The Pen Speaks

  Sorit Gupto |     September 1, 2016

Who will remember how I have toiled over the last few weeks? I am your pen. Without me, can you ever think of finishing your day-to-day work? Do you really forget us once we are not in working condition? Can you think of a single day when you didn’t write anything?

Let me tell you the story of writing. It is said that it all started with the advent of agriculture. People had no clue what to do with their excess agricultural produce. They came up with the idea of depositing grain in a bank. A record of how much grain had been deposited was needed. To maintain records, people started marking clay tablets. And writing came into existence.

I, the pen, am now mightier than the sword!

After countless trials and errors, I am here in the modern form.

My name, pen, is believed to have come from the Latin penna, meaning feather. Ancient Romans used a stylus made of reeds and wrote on tablets covered in wax. Ancient Egyptians and Sumerians used clay tablets and to make them long-lasting they baked them. It is said that ancient Greeks were very particular with their handwriting especially the people of the city-state of Sparta.

Writing then was slow and tedious. The Egyptians, Greek and Romans used reed pens and brushes to write on papyrus or parchment, making it much faster.

The whole business of writing waited till the discovery of paper by the Chinese. The Turkish army learned the technique from the Chinese after defeating them.

In the Middle Ages, flight feathers of large birds, quill pens, were used for writing with ink. But quill pens would wear out and break quickly. Further, the big shortcoming with quill pens was that one had to carry an inkpot along. This shortcoming was overcome by attaching the inkpot to the nib.

In 1884, a man named Waterman struck upon the idea of fitting an inkpot to the pen’s body. This was the genesis of the fountain pen. People no longer had to carry an inkpot.

The needs of people were changing rapidly. Fountain pens were good but not perfect. The problem was the ink, which would leak. Pens also required frequent refilling.

Eventually, the whole mechanism was changed. Ink bottles were replaced by cartridges and filled with thicker and stickier ink. The nib became a small steel ball that rotated. A ballpoint pen bought, had refills, changed as frequently as needed.

In earlier days the pen and the ink refill were made of metal, which made them costly. They became cheaper with the introduction of plastic bodies and refills. Refill was then made thicker. There was no longer the need for a separate body and refill. That is how use-and-throw pens came into existence.

I belong to the use-and-throw category. I still proudly remember the day when a student chose me over an expensive fountain pen.

But I now realise that the student did not respect me. One day she misplaced me. I was eagerly awaiting to be found but she didn’t bother to look! Instead, she took out another use-and-throw pen from her box!

Being made up of plastic, we have a much larger carbon footprint than fountain pens whose longevity is much more.

About the Author

Supplement Editor, Gobar Times (2016-2021)

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