Monday, November 24, 2008

About fountainpens

This is about a different but interesting hobby,viz.,collection of fountain pens and ball pens.

My interest for collection of pens might have come from the nonavailability and low affordability for pens which students of late 40s and 50s faced.In the early years of my student life, even though Lewis waterman had patented the modern fountain pen as early as in 1884, we were carrying ink bottles to the class rooms. We were using a steel nib attached to the end of a pencil like rod for writing. This instrument was known as "steel pen" and "pen holder'". Writing was done after dipping the nib in the ink in the open ink bottle. In fact, the students' desks of those days used to have round holes at the edge for keeping ink bottles so that they will not easily fall down. Small cute ink bottles of different shapes and colours were available. Fortunate students of the class used to display their fountain pens to the envy of less fortunate ones. Possessing a pen was a dream for many of us.

Looking nostalgically back, there were several brands of pens, mostly foreign makes, in use. Blackbird, Waterman ,Parker,Swan, Standard,etc.were common. Later in the 60s two brands,Hero and Youth were available. Pens without filler mechanism were the common variety. Pens with filler pumps of different types were convenient.But their "tank capacity" was less than the ones in which ink was poured into the barrel. While filler pens are leak proof, others, mainly made in India in those days,were often leaky. We used to roll a piece of paper on the neck joint of the pen to prevent fingers getting soiled. Another way to prevent leak was to apply soap inside the neck groves of the pen! The common brands of Indian pens were the Olympic and the Writer. Common replacement nibs were Signature,Alloy and Iridium.Pens with transparent barrels were not available.So, in the class rooms, while taking down notes, often the pen would go dry . The student sitting next was then poked on his side to make him spill some ink on the desk[a crime if caught] from his pen. "Ink transfusion" was done by dipping the nib in the ink spilled on the desk. The process of spilling and dipping continued till the other pen also went dry. This used to happen even in my post graduate days.

The interest for pens continued in my official days also. Working in a bank there were several colleagues who shared interest in pens. Most of us were using only fountain pens throughout our long career. Even though different varieties of ball pens, jotter pens and roller ball pens flood the markets people like me still stick to fountain pens. I get a student like pleasure in filling ink in pens and getting the fingers soiled in ink in the process! Unlike the present day computerised environment a lot of paper work was involved in the bank in the past. The need and scope for using ink pens and inks of various colours were also there giving us a lot of satisfaction in parading our writing instruments on the table!
Sometimes I wonder at the countless pens and ball pens I had purchased during the last 50 plus years. While most of the cheaper ones were used ,spoiled and discarded the better ones of the lot are still with me. The collection includes high end brands Mont Blanc,Sheaffer, Waterman,Parker,Cross, Pelicano, PiereCarden, Christian Dior etc. and other lesser brands like Hero,Pilot,Writer,Flair and many others. Indigenously made pens like the famous BRAHMAM pens of Andra pradesh including the gold nibbed one are there. What makes the collection priceless to me are the nostalgic memories connected with them and the persons who had fondly presented a few of them to me.Some of the pens like a Parker51 and a Parker45 have been in use with me for about 50 years. Similarly several others also.
It is a pity that the young generation,wedded to the computers, are not getting exposed to the wonderful world of fountain pens. The young ones in my family are amused at my needless effort to fill ink in my pens instead of using a" throw away "ball pen. There is still a ray of hope for pens. The schools in the state are now a days persuading students to use ink pens for improving their handwriting. Fountain pens which had vanished from shop shelves are slowly making a reentry.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Music on Gramophone

