Recently some family matters took me to a remote area of District Thirunelveli in Tamil Nadu. I was visiting my sister’s agricultural farm in Village Sivasailam, on the foothills of the Western Ghats, on the Tamil Nadu side. The idyllic farm of cocnut, Cashew, Mango and Teak trees touches the verdant forests on the hillside. The Kadana Nathar dam just a few hundred yards away provides abundant water and a nice picnic spot for the evenings. The approach to the farm is from the Shencottai Thitunelveli Road off a small settlement called Alwarkurichi. The farm is 8 KM from Alwarkurichi, which is the place from where you have to pick up milk, bread, oil, spices, etc. for the daily needs at the farm. Sivasailam is the ancestral village of Late Shri. Sivasailam, Founder and Chairman of the TAFE Group of Companies, famous, among other things for the Massey Ferguson tractors and farm equipment. A philanthropist to the core, Sivasailam did much for the upliftment of the people of his area. Paramakalyani Post Graduate College, Alwarkurichi is one such endeavour of the great man.. While my sister was busy picking up stuff, I noticed a store selling books, stationery and such things, basically for the students of the college and nearby schools. Out of curiosity I decided to have a look and see what a typical rural student of the area would be buying. I had hoped to see some fountain pens as even today in the Southern part of India, there is much emphasis on handwriting and use of fountain pens.
What I saw there took me totally by surprise. I was expecting some standard brands like Camlin, Bismi or Bril, but I found two very odd looking pens on sale. I was informed by the shopkeeper that these pens were very popular and he had such good feedback he stopped stocking more costly standard brands.
The larger pen is called Winstar model Tank No. 15 with a blue body and a slit window of transparent plastic to view the ink level in the barrel. The cap is clear plastic with blue plastic clip. The overall finish shouts out “cheap”. The finish and fit are crude and the material is cheap plastic crudely moulded. The nib is golden coloured steel and the section is fluted for good grip. Once you remove the section from the barrel you can see liberal amounts of grease applied to the thread to prevent leaking. The grease looks like ordinary petroleum product and certainly not silicon grease. But then the temperature in Alwarkurichi fluctuates in a very narrow band and silicon is not needed. Or probably such pens cannot afford the luxury of silicon grease.
The other pen is obviously meant for teachers. This one with a demonstrator type plastic barrel has two compartments, one for blue ink and the smaller one for red ink used for correction.
The longer section has a blue cap and ill fitting black plastic clip, while the smaller section has a clear plastic push type cap. Both caps fit in by rubbing against the section. This one has a name Goodwin and model is 2511.
I did not fill ink in either of the pens but tried writing by dipping the nibs in a pot of ink. The larger pen, the Winstar is a surprisingly good writer. The short stubby nib writes medium and is extremely smooth. The double barrel Goodwin is a mixed bag. The larger barrel has a nib which is fairly smooth but the smaller one leaves much to be desired.
For Rs15 (30 cents) and Rs.12 for the double barrel, they must rank among the cheapest pens on earth. Except that they look cheap too. But they write better than some pens costing 10 times the price but with better finish. These two will remain my mementoes from the visit to the lovely Tamil countryside and the memorable stay in the farm at Sivasailam!