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  1. The PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games start in a few days, which is a good time to write about a pen that celebrates the last city to host the Olympics, Rio de Janeiro. In August 2016, I led an award-winning program in digital storytelling to Rio, for 25 students from the United States, Brazil, Germany, and Italy. The students, mostly journalism majors, collaborated on multimedia stories about the impact of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games on the host city. To commemorate this adventure, I asked several people for ideas on a Rio-themed pen. Among them were Prithwijit Chaki, Ian Roberts, Lakshminarayanan Subramaniam, and a half-dozen moderators from the Fountain Pen Network. A design emerged that incorporated iconic elements of Rio: the green of Guanabara Bay, where Olympic sailing events took place, the color of sunsets at Ipanema and the Red Beach near Botafogo, where our program was headquartered, and a clip based on Christ the Redeemer, the monument overlooking the city. We decided on a Conway-Stewart material called pistachio for the pen, which was based on Prithwijit Chaki's Halwa design. L. Subramaniam, who runs ASA Pens in Chennai, India, created it. The pistachio acrylic supplies lush versions of green and red, but I havent completely followed through on the clip. I found a lovely silver demitasse spoon based on the monument, called Cristo Redentor in Portuguese, but havent had the heart to have the spoon cut, twisted, and soldered into place. Instead, a silver peacock serves as a roll-stopper, inspired by the peacock headdresses of carnival in Rio which is taking place as I write this review. The pens 1.9 mm music nib from Franklin-Christoph, headquartered in my home state of North Carolina, supplies a Sailor ink called tokiwa matsu in exuberant quantities. The ink is evergreen, but sheens in the color of brownish-red pine cones. The nib's "FC" imprint mirrors a statue of the composer Frederic Chopin at Red Beach -- Praia Verhelma -- created by the Polish community of Brazil during World War II, after a statue of Chopin was torn down in the invasion of Warsaw. The Rio pen is delightful to write with, and bears the craftsmanship of ASAs custom projects, which are remarkable, understated, and attentive to detail. It's large, about the diameter of a TWSBI Vac 700, but a little longer. Dimensions are on Prithwijit Chaki's account of making the Halwa. The barrel contains a cartridge-converter and bears an imprint to celebrate the city where the Olympic project took place, the date, the pens maker, and the city where the pen was made. Imprints document the creation of a pen for this generation and the next. Imprints are underrated, and I love them. One of the key lessons our students learned in Rio was that an event like the Olympic Games makes a permanent impact on both the topography and the residents of the host city. These individuals take pride in the celebration, and they pay for it. A corollary is that city residents make an unforgettable mark on Olympic history and on everyone who takes part in the games. Its like a positive version of the Locard exchange principle, the basis of forensic science. Every contact leaves a trace. L. Subramaniam shipped this pen to me in May 2017, which means this review is long overdue. I have been thinking about the excitement and anticipation of creating the pen, of the emails, drawings, and photographs exchanged in the spring of 2016, and of the ideas and contributions of Ian Roberts, in particular. Ian, who passed away recently, was an enthusiastic participant in the Rio pens creation. Known on FPN as Ian the Jock, he was Scottish, hilarious, articulate, irreverent, joyous, and generous. Ian teased me about my affection for green pens, which he disliked. But he loved red, and he enjoyed pens with nautical and ocean themes. Ian brightened this little pen community much like the people in cities who host the Olympics, or like the students who trained hard for month after month in the spring and summer of 2016, and then made a success of our adventure in Rio. Every contact leaves a trace.
  2. Prithwijit

