You are restless. You are unable to focus your mind at one thing at a time. You are in the middle of a lecture on how the Planning Commission of India determines poverty lines. You try listening to the theory intently. You make notes on your register. You are writing with your blue ball point pen. You’re doodling your name on it. You draw the picture of a tiny heart and colour it blue. You don’t like the look of it. There’s something weirdly fake about that picture. And that ink. It’s fake. There isn’t any ink on your hand. There isn’t any ink on the back of the paper. There is no smearing and smudging either. Is the paper lying? Or is it the ink?
You tear the paper and crush it away. You feel restless again. You muse about the silent death of the fountain pen. You scold yourself for bringing in that thought. You then wonder about the ink pot that seemed to have gotten lost in oblivion. You contemplate about the nib of the fountain pen. You get goosebumps as you think of red ink. Red ink spread all over white paper. Oh, the chill! You imagine the sight of your hand with ink spots on it. The satisfaction of seeing that. As if each stain told a different tale of your accomplishment.
You wonder whatever happened to the fountain pen. You realize you don’t own one anymore. You realize you don’t even have an ink pot at home. You make a mental note of going to the nearby stationery store to buy them both as soon as this lecture is over. The professor is still critiquing the poverty line. You doodle your lover’s name this time. In Blue ball point ink. Blah! Fake again. You promise yourself to buy a fountain pen as soon as you can.
The lecture is over. You heave a sigh of relief. You check your wallet. The single 100 rupee note gives you immense satisfaction. You know you can easily buy the pen and the ink with that amount of money and still have some to spare. You silently smile at the realization that the “real” things in life aren’t really pricey. You head to the stationery shop and demand a fountain pen with much confidence. Your poise is hit by the shopkeeper’s mockery and laughter. He asks which era do you live in. You don’t understand. He explains that they no longer sell fountain pens because no one really uses them anymore. You are too shocked to respond. It takes a while for you to get over this. You shoot him an indignant look and ask him where might you find it. As if it’s a lost key from the museum of innocence. He shakes his head with nonchalance.
You are disappointed. Your hundred rupee note is staring at you. You head to the nearest mall that boasts of a fancy stationery shop that sells fancy paper bags and notebooks made of hand-made paper. You can smell the pages of new books from this bookshop cum stationery store. Your hundred rupee note suddenly turns shy inside. It feels too left out and puny in a land where everything is priced at a higher rate. You quickly crumple the note and hide it in your pocket and head to the ‘pens’ section. Pierre Cardin and Parker glare at you. You glare right back at them. You approach the sales guy there and humbly demand a fountain pen. He hands you a Parker.
Parker smiles in amusement in your hand. Amused at you holding him. Like someone just gave a chiffon sari to the woman who never betrayed Bengal cotton. You hold it for a while and examine its nib, only to realize it doesn’t have one. You protest and state that this isn’t really a fountain pen if it doesn’t come with a nib. The sales guy explains the “new” system of cartridges to you. Your expression turns into a question mark. You are too ashamed to ask for an ink pot after having listened to someone explaining the technology that erased the existence and prevalence of the poor pot.
You look around some more. You finally spot one wrapped in fancy paper. It’s Pierre Cardin and the box reads ‘Fountain Pen Black’. And you had high hopes of smearing the paper with red ink today. You surrender at the circumstance and decide to go black instead. You pick up the box to check the MRP. It screams rupees three hundred and sixty-five. You can’t believe your eyes. You are surprised at your own naivety and ignorance about prices and values of things in the world you inhabit. The sales boy now gives you a suspicious look. You seem to have just established how much you do not “belong” here. You walk away slowly thoroughly dejected.
It’s been a week. You’re again sitting in the middle of a lecture. Your thoughts meander as the professor explains theology. You are not taking down notes. You frown at your ball point pen and write ‘nonsense’ with it on your notebook. Your classmate sees that and chuckles. She isn’t taking down notes either. When the professor turns to the blackboard, she looks at you with an unforgettable spark in her eye. She reaches inside her bag and digs out a thick, white-coloured pen. Your heart skips a bit. Is it…? Yes, she says. My uncle who lives in France gifted me this yesterday, she says. You open the cap with much anticipation. You spot the nib and moan in delight. There it was. Looking at you with so much admiration. Like the lost cat that finally found its way back home.
Holding your breath, you pull out a plain blank paper to write something on it. Before doing that, you press your finger against the nib for just a second and it screams red all over your fingertips. You start breathing heavily. You doodle an odd-shaped heart on the paper. The red ink spreads and smudges the back of the sheet. You collapse in pleasure.