A few metres down the Town Hall Road from the famous Round of Thrissur district of Kerala is a small, single-shuttered, 78-year-old shop where pens of many famous people have been repaired, including those of a former prime minister and president.
In bold yellow letters against a black background is a rectangular signboard – Honest Pen Hospital. A painting on a wall adjacent to the shop shows a fractured pen being carried on a stretcher by two fountain pens, below which is written 'Hurry up to Pen Hospital and get complete cure.'
On the entrance hangs a small board with a caption 'Consulting Time.' 9 am to 6 pm. Next to it, hangs another board which reads 'Wait for 10 minutes.' This is the board which Nazar displays when he is away from the 'hospital' to do some household chores.
Fifty-eight-year-old Nazar is the pen doctor and has been repairing pens for the past 36 years, having learned the craft from his father.
Nazar's father, Kaalathodu Koluthu Parambil Abdulla worked as a fountain pen mechanic in Bengal at a time when they were not popularly used. Swan, Blackbird, Pilot, etc. were the few fountain pens that were then available in India, and they were costly.
“When pens became cheaper and more people started using them, my father came back to Kerala to do the same work here. Thus was born the Honest Pen Hospital in1937," Nazar recounts. The shop was first located in Thrissur district's St Thomas College Road and shifted to its current location in 1959.
“My father's fingers had some sort of magic in them. He knew pens so well that once he got a faulty pen in his hand, even before the owner could say what the problem was, he would diagnose it. He could successfully cure all pen ailments,” Nazar said.
In the last 50 years, the hospital has repaired the pens of many a famous person including former prime minister Indira Gandhi and former president APJ Abdul Kalam, and renowned Malayalm poets Kunjunni Master and Vyloppilli Sreedhara Menon.
Nazar claimed that Indira Gandhis’s secretary had once sent her pen to the shop for repairs when his father was running it. “The pen was special to Mrs Gandhi because it was gifted to her.”
After hearing of the death of his father passed away in December 2010, Nazar says that a man turned up at his shop. “The man showed me a fountain pen which my father had repaired. His father, an Ayurvedic doctor, only prescribed medicines using that pen,” Nazar says, adding that the pen was sent to the shop with a faulty nib.
“But the nib was not readily available and it needed a week to be replaced. By the time the son had got the pen repaired and taken it to his father, the father had got another pen for himself.” Nazar says that after his father gifted the pen to him, he got a wooden box made by a carpenter exclusively for keeping the pen safely in his locker. “As years passed the son got many more pens for himself and he forgot his gift. It was when my father passed away that he got reminded of the pen and brought it to me. Even after so many years the pen worked perfectly.”
As Nazar was telling me this story a customer walked in asking for a good fountain pen. Nazar showed him few pieces of the old, famous Doctor brand of pens made in Bombay. These pens are hardly available in ordinary shops as they are out of stock.
Having sold the pen, Nazar told his customer to use the pen regularly, or else to wash the nib section and keep it dry. “It is because of this advice that pen of the Ayurvedic doctor's son worked perfectly when we tried writing with it after years,” says Nazar.
Nazar has had his own fifteen minutes of fame – he says he has repaired former president Abdul Kalam’s pen when the latter visited the city for an event. After returning to Delhi he learned that the organizers had cut down a tree to make arrangements for his welcome. He asked the organizers to plant a sapling in its place, for which he returned to Ernakulam. “When was placing the sapling in the pit that was dug, his pen fell into it and the pen's top got stuck. He wanted it repaired and his secretary suggested this hospital to him. I repaired the pen.”
Today, most of Nazar’s customers are judges of the High Court of Kerala, advocates, doctors, or document writers. Typing has eaten away his customers, but for Nazar, other concerns are more important.
“Apart from helping in improving handwriting, fountain pens are more eco-friendly than ball point pens. Also, fountain pens bring sort of a discipline to life. It makes one slow down in this age of pace,” he says.
Even though business is slow as people have switched over to ball-point pens, Nazar sees his work as a service. “It is not all about money. Of course money is a factor but I do it more as a form of service. I know how badly people get affected when the pen they use regularly stops working the way they want it to. Most of the services require minor tweaking of the feed and the nib and I do not charge anything for it,” says Nazar.
But for all his love of pen, the man does not own one. “The only writing I do is when I check a pen after I repair it.”
As a young man, Nazar wanted the Malayali dream – a job in the Gulf. But his schooling was erratic because of a court case that his father had to attend to, leaving his son in charge of the shop. “But for the civil cases in the court I would have been in the Gulf. It is God that wanted me here, and he will have someone else in mind when I am not able to discharge my duties.”
The only thing that Nazar is sure of is that the next doctor in Honest Pen Hospital is not going to be either of his sons who are medical doctors.
(The stories were narrated by Nazar).