Monday, March 13, 2017

From Mighty to Endangered – The Journey of a Pen

This is an excerpt from my editorial in Oikyotaan (2016), the annual magazine published by the Bengali Association of Western Australia (BAWA)

Do you remember the rotary dial telephone? The one where you had to turn a dial all the way to a fixed point, until it made a “click” sound. If you happen to still own one of those, hold on to it. Soon, you could make good money from auctioning it as a vintage piece.

Keypads and touchscreens have taken over. In fact, speed dial makes the whole act of dialling redundant. Some call it “innovation”.  I call it “scary”. If it takes less than a decade for things to become vintage, it would take just about double that time for things to become extinct. The good old phone is gone. But what about the mighty old pen?

When was the last time you used one? To sign a form, a greeting card, or a credit card receipt, I hear you say. But you wouldn’t call these “writing” as such. How long back did you use a pen to write something that was more than a page long? If your answer is “more than five years back”, be afraid… very afraid. For you are likely to be part of the generation that murdered the pen.
Primary schools these days are making the most of technology, and using innovative ways to teach children how to read and write. A friend’s son learnt his numbers entirely on the touchscreen of a tablet.  The concept of turning a page in a printed book could soon become alien. Our kids will scroll through digital media with ease, but may never know what it is to read a paperback. In a few decades, we may need to take them to the museum to see a pen.

So hold on to those Wilson fountain pens, I say. Dig out the limited edition Mont Blanc that your old-fashioned uncle gave you as a wedding present. Use them and pass them on. If you need to start with writing shopping lists on post-it notes that go on the refrigerator, so be it. If you can manage two lines on a postcard to your mother, while you are holidaying in Greece, even better. When asked what you’d like on Father’s Day, tell your children that you’d love a hand-written letter on beautiful calligraphy paper. If the wife likes gold, give her a gold pen for her birthday (but don’t hold me responsible if she throws it right back at you!). If your niece wants ideas to spend her pocket money on, tell her how a good pen could be a friend for life. Every time you resist the temptation to make a to-do list on your smartphone, and put it on a piece of paper instead, give yourself a pat on the back. For you, my friend, may make the mighty pen live a little longer.

In an age where Twitter has made it clear that an average person doesn’t have the inclination, time or attention span to read more than 140 characters, anything you do to revive the lost art of writing is worthwhile. Our text messages are getting more cryptic, our short stories are getting shorter. Posts on social media are out to prove that vowels are a total waste of time – apparently, most of us can read and understand entire paragraphs written in consonants. So why bother?

Bother, because libraries are filled with inspirations in the shape of hardcovers. Bother, because the more we read, the more likely are we to write. Bother, because nothing beats the smell of a new book….or old. Bother, because autumn leaves make beautiful bookmarks. Bother, because every time a pen touches a piece of paper, it could be the beginning of a story untold.  

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