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Of Pens & Pencils

My handwriting has always been a disgrace. I guess it can partly be attributed to the way in which I hold the pen. While I find nothing anomalous about the grip, anyone watching me write can't help comment on the oddity. I tried many corrective strategies, but to no avail.

Like most others, I began my voyage into literacy by using the pencil. Not a problem. Sharpening, though, was resented. I simply hated the task of routinely having to sharpen them, though it was a perfect alibi to get a few moments of respite from academic books. Anyway, it was customary to sharpen the pencils the night before school, just after packing my schoolbag and inspecting the pencilbox. The sharpener was an indispensable little contraption for every school goer my age. The exercise of writing would make the lead blunt all too soon and a replacement would soon have to be found. When all backups were exhausted, I would batch them all and sharpen them. But where do you thing I would dispose the refuse? My pencilbox, of course! I hated sharpening pencils at the wastepaper basket. The convenience of sitting at my place and dirtying the pencilbox was too much to be ignored against the class alcove where a bunch of naughty pupils would be competing to sharpen their pencils.

Those were the days when we would be writing in block letters. The world was yet to discover how horrible and illegible my handwriting was poised to become in the years ahead.

I was envious of didi. She had already graduated from pencils to pens. She had a rich assortment of pens that caught my fancy as I would yearn for my turn to use them. Her habit of frequently buying pens sent alarm bells ringing through the household. When quizzed, she struck back with complains against each and every pen. One pen was too bulky while the other was too slippery, another leaked while yet another had a defective grip. But most allegations were leveled against the nibs. The excuses she came up with for buying a new pen instead of just replacing the nib were as colorful as possible. Anyway, she did stock a vast collection of nibs as well, just in case. There was indeed some truth in her allegations. Most of her pens simply refused to write. Or maybe she deliberately malfunctioned them!

Then came the blessed day when I had to junk my pencils for pens. I was so thrilled! The transition took place in the 5th or 6th grade. We had to upgrade our writing skills from using block letters to running letters. And the letters ran haywire. My handwriting literally took a turn for the worse and all the letters gradually began to tilt towards the right. So sincere was their desire to be 'right' that they were now running almost horizontally. It was all wrong. To my surprise, one of my teachers liked the artistry...and to be honest, it didn't really look all that bad on paper as long as you didn't try to read. However, the other teachers conspired against me for making them more myopic than ever and ordered me to set things 'straight'.

Their resurrection was painful , but my letters finally woke up from their self-imposed slumber and stood nearly erect. However, all this strain had stunted them. While 'A' had a bizarre calligraphic twist, 'B' looked like an '8' with a flattened left, 'M' resembled the grafted limbs of a spider while 'O' looked oblongated like a sweet potato. Their lesser cousins were no less illustrious. While 'c' and 'e' became identical twins, 'i' looked like an earthworm that barely managed to hoist itself, 't' had divorced its horizontal bar which now existed as an independent and floating entity while 'o' looked like an 'a' resting on its belly. Actually, all the letters spoke a tragic tale of minionship under the constant pressure and strain of my pen. I felt guilty.

We were allowed only fountain pens and using anything else was absolute blasphemy. We daren't be caught dead using a ball-point and this notion was constantly drummed into our heads during the initial years until we began to look down upon them as writing instruments for the less fortunate. However, filling the fountain pen was an irksome task in itself and replaced the earlier one of sharpening the pencil. Spilling ink during the transference was taken for granted and I used an overdyed piece of cloth to lessen the spills and clean the floor. These pens malfunctioned too often and at any time you could find half the class furiously jerking away at theirs. The floor was full of blue-black spots.

We were in a fix if our ink reserves ran dry in the middle of a class. We had to look for a replacement pen, and if one wasn't available-beg for ink. The pen-to-pen IEX (ink exchange) was an art we had quickly refined. The oddity of gripping the pen too close to the nib resulted in my fingers being almost perennially dyed blue! I also applied a wee too much pressure and the poor nib, not being able to take the strain for too long, would gradually begin to malfunction. I've lost count of the nibs that had to be replaced on account of this anomaly.

Blotting was yet another problem we had to face. Poor paper quality was primarily to blame, and the problem was further aggravated if the ink reserve was close to exhaustion; resulting in huge patches of ink spilling out, sinking through and staining many pages underneath. Chalks would then be culled to our rescue! Lekha, the big-mouth of our class, once had a tough day with her problem pen. She ended up carrying the rest of the day with blue teeth and bluer tongue with great aplomb. I guess it happened on account of an impromptu experiment she broke into! I'll never know for sure how the ink landed up in her mouth!

I also had a great panache for fiction, a talent I used rather heavily during the dreaded and all too frequent exams. Since I despised consulting my text-books, my fertile power of imagination and extemporaneous interpolations were my dearest allies when I read a question that looked all Greek and Latin to me. Pity the teachers who had to go through my answer scripts. Luckily, my bad handwriting must have made most of them give my far-fetched replies the miss. I'm pretty sure they didn't strain their eyes into going through my personal interpretations of the questions asked. Those who had, must have been rattled by the uncharted waters my scribbles had led them into.

The constraints against ball-points were lifted after the 10th grade and I used my new-found liberty to experiment with all sorts of writing instruments form the preposterous ball-points and felt-tips to gels and uncategorizables. But the damage to my writing skills was irrepairable and my scribes remained as illegible as ever. What's more, as time progressed my handwriting deteriorated to a point where even yours truly found it difficult to decipher his own writing! I had to recall from memory to make up for the severe illegibility. To make matters worse, even my memory was volatile!

Turning a new page, I would unfailingly and profoundly resolve to write legibly and beautifully. The first few sentences would have indeed done a calligrapher proud. Then came the gradual departure as my writing deteriorated to a point where even the most seasoned chemists would find it hard to read my words. This state was usually attained by the middle of the page. By the time I reached the end, I would resign to the fact that writing was an art never meant for my genius. But I couldn't resist making the same old resolution each time I turned to a new page...only to be met with the same fate.

The digital world finally came to my rescue and I now use the keyboard for most of my writing needs. Still, the pen cannot be junked for least not yet. And no amount of castigation will ever help me hold the pen correctly.

Let's face it: it's a lost cause!


Vivek said…
You never know what'll end up in a girl's mouth man ;-)
saurabh said…
So whats next? How u got potty trained...
Deepanjan said…
I could write something on that too. But it would be too obscene even by my standards!
BTW, I was mortified of falling into the potty! It looked as deep as a well to me.
Vivek said…
How about 'the wanking prelude'?
Anonymous said…
ohh gosh!
Anonymous said…
I wonder what would end up in your mouth if Lekha ever reads this. I am sure you do also recollect that she was atleast 7/5th your size - and those big eyes used to even scare my holy shit away..
Deepanjan said…
Lekha's towering figure used to intimidate us all. The corridor resonated each time she ran through it!
Luckily, the Net is still a luxury for most Indians and Lekha's chancing upon this post looks highly improbable!

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