ASA Azaadi in opal
Creating a new ASA Azaadi in opal gave me a four-part tutorial in pen design. I commissioned the Azaadi after reading an account of a stunning similar pen in casein by Prithwijit Chaki, a prolific contributor to the Fountain Pen Network. Inspired by the fine white-on-ivory veins of the casein, I set about looking for a material that would simulate the elegance without the fragility.
Capped, the Azaadi is about 1 centimeter longer than a Lamy Safari. Uncapped, it’s about the same length, and considerably thicker.
Lesson No. 1 – Material Selection
The Azaadi, as explained by Chaki, is based loosely on the Churchill design of the most recent version of the Conway Stewart company in the United Kingdom. When Conway Stewart closed shop in 2014, Vince Coates of The Turners Workshop in Newcastle purchased the remaining inventory of blanks and rods, and some of these materials are still available. There wasn’t a matching, veined white material, but opal offered a similar, classic quality. Coates shipped the opal to L. Subramaniam at ASA Pens in Chennai, who sometimes makes custom pens with material supplied by his clients.
This opal doesn’t look like the gemstone. It includes translucent shades of amber, honey, and ivory, like the biscuit color of stained glass table lamps in the Mission, Arts and Crafts, or Tiffany styles. Whatever is underneath the acrylic opal material is visible, especially if what’s underneath is dark. The Azaadi design typically uses black acrylic for the section and finials. Because the opal material remains relatively thick near the finials, most of the black acrylic underneath is obscured. But at the section, where two sets of threads overlap (the cap to barrel and the barrel to section), the material is extremely thin. At this joint, the black section shows through the opal material.
The opal material is translucent, but white teflon tape masks the black section under the barrel-to-cap threads.
If I were making the pen again, I would probably select a medium-toned, opaque ivory or amber color for the finials and section. But my error also presented a solution – the white Teflon tape used by plumbers to seal pipe fittings. It’s designed to be an extremely thin, white, sealing dry lubricant. Wrapped in a single layer around the threads between section and barrel, it masks the black section underneath. The tape needs to be replaced with ink changes, like lithium grease in an eyedropper, but it’s not a particularly big deal.
Lesson – think not just about material aesthetics, but about how the materials fit together.
Lesson No. 2 – Ink Compatibility
This pen uses a Jowo No. 6, 1.1 mm italic nib and a Schmidt K-5 cartridge-converter. I’ve used this nib in other pens, and never had an issue with ink lubrication. But this particular Jowo nib is choosy about the ink it prefers. The first ink I selected worked beautifully -- a green-olive-brown color mix created by FPN contributor Chrissy, resembling the wrapper of a “candela” cigar. It uses Noodler’s permanent Bad Blue Heron and three Diamine inks. But then I realized that specks from the permanent ink component could stain the interior of the translucent material and show through to the outside. So I swapped out the ink for a conservative Waterman brown. Too dry. I tried Diamine Saddle Brown, another conservative choice. Too dry. My fourth choice, Pilot Iroshizuku yama guri, works smoothly and beautifully.
Lesson – nibs and materials sometimes require different inks.
Pilot Iroshizuku yama guri ink flows smoothly in this Jowo 1.1 mm italic nib.
Lesson No. 3 – Furniture
The ASA Azaadi has been reviewed several times, including Chaki and Sanyal Soumitra. A regular refrain is that the furniture could be better, and they are right. Furniture is the jewelry of the pen, the first thing people notice, setting a tone for everything else. This furniture is adequate, but no match for the elegant workmanship of the rest of the pen.
Lesson – clips, bands, and rings make a difference.
ASA tolerances and workmanship outclass the metal furniture.
Lesson No. 4 – Azaadi
The Azaadi is an Indian pen derived loosely from a Conway Stewart design named after Winston Churchill. Chaki explains that the pen was named “Azaadi,” (आजादी in Hindi), meaning "independence, freedom, or liberty.” The name is partly cheeky repartee to Churchill, who strongly opposed Indian independence, and partly a reference to the pen’s launch date on August 15, Independence Day in India.
Azaadi also signifies political, spiritual, and intellectual enlightenment, with various spellings in other Indian and Iranian languages. Beyond the dictionary, the concept of azaadi is rooted in the Indian struggle for independence and the role of Netaji (meaning “Respected Leader”) Subhas Chandra Bose between 1920 and 1945. Bose revamped the Indian National Army and opposed the British during World War II, creating an independent, nationalist legacy that ultimately led to a British decision to withdraw from India. Bose's clarion call -- Tum mujhe khoon do, mein tumhe azaadi doonga (Give me blood, and I promise you freedom) -- shows the importance of azaadi. Based on a British design with a British material, constructed in India, named Azaadi in response to Churchill -- the ASA Azaadi pen is a story about a complicated relationship between India and the UK.
Lesson – a pen is a symbolic tool of intellectual enlightenment. Pens tell stories, but they can also be the story.
In Conclusion – Taking Risks
Creating a new custom pen involves risks. My risks were minimal, because the design already had been used in several other iterations. Some things in my version worked perfectly, including the elegance of the opal material, the balance, and the writing comfort of the section and the nib. Some things didn’t, including my first ink choices, the translucent barrel-to-section joint, and the furniture. In other custom pen designs, I’ve seen how some choices work and some don’t.
Conclusion – regardless of whether risks result in wins or losses, they offer independence of choice, freedom to make mistakes, and opportunity to learn.
Writing sample from another country's declaration of independence. This particular Jowo 1.1 mm italic nib is choosy about the ink it prefers, and permanent inks could stain the interior of the translucent material. Iroshizuku yama guri flows smoothly.