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Hunting for old FPs in Kolkata, India - ramblings


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#1 rahulg

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Posted 12 January 2009 - 08:04

Having grown up in the old colonial city of Calcutta (now spelled Kolkata) in India and having used FPs through school, it was rather sad that the FP bug had not bitten me earlier. Now when work has taken me a thousand miles away to Hyderabad, my last visit back home was significant, since this time I went back as a 'pen nut'.

Though the post seems rather topical, members can jot down any FP experiences they might have has in the proverbial "city of joy", in the words of La Pierre.

On my part, I had popped in for a 5-day visit, and thanks to fellow member bluemoon, went to the old academic section of the city, College Street. Now College Street is one of the few places in Kolkata that you find the old dilapidated Coffee House, one of the remnants of a bygone era, where waiters serve you steaming coffee and quaint Anglo-Indian fare like Baked fish and Afghani cutlets, and they take their own sweet time while at it.

Walk down the roads and you'll find shops lining the streets selling old books. Tucked away in a corner is a teeny foot-wide hole in the wall operation, quite grandly titled "College Pen Forum" Primarily selling ball points, students' stationary and assorted Parker Vectors. As I casually inquired about FPs, a set of pens on the glass case caught my attention. Lo and behold! A Pilot Non Self Filling FP, in Medium point. The pen was gorgeously smooth, with a black barrel and GP trim. Picked it up for Rs 350 (9 US Dollars approx)

As I walked down the road, a furlong away was a no-name roadside set-up of more ballpoint pens. These roadside stalls are manned by what is known in popular parlance as hawkers. Usually temporary structures, these stalls are often would up and packed away at night. Between the sheets of plastic were a bunch of boxes, (women's stockings boxes, oddly enough) The owner, Sujit Biswas carefully dusted a few boxes and came up with a bunch of Sheaffer Imperials, School pens and other 'low end' FPs. There I picked up a nice Pilot 78G look-alike cartridge filler with a fine point, which has the generic steel nib unit shared by the 78G and Prera, with visual resemblance to the 2A, except with a plastic cap. (Will post a pic soon for ID)

The last stop was at Esplanade, the veritable heart of the city, which sits close to the Hogg Market. The Hogg Market is a lovely red building housing a bustling market complex, established in 1874, inspired by European architecture. Here you can find the oldest Jewish bakery in town, Nahoum's, as well as old shops that date back a hundred years or more. In the maze of shops there lies the old Fountain Pen Hospital, now re-christened to a rather uninspiring "The Imagine". The shop had little else than a few Chinese pens on display, but they still do repairs, which is a good thing.

Further down esplanade, I came across a dilapidated building at 9, Chowringhee Road. A flaky enamelled yellow signboard showed me the way to The Central Pen Service Pen Hospital. That's where I found myself in a tight spot. Zilch on cash and drool worthy pens on display! Under the dusty glass cover were trays upon trays of old Sheaffers, Parker 45s, 61s, Pelikans. I even saw some wonderful BCHR Mabie Todd Swans! Anyway, with a heavy heart I had to go. The owner told me that he could get me my long-coveted Parker 51 at a reasonable price in a few months' time.

The reason I rambled on till this point is the fact that I simply had to share my experiences. It only shows that one needs to only look in the right places, if only for a little enlightenment. I did not have my camera with me, so I could not document the journey the way I would have liked it to. Moreover, since I don't live in Kolkata anymore, it will be another 6 months till I get there again.

To cut a long story short, I felt that it is only fair that I share it on the 'Network. Next time you go visiting Kolkata, do check these places out.

The contact numbers are as follows, in case any one is interested:
College Pen Forum, 54/9 College Street. Phone +91 9831940073
Biswas Pen Stall, near the aforementioned, Phone +91 9836168184
Central Pen Service Pen Hospital, 8 Chowringhee Road, 091-033-22288374

Edited for typos.

Edited by rahulg, 12 January 2009 - 08:11.


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#2 penmanila

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Posted 12 January 2009 - 08:51

many thanks for the story and the tips! always good to have a "penman's guide" to cities wink.gif

Check out my blog and my pens


#3 Leigh R

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Posted 12 January 2009 - 09:51

I can't remember the last time I saw the word "furlong." wink.gif Thanks for this, it was a great read. My (still in planning stage) visit to India is starting to turn into a pen tour. "Oh, I have to go to Kolkata! Swans!"

