Friday, June 26, 2015


ADIOS TO INKWELLS If you think well about the inkwell now a thing of the bygone era, ink the fluid of thought will well in your mind and fill the inkwell! I am a pensioner one-time pen-pusher always in pensive mood with a penchant to write. I decided to put my thoughts on record and "Mirror" my pleasant indelible but shrinking memories that sprinkled and sprouted through my fountain pen nib, in a “Daily news” paper of present "Times" in the "Island" to captivate the attention of many an “Observer” before my inky thought that emanate evaporates from my ink well. I have a strong inkling the write up will not end up in the Editor's waste paper basket instead find its way in an esteemed daily. I believe the Editor will think the author's pun and pensive ideas are good on paper not so expensive! Slate was the stepping stone at kindergarten to begin writing and we have stepped on the stone slates also! Presence of pieces of broken slates in school precincts was a common sight. They were fitted with a marginal wooden casing on which the country of make was conspicuously displayed, mostly during our time we used slates made in Belgium. With the aid of a slate pencil began our calligraphic skill. The size of slates varied but the standard ones used by us were little bigger than present day iPad. I never had any inkling then I would hold an iPad similar to that and write electronically at an old age like this. The slate pencils were cylindrical with the lower half wrapped with paper printed with geometric designs in different colours, again a marketing strategy to make them attractive. There were no sharpeners for it and we rubbed it against unpolished floor to make the tip pointed. We used chalks also at times. We at times rubbed it against the floor vigorously and touched the skin of fellow students unaware and gave them a shock treatment. After the slate pencil the lead pencil was the direct link to ink. Some are led to believe pencil originated from Pennsylvania but from the graphite of England. The graphite embedded lead pencils with wooden casing drew the attention of many with the myth of lead poisoning but there is no lead in that false theory. I would not be living now with the amount of lead I chewed from the pencil during school days. I even swallowed a stump of the slate pencil at school which came out with the stool after Mother's careful examination following day. The vernacular school teacher reported the suspected swallowing based on hearsay evidence to mother, I said "no" to mom but she did not have the gut to gullibly swallow my lie that led to the finding! I cannot erase my memories I had with pencils though some had erasers fitted at the tail end. If pencils had erasers at both ends there will be no point to sharpen my memory now. The makers of sharpeners of different colourful shapes, shades and sizes who capitalised on the tips of the pencils would have been a long lost entity! Back in school days our school desks were designed to suit ergonomic posture of students in order to facilitate and improve their handwriting skills which was considered to be of paramount importance. The hinged lift up desk tops inclined at an ideal angle was suited for that purpose. I am from the "old school tribe" and there was a general consensus and a belief then, hand writing determines and shapes one's (head writing) future and destiny. This assumption led to our parents being over stretched and stressed about our hand writing. It is in fact true when the writing is legible and attractive it induces the examiner to go through your scripts without hassle and add a few more marks. In the primary classes for the neatness and hand writing a percentage was allotted even if the answer was wrong. On the right hand corner of the desk was a round hole designated to hold the inkwell in position, it was a distinct disadvantage to the lefties. The inkwells were generally white porcelain ones with the semi closed top, recessed inwardly with an opening, a small hole so as to dip the dip pen to reach the ink and to take how much needed in the nib. The dip pens were made out of wooden sticks, the stick part of it was very attractive in butterfly colours. We were fledglings in writing like the butter fly in its pupa stage undergoing metamorphosis to be graduates and full-fledged in handwriting. The sticks were fitted with metal holders into which we slip the nibs the common nibs we used were G- nibs, easily affordable, readily available and disposable. We had spare nibs also to change as the pointed nibs are likely to be damaged when it comes into contact with hard objects and we had to exercise caution when handling same. The dip pen with the nib ferrule and stick was light enough for a firm tripod grip and improve out motor skills. This also resulted in accidental acupuncture with neighbouring students resulting in penetrations! In some instances deliberate spraying with ink results in spanks from teachers. We were armed with blotters another inkgredient that helped us to overcome botches. The school in which I studied Jaffna Hindu, students had to bring their own ink and in schools that provided ink there were ink monitors with a task to fill the inkwells in desk. We had tablets and powdered packs that we dissolved in water from taps to make instant ink to suit our need and indeed it was very messy. The ink has the capacity to form a layer on top like our skin to prevent evaporation in a hot and humid country like ours. Ruining school uniforms, getting punished at school and at home by parents were not uncommon ink-cidents. Thus during that stage the foundation to the fountain pen was laid. When we graduated and were deemed fit to handle Waterman's innovation the fountain pen, it was one-upmanship in penmanship. We had by then reached grade eight at school. Our English teacher was Mr. K.V.Mylvaganam abbreviated as KVM, who was an old "Trinitian" and a "Kalu-Suddha". He was sturdy and steady with ebony skin impeccably dressed from top to toe in saville-row style full cotton suit either white or beige in colour with neck-tie collar. His head gear the princely khaki English hat and the well-polished leather bag as shiny as his "John White" leather shoes with tips on the bottom of sole. When he alights from his X model Austin convertible, the hood was retractable like the rickshaws of those days with rubber horn to toot attached to the driver's side, having parked it under the Jack tree on the turn off to the huge college quadrangle, even the crows perched atop the tree will disperse shit-scared of him. With the leather bag in his left hand and on his right his inseparable comrade cane, which would never have spared the skin of any of his students, and none dared to cross his path till he reached the Staff Room with his majestic gait, sniffing around along the hallowed corridor. Any one not neatly and properly attired with shirts not tucked inside the shorts and shoes not laced will be sure to get laced into by him. He was such a great disciplinarian and a grammarian; he installed and moulded us to face the challenges of the outer world even long after we left school. To be precise to the point writing with the ballpoint pens was a total taboo at school, if our teacher KVM sees any student at any time carrying a ball point it will be confiscated then and there and destroyed. It is a big point to ponder and wonder as to why we in yesteryears were forbidden the use of ballpoints at school. Obviously we all had a good fist not second to print. Rajendram & Co were the pioneers in the ink industry to manufacture and import Parker Quink; it was later merged with Maharajah Organization. The ink fillers and the quink bottles the standard one and the mega are still fresh in my mind. We had a book shop opposite the college owned and managed by an elderly person well known as master who sold newspapers and stationery items, from where we can get a refill for our fountain pens in case of emergency and ink in small quantity which was transferred from the mega bottle. He had the habit of adulterating the original ink with ink-tablets dissolved this caused blocks in pens and when we complained it to solve the issue his reply was "report it to Srimavo" as that was during her regime completely absolving him from the dissolving sin, he too was not stationary in this world and very soon was blotted away. This is my penultimate paragraph, I trust my dwelling or delving in the inkwell and my indelible memories will be not be shelved. My sinking memory is not syncing any further for inking!! Finally I am not a nosey parker, anyway if the blue pigment of Parker is quink, what is the pink pigment of pigs called oink, the question leads to irritable vowel syndrome! Sinnathamby Sivanandan Retired Commissioner of Excise