Vidisha is a little town in the middle of nowhere (or, specifically, Madhya Pradesh) to which I cycled from Sanchi, because I could. (Sanchi is also in the middle of nowhere, but has a huge collection of early Buddhist stupas, and a friendly guest house by the station where I spent a week being well fed and enjoying excellent company.) It has a few attractions; a ruined mosque with a ruined Hindu temple underneath, set in lush gardens; an amazing vertical-sided hill, with tiny temples and mosques on top of it, and views across the plain to Sanchi and the hill of Udaiyapur with its rock-cut temples; temples on the river where families come to feed the greedy fish with little balls of chapatti dough - the kind of thing you wouldn't put in a whistle-stop tour of UNESCO heritage sites, but if you have six months to while away, can be a nice relaxed day-trip.
First shop; no fountain pens. This was what looked like Vidisha's biggest stationery shop, so that was rather depressing. Fortunately, there were five or six others spread out along the road.
Second shop: Heroes. I got one, and moved on.
Third shop, much the same. But they had two burningly bright "Rocky Disco" pens, one in yellow and one in day-glo orange, at 15 or 20 rupees each, I can't remember the exact price. (I noticed, by the way, that exactly the same colours were all the rage for turbans – one chap walked past in a fluorescent green turban, another in a mix of yellow and orange that I swear was radioactive.)
At shop number five (Ranjan Stores, All kinds of Suitcase Bag's, Book's and Stationary Materials) I ran through a number of boxes of modern Chinese fountain pens, and then asked, did they have any old pens? The young chap looked around a bit in the back, pulled out a box that looked much like the others (except in very high-class stores or in street stalls, pens are usually kept in boxes of ten), and opened it.
Inside were three gaps. And seven brown marbled ebonite pens.
"Wooden pens!" he said. Apparently, they'd been bought in as stock by his grandfather and never sold.
They cost me 90 rupees each.
Most of them are Seaman's. One is Champak. One of the Seaman's clearly is trying to be a Parker – it has a lovely arrow clip; others have plain clips. They're all fairly small and thin – nothing like Guider's big fat modern ebonite cigars; unassuming little pens. The chalk is still thick in the lettering on the sides of some of them. They're all unused.
I don't know if the monetary value of the pens is all that much greater than what I paid for them. But as far as I'm concerned, I'd scored a sumgai.
And here they are: