from small beginningsClockwise from the left: The Deccan Pen Stores at Abids, Halim Siddiqui, The Deccan pens pens range, Limited edition pens from Conway Stewart. Below: a 1932 photograph of the store, a 1924 Urdu poster for Duro Pens, FrancePHOTOs: G. RAMAKRISHNA

    Penning their story | The HinduExcerpt:

Cityscape With an 85-year-old legacy, The Deccan Pen Stores in Abids is the oldest pen shop in the city.

     ………………….Walking into the new branch at Greenlands, you notice fading black and white posters hanging on the right wall of the store, giving visitors a taste of their 85-year old history. After a few years of selling fountain pens door-to-door, Siddiqui set up his first shop in Abids in 1928. “During that time, Abids had F.D. Khan Cloth stores, a library and our shop,” recalls Halim. “This picture was taken in 1932 when we got our first English speaking salesman, all the way from Bombay,” he says, as his eye travels to the old poster.

…………“He would design them and send them to Europe for manufacture with the Deccan brand name.” Today, The Deccan Pen Stores has a 30-year old manufacturing unit and makes their own pens. “But we make only fountain pens,” Halim reminds us, “because we personally recommend that anyone who enjoys writing must do so with a fountain pen.”

However, the most important facet of the store, according to Halim is the pen repairing section. “It is the backbone of our business,” he reiterates. “In the Thirties my father travelled to Europe and brought back many tools and repairing tables which serve us till date. My eldest brother who sits at Abids shop, gets pens worth Lakhs of rupees from all over the globe for repair,” he points out. Halim himself recently repaired a 1903 model Waterman pen which came all the way from France. Like his brothers, he learnt the craft of pen making and repairing by simply dismantling pens and putting them back together.

Why sell pens in a time when people are writing less and less? Although the value of pens as writing instruments has gone down, people still collect and gift pens, Halim tells us.

“These days the customer knows more about the pen than I do because they have looked it up on the internet,” he concludes.

The Swadeshi connection

Andhra Pradesh holds a special place in the history of fountain pens in India. Not too far away from Hyderabad, in Rajahmundry, pen maker K.V. Ratnam, made what came to be known as the ‘Swadeshi’ pens. They were called so because when Gandhiji gave a call to boycott foreign goods in 1921 he called Ratnam and advised him to make pens that would be useful and affordable to the common man.

Ratnam then made an ebonite pen and sent it back to Gandhi who wrote back on July 16, 1935 saying “Dear Ratnam, I must thank you for the fountain pen you sent me… I have needed it and [it] seems to be a good substitute to the foreign pen, once in the bazaar. Yours sincerely, M.K. Gandhi.”

Ratnam pens have since gained popularity all over the country with dignitaries like Rajendra Prasad, Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, V. V. Giri, S. Kasturi Iyengar of The Hindu , Archibald Nye, Governor of Madras and Gandhi himself were all said to have owned one. One of the first pens he made was sold to Nyapthi Subba Rao Pantulu, a freedom fighter and one of the founders of The Hindu . The Ratnam family continues to make high quality pens out of their home in Rajahmundry.

A date with pens

1702: The oldest surviving fountain pen was made by M. Bion, the chief instrument maker of the Kind of France.

1819: John Scheffer made significant advancements which enabled the user to control the flow of ink by pressing a button

1832: John Jacob Parker made the first self-filling fountain pen. Until this, pens were filled using funnels or eye-droppers

1884: Lewis Waterman receives a patent for making the first fountain pen which was truly reliable and leak proof