future for his children.
“I vividly remember my dad’s words on my first day at work after the school episode. He said he could only get me on the tracks, but moving the train would be entirely my responsibility. He said I had to be the best repairman in town if I wanted to make a decent living He also added how vital it is to treat every pen with respect as it could continue to write history, in many ways respects,” he adds.
The first pen he repaired was a Parker which was priced around Rs 4 and he only charged Re 1. Other pen brands he has worked with include Pilot, Waterman and Swiss Military.
He says it wasn’t that hard to repair fountain pens until the 90s.
“As there were many fountain pen manufacturing units, it was easy to find missing or broken parts of the pen. Even in terms of customers, our store would still be crowded and filled with who’s who pens. I have fixed feathers from Satyajit Ray, Jyoti Basu, High Court Judges and even some members of the Raj Bhavan. Their pens were brought to me by their staff and on some occasions they visited the shop themselves. My fondest memory was sipping chai and discussing politics with former Lok Sabha speaker Somnath Chatterjee,” says Dilip.
Dilip shares the satisfaction of seeing the joy on the faces of customers and fountain pen enthusiasts after their pen starts working properly.
In recent years, he has seen the emergence of a trend towards the preservation and collection of fountain pens. Every pen, he says, has a story to tell.
“Some customers inherit the pen from their ancestors so it has great sentimental value and their only hope is that the pen will work properly without smudges. Some buy it at auction or online at high prices and some just want to relive the nostalgia So when I’m handling pens, I’m extremely careful when using my Antediluvian Trick and I use it like my life depends on it,” says Dilip.
Madhumita Chowdhury, one of his clients, says: “My maternal grandfather gave me his most expensive fountain pen on my birthday a few years ago, but it stopped working. I discovered Dilip’s work via Facebook. I handed him the pen hopelessly but after a few days it was fixed. He really worked like a magician.
Dilip doesn’t know how many pens he has repaired in his career spanning four decades, but on average he repairs four to five pieces a day.
Although he is widely known in the circles of collectors, pen connoisseurs and old-school writers, his earnings are not as high as his classmates who went on to work in big corporations. But he says it’s enough to support his family and finance the studies of his daughter, who is currently doing her honors in chemistry.
You can join it here