Sanay Shah starts talking about the importance of picking a pen to suit one’s writing, before he pauses. “If people write anymore…they probably type,” he says, half wandering aloud. The student from Mumbai, who now studies in Pune, has been using pens for as long as he can remember.
It is somewhat of an unusual interest. After, all this is an age where fountain pens often remain limited to the stationery kits of primary school while use-and-throw pens struggle to hold their own as the world goes paperless. Sanay is one among a declining number of the fountain pen enthusiasts, but he does more than just write with them
A few years ago, Sanay took it upon himself to start making fountain pens and promoting the cause of indigenous fountain pens.
One of his primary motives was to find a means of bringing desi fountain pens into the spotlight. He says, “If you Google fountain pens, you will get brands like Lamy, Parker and Sheaffer, among others. These are great brands, and some of their basic pens are affordable. But the good ones are prohibitively expensive.”
On the other hand, Indian pen companies are on the wane. With declining markets, many are shutting down and the rest are struggling to stay afloat. In most cases, only older pen makers are involved in the business.
Taking inspiration from the unique pens owned by several of his family members—each owners of breathtaking pens—he began to research and read up on the subject. His research took him around the country, from hole-in-the-wall shops in Pune to manufacturers in Rajamundhry. His journey and research makes him privy to both the appeal and problems of indigenous pen manufacturers.
“It is a dwindling business and the pen makers are very archaic in their process,” he says. “When I bought my first gold nib pen from Ratnam pens (based in Rajamundhry), I had to send them a demand draft as payment. Online banking is a long way off. Indian manufacturers can do a much better job of marketing and selling their products.”
Even as he found manufacturers around him shut shop, he began putting the plans and processes for his own venture.
Sanay named his venture The Penman Co. and began making his own pens, receiving orders via his social media pages, email and phone, around 2013.
He has a soft spot for wooden pens, adding that they are remarkably rare but very beautiful. In comparison to conventional manufacturers, he emphasized on finding quality materials—from special nibs to acrylic rods. The wooden pens are finished with a soaking in walnut or almond oil, and Sanay also tries to make sure that his pens make up for some of the obvious defects in Indian pens.
He says, “Indian fountain pens have their own charm, but they also tend to have traditional and sometimes substandard parts. For instance, most Indian fountain pens have low-quality nibs. I prefer a German screwing unit for the nibs in my pens.”
Sanay’s painstaking processes make Penman Co pens no less than a collectible. He admits that while his prices are lower than foreign-made premium pens, they are significantly higher than regular fountain pens.
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In his final year of college, Sanay has taken a break from making pens himself and instead helps people find the right fountain pens from various sources. “Some of the best pen makers are around South India,” he says, citing examples like Kim & Co in Calicut; Ratnam Pens; Ranga Pens and Gem & Co in Chennai; Deccan Pens in Abids, Hyderabad; Airmail Pen Company (with whom he has previously collaborated) and stores in Mumbai’s Fort area and Delhi’s vintage sellers.
Sanay rues that pen makers around the country are gradually shutting shop. His go-to shop in Pune, Kale Pens recently shut shop and the pen maker at Kim& Co was 80 when they last met. Though studies and career pursuits are keeping him busy, Sanay dedicates himself to reading up about pens and staying informed.
He hopes to return to pen making in the future, but in the meantime he’s happy to do his part in encouraging people to use fountain pens and promote Indian businesses.
Sanay’s guide to buying the perfect fountain pen
- The pen’s external appearance is a personal choice. Choose your pen based on whether you like it loud, colourful or black.
- It is most important to hold the pen and pick one that suits the size and dimensions of your hand.
- The nib is the heart of the pen. There are a variety of nibs, and the right one can do wonders for your handwriting
- Not everyone likes their pens to be smooth. If you belong to that gang, look for some feedback in the nib to control your writing.
- The filling mechanism is important too. Most traditional Indian companies use the eyedropper mechanism, but that’s a little wobbly. Modern pens come with convertors or other mechanism.
- Finally, the cost is important. While basic fountain pens cost around ₹150-200, a good quality Indian fountain pen cost anything between ₹500-1500. The better the quality and craftsmanship, the greater the cost.