The 1970s and 80s in India were times when imported fountain pens like the American Parker and Sheaffer, and the Chinese Hero pens were quite the in-thing. Only one hitch- these were expensive.
Capitalizing on this, few Indians came with cheaper variants, although many mimicked the designs of the imported ones.
One such native brand was the Bismi Pen in Kerala, then a rage among college-going students from the 70s to the late 80s. Established in 1970 at Ernakulam by the late Haji S. Mohammed Bismi, the company introduced beautifully crafted yet economic fountain pens, thereby making it a preferred option for most.
Haji S. Mohammed Bismi
Though acrylic and plastic fountain pens were their forte, once ball-point pens came into the picture, Bismi ventured into manufacturing these too.
But due to an overall decrease in the demand for fountain pens and availability of cheaper imported ball pens, the company soon ran into losses. The production of Bismi Pens thus came to a standstill.
But even today, the name invokes childhood memories among quite a few of the middle generation. For Deepak Prabhakar who hails from Ernakulam and currently works in the UAE, Bismi was his first pen.
Speaking to The News Minute, Deepak recalls: "Bismi was my first pen. It was probably in 1979 or 80 that I started using pens and as with all Kochiites, Bismi was the first choice, with Camlin and Jubilee being the other makes available.
A sky-blue Bismi with slotted ink windows occupied a place of pride. Even when the nib turned scratchy or the pen leaked at the threads, Bismi was always the one. God-forbid if someone turned up with a Camlin. Even more sacrilegious to use was the Kunnukulam-made (a place in Thrissur) Jubilee.
The Syed Agencies shop was a literal haven with its smell of acrylic and ink. The friendly owner behind the glass case would let us youngsters gingerly touch the more exotic ones on display.
This love for pens has lingered all through the years, resulting in a collection of more than 100 pens from around the world. But the memory of that blue Bismi still reigns supreme.
Subbu -an Ernakulam native who works in Abu Dhabi- shares his own association with the brand right from his schooldays.
“I too used to frequent Syed Agencies on that by-lane in Broadway. Pens used to be given to us only for important exams. Had we then known that silicone grease could effectively stop leaks, most of the pens that we threw out would have still been around to at least be photographed.”
M Abdul Latif
Speaking to The News Minute, Rifaz Mohammed- grandson of the founder of Bismi Pens- spoke about his father M Abdul Latif who succumbed to a sudden cardiac arrest at Pollachi last week. He was just 57. It was in 1993 that Latif had taken over Bismi Pens from his father.
“Papa used to often express his desire to resume production, but somehow we could not do it while he was still alive. His sudden demise has left us distraught, but we now feel the urge to fulfill his wish. Some sort of a brand-revival will be the best way to bring peace to the departed soul,” says Rifaz.
If such a revival is actually on the cards, several pen-collectors and those who have fond memories associated with the brand would definitely be one happy lot.