HONEST PEN HOSPITAL! The name itself was so fascinating that I was finding it difficult to not visit the 'hospital'.
I went there and met Mr Nazar, the current doctor. We spoke for over 2 hours, and I felt wonderful. He spoke to me about the shop's history, the celebrity clients or 'patients' that the hospital has had, his thoughts on pens, etc. One of the patient to this hospital was former Prime Minister Mrs Indira Gandhi's pen which was gifted to her by Mr Mikhail Gorbechev. Another was Mr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam's pen.
Few metres down the Town Hall Road from the famous Round in Thrissur district of Kerala is the small, single shuttered, seventy-eight-year-old shop were pens from many corners of India reach for repair. For someone walking this road for the first time it is quite natural that the shop may go unnoticed.
Written in yellow bold letters in black background on a small rectangular plate is the shops's name - Honest Pen Hospital. Part of the name plate is hidden by the rolled up shutter. Towards the lower half of an adjacent wall that faces the road is an interesting painting showing a fractured pen being carried on a stretcher by two fountain pens, below which is written 'Hurry up to Pen Hospital and get complete cure.'
On the entrance hangs a small board with a caption 'Consulting Time.' 9 AM to 6 PM, the board reads.
Unlike other hospitals, there are no receptionists, nurses, and doctors; there is just one man, Nazar, the pen doctor, who welcomes people walking into his 'hospital' with an appealing smile. Nazar, 58, has been repairing pens for the past 36 years. However, the shop is older than Nazar himself.
Nazar's father, Mr Kaalathodu Koluthu Parambil Abdulla, was the one who founded this 'hospital' in 1937. Before founding this, Abdulla was working as a fountain pen mechanic in Bengal.
"Fountain pen users back then were very less. Swan, Balckbird, Pilot, etc. were the few fountain pens that were available in India, and they were costly. There was a demand for people who could repair these. After basic education, my father went to Bengal, learnt pen repair, and started working there. When pens became cheaper and more people started using them, my father came back to Kerala to do the same work here. Thus was born the Honest Pen Hospital," Nazar recounts.
The shop was first located in Thrissur district's St Thomas College Road. It was in 1959 that the shop was shifted to the location where it currently stands.
Nazar believes that pens have life. "There is some fore of attraction, like that of the magnetic force, between a pen and its owner. Only if you take good care of your pen and love it like your pet will it help you. The more you love it, the better will it help you to shape your thoughts on paper."
Nazar reminisces with pride the early days of this 'hospital' when his father was the doctor. "My father's fingers had some sort of magic in them. He knew pens so much that once he got a faulty pen in his hand, even before the owner could say what the fault was he would diagnose it. He could successfully cure all pen ailments. Few pens would require days or work while few could be cured in minutes."
There were not many exclusive pen repair shops in India and because of Abdulla's mastery in the craft, the Honest Pen Hospital earned a name for itself. Pens from different parts of the country used to come here for 'treatment.'
This shop in the southern state of India had the privilege of 'treating' the Prime Minister's pen. Once when Prime Minister Mrs Indira Gandhi's fountain pen stopped writing it was sent to this 'hospital.' "The pen was special to Mrs Gandhi because it was gifted to her by President of Soviet Union Mr Mikhail Gorbachev. She had it sent to my father through her secretary. My father repaired it and sent it back to the Prime Minister."
The senior pen doctor passed away in December 2010, and the news spread in the city. Nazar recounts a touching incident which shows how much people loved their pens.
"Few days after my father passed away, a famous Ayurvedic doctor's son walked into the shop and showed me a fountain pen which my father had repaired. He had a touching story to tell. It was the only pen his father used to write with, he used to prescribe the medicines using that pen alone. When its nib became faulty he had it sent to my father. But the nib was not readily available and it needed a week to be replaced. By the time the son had got the pen repaired and taken it to his father, the father had got another pen for himself. The father then asked the son to keep it for himself. Those days it was not common for a pen to be gifted, and the son cherished it so much that he got a wooden box made by a carpenter exclusively for keeping the pen and kept it safely in his locker. As years passed the son got many more pens for himself and he forgot his gift. It was when my father passed away that he got reminded of the pen and brought it to me. Even after so many years the pen worked perfectly."
