Haneefa Sahib passed away in 1979 and currently the shop is being run by Rafi, his grandson.

A Kerala shop still makes fountain pens the old way even though its not profitable
news Thursday, October 01, 2015 - 15:31

 

Both Kim and Co and Mithai Theruvu are shadows of their former glory. The former is a fountain-pen shop that is only being run to keep up a legacy, and the latter is Kozhikode’s famous sweetmeat street, from where the sweetmeat shops have all but disappeared. 

Established in 1942 by Haneefa Sahib, Kim & Co is one of Kozhikode’s oldest shops and still manufactures fountain pens that do not leak. A native of Tirupur in Tamil Nadu, Haneefa had made Calicut his home because of the trade opportunities the city offered.

Initially, Haneefa started his shop as a fountain pen repair centre but soon began selling pens, even imported ones. With business booming, Haneefa Sahib set up his own pen making unit and visited Germany to learn the craft. In 1955, he set up his own unit after purchasing basic drilling and threading machinery from Madras. 

M Haneef

"There would only be few people in Kozhikode city who would not have heard of Kim & Co. One can be sure that any pen he needs will be available in that shop," says E.M. Prabhakaran Nair, a native of Kozhikode. 

Septuagenarian Salim, a friend of Haneefa Sahib, and himself a former pen tradesman, regrets the collapse of the trade as ballpoint pens replaced ink pens. "Nobody asks for fountain pens these days. Haneefa Sahib barely found spare time as his table used to be full of fountain pens that were sent for repair. He would sit in his shop from morning to night repairing those. He always had a towel over his shoulders to wipe the ink."  

Kim's pens were unique because they were handcrafted out of Ebonite, a form of hardened rubber that was available in the form of long rods. Haneefa had employed people to cut the rods to the desired lengths and manually drill it to make the ink reservoir. Only a pen or two a day could be manufactured this way, but it guaranteed leak-proof quality, which Haneefa himself tested personally.

Haneefa success with the business inspired others to take it up. Salim recalled the story of a man who became famous for his “Student Pens”. The man would make pens at home and walk through the busy streets selling them. “He could make pens much cheaper than Haneefa Sahib and so students formed a large chunk of his customers. Because of this, his pens soon earned the name of Student Pens. Few years later we stopped seeing him in the market. Later we learned that he had fallen ill and was bed ridden."  

Another person who took up the business was one of Haneefa’s own employees named Krishnan. Haneefa not only helped Krishnan import machinery from Bombay, but also financially assisted him. Krishnan’s shop, Krishna Pens, was just a few metres away from that of Haneefa’s. It still is.

The shop still makes just about 10-12 pens a month. "Our pens are made out of Ebonite which is not easily available these days. Its cost has increased and because of that the pen cost has increased. Labour is also expensive nowadays. All these have affected our business quite badly."

Krishna Pens on the other hand, is being run by Krishnan’s son Ratna Singh. Starting out with three helpers, he has just one now. Both Kim and Krishna Pens have diversified into optical business which is more lucrative. The owners of both shops say they are only going on because it is a legacy they want to preserve.

Read this story too- A visit to a hospital that treats pens

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