A few months prior to my retirement from service in Andhra Pradesh, in the year 2000, my colleagues and well wishers started asking me as to what I was going to do after retirement. Suggestions were plenty ,for taking up a job to make my future life worthwhile and interesting.They told me about opportunities for financial consultants, scope in private banking and corporate sectors, etc. especially in big cities.
Opportunities might have been there. But I had taken a considered decision , dictated more by my heart than mind, not to get re-employed primarily as I believed that I have had a fairly long innings and felt enough is enough. Most importantly, I wanted to pursue my long time interest and my hobbies which I was not able to pursue during my career. Many of my colleagues who knew me well and were aware of my basic nature and interests could understand my stand. My decision was, however, received by many others with a look of utter disappointment and sympathy as if I was being incorrigible (probably, immensely foolish) to refuse to accept good advice (that too absolutely free!) .A few of them could,suddenly, contrary to my belief as to what their opinion about me was , find talents in me, when they said," sir, you will be wasting your talents!"
Of course,I stuck to my guns without any regrets. What helped me was my interest in film music in general and Hindi and Malayalam film songs in particular. In my younger days it was radio and then gramophone and stereo systems. Then tape recorders, CDs and portable digital music devices followed. Though I could acquire all these electronic equipments, my basic interest was in gramophones and radio and listening to music on them. I still remember the late 60s when stereo music records were introduced in the market. A variety of stereo systems were available, viz, COSMIC,SONODYNE,MURPHY,NELCO,PHILIPS,HMV, etc.Radiograms(radio cum record player)were also inroduced by HMV,Philips and Grundig. They were not easily affordable.A LP record itself used to cost Rs50, costly by then standard. However, HMV and Philips also introduced reasonably priced stereo systems mostly combo systems, i.e., player with amplifier and separate speakers . But records continued to be costly. Yet I did purchase a stereo system, a HMV Super Stereo player and Bush amp and speakers in 1971 at Bangalore and joined my group of friends having stereo systems. We started buying records and lending them among ourselves. Records were also available on rent at some music shops. I was not able to pursue this interest seriously because of frequent transfers, a feature of my job, and also as record players and records lost their fight against the onslaught of cassettes and CDs and music companies in India stopped cutting music records.

After retirement and settling at this place, the first thing I did was to go back to my nostalgic world of music by getting my old record player serviced. Then I started listening to my favourite old records. The first among them was an LP album of film songs by Talat Mahmood, the singer with a vibrating velvet voice.

The album is titled''IN A BLUE MOOD'' which was also the first ever LP record purchased by me in 1971.

During the last 8 years I could get a number of gramophones ,old and new, including the hand wound player with the famous "horn"and also the box type one in which the sound box and arm are twisted and kept back.The latest is a combo set with a player,radio,CD Player and USB/SD card slot and with facility to record songs from a LP record played on the set on a USB device/SD card.I could also collect hundreds of records of all speeds and sizes covering mainly old Hindi and Malayalam film songs. Collection also includes instrumental music, Hindustani and Carnatic music by stalwarts ,devotional songs, gazals and English music. As records are not on regular sales now at music shops they have to be collected from shops selling old items, from antique shops, from old timers, from the attics and corners of old households and from the godowns of music shops who had stopped selling records long back. Mutual interest groups like Gramophone club, Voice of Kerala and Gramophone World at Calicut are collecting records from various centers and supplying to members and public. Record players are also collected, repaired and sold on a small margin. Collection of records is not a very easy job but not a very difficult task either. Records were sold in huge numbers throughout India in their heydays . As they are not perishable like cassettes they should be around us hiding in darkness! The only thing is to knock at the right door. It is gratifying to see a large number of people including younger generation taking renewed interest in this wonderful hobby as evidenced by the scramble at "new arrivals" of old records at Voice of Kerala and Gramophone world.
As regards record players new ones are still being introduced in foreign countries.In fact, models like Panasonic,Sony,Technics, Sanyo, Roadstar,G-Hanz etc. are still available in Gulf markets. I could get a couple of them during my visits to UAE in recent years. Beginners need not worry about availability at least for many more years. An old record player in good working condition with amplifier is available for Rs. 2000.It is worthwhile to own a player and a few records and listen to them nostalgically away from the heavy sound bytes of new music.

This hobby has given me great pleasure and peace of mind. The thrill of getting an old favourite record is something to be experienced. My collection includes all eminent personalities of the music world of yesteryears. Records of old Hindi films from Deedar, Ratan, Ann etc, to Madhumati, Nayadaur ,Mugal-E-Azam, Kohinoor etc. to Aradhana , Qurbani, Jawani Diwani etc. and hundreds of others keep me company.It is a wonderful feeling to study the pictures of stars, music directors ,singers, scenes from the films and the descriptive comments all appearing on the jackets of the records.These will give us an insight into the styles ,trends, specialities and developments in Indian film music and will put us in happy wonderment about our rich, melodious and soulful music legacy we can boast of! So friends, start now itself. Don't be deterred by cynical comments which may come flying towards you.

Tail piece:- Seeing a LP record running on my gramophone a young servicing engineer attending to my computer asked me "Sir, from where did you get this big CD?"