    Asa Halwa Review

    Introduction Halwa / Halva (Bengali: হালুয়া‎) is a famous and traditional sweet of India which is slightly gelatinous and made from grain flour, typically semolina. The primary ingredients are clarified butter, flour, and sugar. So why would anyone name a pen after a confectionary item? The story behind this is really funny. It starts with me acquiring my first set of acrylic pen blanks called “Seasons” and sending a photograph of them to Mr. Subramaniam of ASA pens. Image: Seasons acrylic pen blanks Imagine my shock when he replied that the picture reminded him of Halwa. At first I was a bit miffed but then he shared a picture of a pack of Halwa and I found out more pictures of Halwa’s ready to be devoured. Image: Box pack of Halwa’s Image: Halwa’s ready to be devoured I couldn’t help but notice a certain degree of similarity in the colour themes and was amazed at the connection between the two. Ever since then, we kept on referring to these blanks as Halwa blanks and the pen that was made naturally inherited the title. Design The design brief I gave ASA for the Halwa was quite simple. I wanted it to be based on the ASA Popsicle but having ASA Daily size with an ASA I-Can section. For those of you who may not be familiar with the ASA catalogue, this essentially means that I wanted a simple and classic cigar shaped pen with the external dimensions of an ASA daily white still taking #6 nibs like that of ASA Popsicle (a larger cigar shaped pen in the ASA line up) with a section that is designed like ASA I-Can / I-Will which in my experience is extremely comfortable. The section gradually tapers from the barrel towards the nib before starting to flare out about 7mm to 8mm before it ends. As the images will stand testament to, ASA managed in delivering to me exactly what I wanted. The shape of the pen is a classic cigar shape with gradual tapering of the barrel and the cap towards the end filial. The entire pen is beautifully polished smooth and shines brilliantly. The pen comes with a chrome plated teardrop shaped clip which is similar to the one used in the ASA Daily. I wanted to see the impact of the beautiful material and contrasting colours and thus deliberately kept the design simple. As you can see, the colour combination has indeed come out very nicely. Whether posted or unposted, the interplay of the colours comes out clearly. The only fly in the ointment is the slight mismatch in colours between the cap filial and the cap itself. I reckon it has happened due to paucity of material of similar colour being available, but nevertheless wish this could be avoided somehow. Size and Balance The Halwa is a full sized pen comparable in length to the ASA Daily, MB 149, Sailor 1911 L, etc. Despite being a full sized pen, the Halwa is quite light has an amazing weight distribution making it extremely well balanced. The writing comfort is incredible and it promises hours of stress free writing experience. The light material and the cigar shape both contribute to the comfort negating any apprehensions that might be there due to the length and the diameter of the barrel. Nib The pen was paired with a Jowo/WIN #6 steel nib with Ruthenium plated finish with a medium tip. The nib is smooth and lays down a consistent medium width line on the paper. Filling Mechanism I prefer pens that accept standard international cartridges and compatible convertors. I find them to provide the best proposition around value, system longevity, convenience and widespread compatibility. The Halwa has the aforesaid filling mechanism and comes with a Schmidt K5 convertor out of the box. Build Quality As is usually the case with ASA, the fit and finish of the pen was superlative. The final polish and the attention to detail in obtaining the desired finish is impressive. It is however a hand-made pen, so there is likely to be some fine traces or quirks if one inspects very minutely. They are not visible to me with naked eye. The only area where there is still some likely room for improvement is where the cap filial meets the rest of the cap. Apart from the slight colour coordination issues I mentioned earlier, the clip ring is not flush fitting with the rest of the cap (About 0.5mm difference in diameter) and ASA can look into bettering this aspect of the design. Writing Experience The combination of the Jowo nib with WIN feeds and sleeves is very well known within the community and is usually considered a winner. The pen is smooth laying down an acceptable line of medium width. Where I found this nib a bit lacking was on the flow and it seems a bit dry to me. This is quite surprising since I have a lot of other Jowo/WIN nibs and I have generally found them to be excellent wet writers out of the box. I haven’t done any tweaking or tuning yet, but might do some simple stuff to try and increase the flow just a bit. Price and Value The Halwa was not sold as such to me like a commercial sale. Rather Mr. Subramaniam took a modest remuneration akin to cost of any pen in the ASA Stellar collection towards getting the pen made. Nib and blank costs were obviously extra. This is a great value because I am not aware of anyone else giving one off custom pens at regular pen prices and that too at the value end of the spectrum. Specifications I will put in my usual disclaimers here. I don’t have access to precision measurement instruments such as Vernier calliper and you would have to settle for the approximate measurements I made using a normal ruler and my eyes which means there might be a little bit of deviation due to parallax effect. However, given these pens are handmade and there are small piece to piece variations anyway, the measurements I am providing should give you a clear indication of what to expect from the pen. Length (capped) – 157 mm Length (uncapped) – 140 mm Length (cap) – 75 mm Length (section) – 25 mm Maximum width (Cap) – 15.5 mm Minimum width (Barrel) – 14 mm Maximum section width – 13 mm Minimum section width – 10 mm Conclusion This is the first pen I should have reviewed given that this was my first custom / semi-custom commissioned pen done from ASA. Needless to say that I am thrilled with it. Both as a writing instrument as well as a visual object or art it is superlative. Friends who have got a chance to play with my pen have commented positively on its balance, comfort and overall writing experience. Postscript Ever since getting this pen made, I have been pestering Mr. Subramaniam to release it as a regular product. I am happy to let you all know that he has finally agreed to make a small set of limited edition pens (approx. 10 to 15 pieces) using similar rainbow themed acrylic blanks. The design will be an updated/modified version of Halwa and the product is getting a proper name called “Santulan”. Let’s hope he can releases it before Christmas.





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