I recently spent nearly six months in India, touring the north of the country and packing as many palaces, forts, temples and treks into the time as I could. That didn't stop me having time to pursue my interests as a pen collector, though. In every little town I visited, I'd look for stationers, and question them eagerly as to whether they had any fountain pens.
I ended up acquiring nearly a hundred pens. Some are cheapies that just illustrate what you can get for 15 rupees; others are rather lovely hand made ebonite pens of some distinction, or flashy acrylics. Just two cost more than a few hundred rupees – a lovely Ratnam celluloid, and a vintage Tintenkuli I wasn't expecting to see in India!
I'm sure little in this narrative will surprise Indian members of FPN. However, it might amuse them. I hope, though, it will be of use to FPNers from elsewhere who are planning a trip to India.
The state of the nation
I'd better qualify that; I didn't visit Kerala or Tamil Nadu this time out, nor Andhra Pradesh, where fountain pens appear to be more commonly in use. So my analysis may err a bit on the gloomy side.
At a guess, roughly half the stationers and pen stores I visited didn't have any fountain pens at all, or had only Heroes. (I found it interesting that Hero was often shown me when I asked for an Indian pen. So, occasionally, were other Chinese brands, the most common being Baoer.) The other half generally had one or two Indian brands, the commonest being Montex and Cello/Flair, and often had Parker as their premium pen. Camlin was also common, with the Elegante definitely making a splash in the better pen shops.
Pierre Cardin is also a prevalent brand in the mid-tier of the pen market. I have to say I don't like them; for the same money as a Parker, you get a lot of bling, but the quality seems poor (based on in-shop inspection - not having bought and written with one). Of imported pens, besides Parker, Sheaffer appears to have a reasonable representation in major cities' pen shops (eg Bhopal, Mumbai), though not in smaller cities. Waterman I hardly saw at all, whereas Lamy was better represented than I'd expected.
That still leaves about half the pen stores I visited selling only ballpens and rollerballs, which is sad. (A special prize for Misleading Trades Descriptions goes to Fountain Pen Depot on Relief Road in Ahmedabad, which had a single Parker and two Heroes, and a huge amount of ballpoints.)
A nice surprise was that some of the smallest towns had surprisingly good and numerous pen stores, at least for the lower and middle tiers of the market, with a good choice of models and brands; special mentions go to Vidisha, Chanderi, and Chamba (HP), as well as Datia (MP).
Chinese pens with their huge bling appeal have made a huge impact. What's disheartening is that they seem to be displacing locally made pens. If I want to spend 300 rupees on a pen, I'd rather have ebonite than thin lacquer or chrome – but I seem to be in a minority. The main identifiable brand other than Hero is Baoer; I didn't find many new Wing Sung, though people showed me older Wing Sungs a few times. Hero sells to the worker/user market - it's generally 45 to 60 rupees, the second level up from real cheapies like Jumax, Camay, Artex, but below Camlin's better pens and well below Parker.
One fact that does indicate the situation is less dire than I may have painted it; a lot of the shops that didn't have fountain pens did have fountain pen ink (usually Camel, at 15 rupees a pot, and occasionally Quink). Someone must be using it.