As Nazar was telling me this story a customer walked in asking for a good fountain pen. Nazar showed him few pieces of the old, famous Doctor brand of pens made in Bombay. These pens are hardly available in ordinary shops as they are out of stock. Having sold the pen, Nazar told his customer to use the pen regularly, or else to wash the nib section and keep it dry. "This is an advice which my father used to give to every fountain pen user and it is because the Ayurvedic doctor's son heeded to this that his pen worked perfectly when we tried writing with it after years," says Nazar. He is continuing his father's practice of giving this advice to every fountain pen user he meets.
Honest Pen Hospital has also had many other celebrity customers. Among them were renowned Malayalm poets Kunjunni Master and Mr Vyloppilli Sreedhara Menon, both of whom were recipients of the prestigious Kerala Sahithya Academy Award. Former President Mr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam too had once visited this shop.
"President Mr Kalam had come to Ernakulam for some function, and the organizers of the event had cut a big shade-giving tree to make arrangements for his welcome. He came to know of it later when he had returned to Delhi after the function. He then asked the organizers to plant a sapling in its place and take care of it. For planting the sapling he came to Ernakulam again, and while he was placing the sapling in the pit that was dug, his pen fell into it and the pen's top got stuck. He wanted it repaired and his secretary suggested to him this hospital. The President arrived here and I repaired the pen."
Since fountain pen users have fallen drastically and people who like to get their pens repaired have reduced even further, customers have dwindled. "But there are still many judges of the High Court of Kerala, advocates, doctors, and document writers who get their fountain pens repaired from here."
But this 'hospital' also repairs ball point and roller ball pens. As I was speaking to him there were many customers who came to fill ink in their roller ball refills. For those coming asking for a new refill without knowing that the used refill could be re-filled, Nazar informs them of this, despite the fact that what he earns for re-filling is ten times lesser than what eh would earn by selling a new refill.
"It is not all about money. Of course money is a factor but I do it more as a form of service. I know how badly people get affected when the pen they use regularly stops working the way they want it to. Most of the service require minor tweaking of the feed and the nib and I do not charge anything for it," says Nazar. I myself had got my handmade Deccan Ambassador fountain pen's ink flow adjusted for which Nazar did not charge anything. He takes solace from the fact that he is keeping alive an establishment which his father had founded.
However, Nazar is disappointed with two things. "People hardly write these days. Most of the work is typed, and the emergence of social media has made people to type rather than write their thoughts. Many great authors who I have had the opportunity to interact with when they bring their pens to me for repair have said that thoughts can be better presented when written. Writing establishes a better bonding with the mind, they say."
Nazar is also bit disappointed with the drastic fall in the number of fountain pen users. "Apart from helping in improving one's handwriting, using fountain pens is more eco-friendly than ball point pens. Also, fountain pens bring sort of a discipline to life. It makes one slow down in this age of pace."
Curious to know which pen this pen doctor himself uses I asked him to show me his pen. "I am not a writer, I do not have a pen. All what I do is pen repair and once I finish working on a pen I write with it to see if it is working well. That's the only writing that I do and so I do not have a pen for myself." When asked if he had any favourites he replied in the negative.
As more and more people were walking into Nazar's 'hospital' for 'treatment' I packed my bag and asked him who would be the next doctor of this hospital when Nazar would grow old. "God alone has an answer," he said.
"I did not want to become a pen mechanic. I wanted to go to the Gulf. But while I was still in school there was some civil case on this property and my father had to often go to the court. I, therefore, had to spend my time here in his absence. I used to write the customer's name and complaints on a piece of paper, and show it to my father when he returned, and then rush to school. This partly affected my studies, but in the meantime I also developed an interest in repairing pens. We had also set up a pen manufacturing unit and I got interested in that too. But as demand for fountain pens fell, pen making was becoming less economical. Thus we dismantled the unit and started focusing on repair, and also on sales of other pens. But for the civil cases in the court I would have been in the Gulf. It is God that wanted me here, and he will have someone else in mind when I am not able to discharge my duties."
Pen doctor Nazar's children are doctors too, but not of pens like him and his father. Both his children are medical doctors. Only thing he is sure of is that the next doctor in Honest Pen Hospital is not going to be either of them.
Edited by SiddharthMohanNair, 08 September 2015 - 14:37.