#4 rahulg

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Posted 12 January 2009 - 11:58

Thanks for the read. Oh, and Google maps are very useful in these cases. Believe it!

#5 Wolverine1

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Posted 12 January 2009 - 12:56

Rahul- thanks for the write-up. Brought back a lot of memories for me. I remember my dad and I hunting for Parker pens in the many pen shops on College Street and Chowringee. I remember my Dad bought me a Indian made "Doctor" brand pen. I also remember going and getting pastries at Nahoum's bakery

Thanks and Namaskar.

#6 tknechtel

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Posted 12 January 2009 - 16:07

Many thanks for the wonderful description - it made me long to go poking through those shops! There have been some really terrific descriptions here on FPN of pen-hunting in India - I'm going to print them out and save them, they're a great chronicle both of pen-hunting and of India. I hope you get to go back to that last shop and check out those Swans!
Tom

#7 DeaconKC

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Posted 12 January 2009 - 16:10

Thanks for taking us along on your journey!
Let courage rise with danger, and strength to strength oppose.
There is no snooze button on a cat wanting breakfast.
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#8 rahulg

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Posted 13 January 2009 - 06:49

However, I do feel a camera would have made the post a lot livelier. Regrets. wallbash.gif

#9 Jerome Tarshis

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Posted 13 January 2009 - 08:14

It is a great pleasure for me, an American born in 1936, to read fountain-pen reminiscences by Indians, most of them far younger than I am. My interest in using and (in a small way) collecting fountain pens is to bring my past into the present day. India being in certain respects a more recently developed country by comparison with the United States, in other respects several thousand years ahead of the United States, it would seem that the world of my youth lasted longer in India than in my native country. All these Indian memories of dip pens (we called them "straight pens" at the time), of classroom desks with inkwells, of small shops selling a variety of merchandise including pens, of the men who kept those small shops, are very dear to me.

Now, for good or ill, East Asia is in certain respects ahead of the United States in development, ballpoint pens have taken over, the Bril ink beloved of my friend Vivek Narayanan is in less and less demand in its home territory of South India, even schools in smaller cities, hitherto resistant to the ballpoint pen, have been converted in more and more cases. One reads blogs by non-resident Indians complaining about themselves that not only do they no longer write with fountain pens, they write less and less with any kind of pen.

I actually own a book of essays by R. K. Narayan, one of my favorite writers when I was young, from which it emerges that he may well have written with a Parker 51 with a gold cap, as I formerly did myself.

Let me therefore encourage more of these searches for vestiges of times now lost to us. (And I mean the Proustian analogy fully.)

#10 rahulg

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Posted 13 January 2009 - 09:24

An enlightening insight Jerome, Thanks.

#11 devjeethensh

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Posted 14 January 2009 - 07:36

Hi Rahul,

Reading your post made me nostalgic . I have very fond memories of Kolkata ,allthough i have lived in North India , all my life . There are very few cities , which can match Kolkata as regards to it's rich cultural and historical heritage .

I have been visiting Kolkata on and off and was even posted there for one year recently , but never had the time to go on a treasure hunt like you . Now that i know the places to check ; i'll have to make a trip just for this . I still remember checking those book shops in college street for books and my visits to the temples of higher education like ''The Presidency college'' .

I have a small collection of fountain pens , and have been buying pens from all over the world , but it's an irony that i have never tried to go and look for the treasures which are to be found in the old bylanes of our historicaly rich cities like Kolakta and Delhi.

Superb post and fantastic penmanship .

Thanks ,

Dev.

#12 hari317

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Posted 14 January 2009 - 08:49

Thanks Rahul and thanks Jerome. Very interesting, I always wanted to visit Kolkata, now the urge is stronger!
In case you wish to write to me, pls use ONLY email by clicking here. I do not check PMs. Thank you.

#13 rahulg

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Posted 15 January 2009 - 08:04

Thanks Dev for the kind words. I still regret the fact that there are probably more shops littered all over the city which I could not do justice to. Maybe other members can help out here. Although these shops do have a steady trickle of patrons who keep their business alive; it's a sad fact that the FP trade is indeed dwindling in this old city, as upmarket shops and boutiques increasingly risk overshadowing these small traders with passing time.

