It is ridiculous to see the number of pens in my house, standing in colorful clusters here and there and of course scattered everywhere. But pick up one to write when you need to note down that telephone number or address urgently and they will all go virginal and frigid and refuse to flow — classic case of “ink, ink everywhere, not a drop to use”. Ironically, I can never learn the colour of my pens by their inks but only by their caps (this subject to them wearing their respective hats). Sometimes I feel it is my stubborn writers’ block that has transmogrified into pens around my house. They simply cannot write though they are writing instruments, just as I am a writer without being able to write. The pens in my household, I hate to say, are more sheaths than mighty swords.I primarily think it is “problem of plenty”. What the hell, when I was growing up, there would be just one pen in the entire household, which would be enshrined either upon a high shelf or inside the out-of-reach shirt pocket. One pen, one bottle of Bril ink and one filler palmed off from some ear drops bottle. Nobody but nobody was permitted to touch that pen, lest the slant of your hand and your unique pressure of pen on paper changed the nib’s personality. Each one tweaked and regulated his pen into an amiability that suited his right-left slant and thick-thin writing preference. The pen was as personal as that once upon a time. Only best friends could share globs of ink and pen.If ever you were given the task of filling the pen with ink, it was a task worthy of filling your entire Sunday morning with and in a manner that would put Tom Sawyer to shame. I remember extracting bribes from my cousins for each go at pressing the filler’s head. Fifteen ml of ink filling was worth three gooseberries, 10 extra turns at the swing, three not-out chances (cricket gaajis) and one pair of fancy rubber bands. Pens could make life good. My Sunday business however folded after pens (such as Hero) began to arrive with inbuilt filling mechanisms. One could just press and pull ink into these hateful pens from the bottles without risk or mess and without having to cultivate bhaya-bhakthi (fearful devotion) towards the fragile glass and precious ink. That skill and dexterity to lift and pour carefully into the waiting mouth of the pen, drop by drop is an extinct talent today. I was permitted to touch a pen only after coming to class VI. It was an important occasion — almost like poonal (sacred thread ceremony) or puberty. Mine was a green Camlin and with a glass window beneath its neck, where you could check the ink level. At the end of each day I would measure how much I had written, not by counting the number of filled pages, but by tilting the pen to see how much ink I had consumed — a habit I carry even today in a different manner though. I measure the distance I travelled in my car not by the meter, but by the red needle in the fuel gauge.I think for me, the romance went out of writing when the stiff-collared, antiseptic ball point pens became permissible in schools. I used to bleed along with my ink pens, tame the nib’s sharpness or match mine with it, wrangle with the instrument, cajole them into being my sixth finger, take care of them and be possessive about them. Putting an ink pen to paper was a piercing act of love, an intercourse. I think everything just got worse when I abandoned all pens to write with both hands. No, I am not ambidextrous. I write with a computer.
Jaya Madhavan is a poet, an award winning children’s novelist, comic strip writer and lately an illustrator too. Her first book for children "Sita and the Forest Bandits" won the first prize in the Children Book Trust’s All India Competition for Writers of Children’s Books (2001). Her second book for young adults "Kabir the weaver poet" is a research backed novel published by Tulika, Chennai. Her short stories and poems for adults have been published in Unisun’s anthologies and in the South Asian Literary journal. Her passion includes traveling, visiting temples of antiquity and singing. The articles you see here are from the weekly column called "Loony Life" she wrote for the The New Indian Express. Jaya's Antidep comic strip (created alongwith her sister Bindhumalini) was published in The New Indian Express's Saturday Zeitgeist feature. Jaya is currently working on her third novel and is a certified Yoga instructor. She resides in Chennai with her musician husband and two children.
She is reachable at email@example.com