A big thanks to Hari, who I must admit inspired me to go hunting in the first place.

Regards, Rahul

#14 bluemoon

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Posted 31 January 2009 - 15:51

Good story. For the last few months I am irregular in Kolkata, and have too little time for FP hunting. For somebody like me, the economy really stinks.


The places you are describing is good, but the real business here is done by some floating dealers, who have a fixed customer base. Whenever they have something, they call their customers, and sell it.

Recently I am out of touch with them, but hope to regain it soon when stability returns..... Next time you are in Kolkata, I hope to go hunting with you....

Sorry I could not reply your PM, as the time you were here, I was in Delhi, and too busy to talk. And in my PDA, Pm feature doesn't work well.

Hope to see you next time......

Regards,
Sas

"This is my prayer to thee, my lord---strike,
strike at the root of penury in my heart.
Give me the strength lightly to bear my joys and sorrows.
Give me the strength to make my love fruitful in service.
Give me the strength never to disown the poor
or bend my knees before insolent might.
Give me the strength to raise my mind high above daily trifles.
And give me the strength to surrender my strength to thy will with love. "


Rabindranath Tagore.

#15 bluemoon

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Posted 31 January 2009 - 15:56

And if you want a P51 in user grade condition, I believe one could be found for 2.5 K range. Let me know, and I will try to find one for you. You need to collect it from me when you are in Kolkata next time.

"This is my prayer to thee, my lord---strike,
strike at the root of penury in my heart.
Give me the strength lightly to bear my joys and sorrows.
Give me the strength to make my love fruitful in service.
Give me the strength never to disown the poor
or bend my knees before insolent might.
Give me the strength to raise my mind high above daily trifles.
And give me the strength to surrender my strength to thy will with love. "


Rabindranath Tagore.

#16 rahulg

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Posted 11 March 2010 - 11:11

With an attempt to resurrect this ye olde post, I can't help but put in two cents' worth of Kolkata pen news. At a recent trip to the City, I went back to the Pen Hospital at Esplanade. This time around, I was unprepared, yet the good man behind the counter agreed to let me check out some pens he had on display. Among the good ones I found under the same dust-caked display case were a bunch of Pilots, some Sheaffers. The good finds were a Parker 51 and an old style Pelikan M150, selling for 2000 Rupees each (40 Dollars approx).

Posted Image


I've promised myself. I'll take some money along the next time I go visiting.

Edited by rahulg, 11 March 2010 - 11:11.


#17 joymookerji

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Posted 19 June 2010 - 07:06

Rahul,
This is awesome.
I am currently in Calcutta now and was looking for some places to buy FP.

Dada lekhata darun.......

Thanks and Regards
Joy

#18 joymookerji

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Posted 19 June 2010 - 17:07

I went to the same store and bough a JinHau for 250 rupees ( Approx $5) :)

#19 shrujaya

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Posted 28 June 2011 - 15:19

Hi Rahul...

Wonderful post on Kolkata pen shops...wonder how I missed it when it was posted first...Kolkata is the transit point whenever I visit Gaya and my wife has loads of relatives there, but I have never stayed there for more than 48 hours...now that I have read your post, and maybe when I visit Kolkata next, I will contrive to stay longer and explore these shops...and that belated photo of Pen Hospital makes one long for more visuals...Hari has covered Mumbai and Chennai and you have covered Kolkata...good...I have some ideas about covering Hyderabad...been idling for long...have to just get up and get going one day with my camera...

Keep going...

Regards,

Jai
Writing and posting about fountain pens exclusively on www.jaisiri.blogspot.in ... recent posts on Hema Pens (Hyderabad), Haul at Majestic (Bangalore), and Asoka Pens (Tenali)...

#20 rwilsonedn

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Posted 28 June 2011 - 15:37

Rahul:
Thanks for the original post and the update. I guess it is an indication of just how wonderful your prose style is that when I saw the photo in your most recent post, it matched the mental image I had formed reading your first post. Thanks for a wonderful guided tour of a city I've never seen in person. I feel as if I'd been to the best parts now, in the company of a good friend.
ron






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