Monday, November 10, 2014

Notes on a pen

There is some thing so romantic, so sensuous about a much loved pen. It's weight resting ready against the middle finger. Its thorax indented by the tight embrace of relentless digits that held it in the tight grip of passionate inspiration until the fingers themselves changed and grew callused grooves to fit. Its nib  gathers to a point the  suspense ridden trepidation that kept it hovering a full minute above the page before descending with a reckless or defeated sigh on the pristine smoothness of page. The smooth body holds the remembered warmth of pursed lips pressed to it in thoughtful contemplation, It carries the scars of feverish bite marks left behind by a particularly meaty idea that needed to be wrestled into submission. The stains of sweaty fingerprints from punishing examinations cling to it's glossy skin.  It is almost a living thing -- this carrier of memories .Witness to the words let fly, held back and the ones that ought to have been. And just like the human being, a pen too has character.

I think it all began with the period films- the Victorian men and women scribbling away furiously on creamy parchment, the elegant plumes of their quills executing a scratchy flurry of pirouettes.
I used to fill obsolete notebooks with scribbles just to watch the long wand of my pen dance and sway over the page. And then there was my grandfather with his beautiful handwriting sloping across lines in a smooth glide.Whether ball pens or ink pens, his pens were meticulously maintained and treated with utmost respect. I still remember the battered beloved stic pen he was using on the day he passed away.

My grandmother was an inveterate writer. Letters, stories, lists, notes, asides, all dashed away in the pale blue of her favored ink. She was the one to introduce me to fiction; pushing a battered but beautiful copy of hardbound Jane Eyre into my eight year old hands.  And then having spirited discussions on the characters and plot line. She also started me off on the artistry of writing with her innocent yarns about cousins hunting down a missing pair of spectacles all written in her sweeping cursive over sheets of rough unruled paper.  She was the one who unwittingly introduced me to  the dignified but sweet-natured Hero pen which started me off on my love affair with fountain pens.

Have  you ever noticed that when you use someone else's pen, your handwriting becomes a little like theirs? The weft and warp of your knit cursive adopts the slants and curves of the predecessor. The sweep of the inked letter seems to call back for the familiar hand, putting our upstart penmanship back in its place. The pen can't let go as fast as the fingers that grew cold without them. And so, one sunny afternoon you collide with a sheaf of letters penned in a beloved hand and realise that your hand is not the same anymore. It is stained with the indelible ink of memory and love, seeping under the callused epidermis to color the canvas of your character.

Pens aggravate. They break when you least expect it and break your heart with it. Run out of ink at the worst time possible. Leak all over your hand, ruining anything in the path of its outburst. They become inconsistent and boorish leaving you no choice but to let go. They make you fall in love with their smoothness and leave you wanting when you realise it is an understocked/limited edition piece. But pens console too. They let you weep out your frustration in jet black spurts of hurt or in a long stream of unchecked eulogy. The comforting friction of  nib on page eases the ache within, letting it flow out your fingers. The careful ritual of cleaning, refilling and drying that aged fountain pen is a mode of meditation of what is, was and will be. It mandates deliberation, checks the excess, crafts the thought. The pen demands that you give what you write enough room to breathe and give yourself time. And most importantly, the pen marks the journey that your writing took-- it shows the checks, corrections, the blotches, the over indulgence in metaphor and adjective that you had to scrap. Contrarily, if you have chosen to put something down in irretrievable ink, it must be that special. My paternal grandfather always used any random stub of pencil, or an errant ball pen for his everyday businesses. It was only years after his death, that a vintage Sheaffer fountain pen was retrieved from the safe, secret place in his back drawer protected from the mundane scrawl of habit.

Animism holds that an inanimate object can carry a spiritual fingerprint, a soul if you will. Or perhaps, I am entirely too enamored with the written word and the vehicle that carries it. In either case, I have learnt too much from pens and their lovers to ever take them for granted. It's a special thing to be able to love an inanimate object minus the materialistic edge, to endow it with a spirit beyond it's wood, steel or plastic bodies. Especially for an observer whose major preoccupation is deciphering human attachments. But then again, there is nothing that can't be given a deeper meaning-- something an old faulty pen, found in a back drawer along with moldy papers taught me.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Memoirs of a Meesha

The origins of facial hair are quite obvious: early man had bigger priorities than fashioning a razor. And the origins of the removal of aforementioned facial hair are also quite obvious: Supporting a certified biosphere on ones face could not have been comfortable.And it must have been a rather virulent biosphere indeed to warrant the steep leap of faith involved in applying sharp item on soft face- especially with the high probability of surprise mountain lion/cave bear attacks causing a fatal slip of the hand. (But then again, in the event of such a surprise, better ear-less/nose-less than lifeless.) In either case, the true mystery lies in the genesis of the mustache. What induced the freshly shaving man to leave behind patches of hair on his face? Is it because applying the razor under his nose also took off inches from it? Was it to conceal his deplorable dental condition? Or to strain the water of its questionable additions as he sipped from the river? Or was to mutter expletives into its dark fronds, safe in the knowledge that CaveMama can't hear or see what you just called her cooking? The practical uses of the bit of fluff may still be within the scope of our imagination, but the cultural and symbolic significance the mouth-wig achieved within the course of civilisation is beyond logic! Instead of coming up with hair-brained ideas let us hear it from the horse's mouth. I present, the distinguished mouthpiece of the man-kind: the Moustache!
Behold! I am the moustache! Observe-my glorious crest descending in a swaggering incline of inky black ending in perfectly symmetrical nifty, upward curl. Magnificent am I not?And it is not merely my considerable beauty that underscores my opulent charm-  civilisations have been supported on the sturdy loop of my dark wings!

Let me describe the illustrious history of this lustrous specimen.The first mouche to sprout up in the archives adorned the lips of a Scythian horseman riding across a wall painting. Following which they began popping up everywhere. Apparently it was total rage with the Mesopotamians, who often teamed it up with flowing beards. Sure the Egyptians still walked about bald faced,but what can you expect from them-their gods had animal heads forgodsakes!In India the virulence of your mustache growth symbolised great vigour. Young boys waited impatiently for us to grace their upper lips. Facial-hair deprived men sighed in sadness wishing for a better fate (it is a wonder they didn't drive themselves to this option)  while those graced with our flowing presence caressed us lovingly. And women, the poor dears, were so overwhelmed by our obvious glory they couldn't bear it: they literally ripped us off their upper lips. (They may give you some other story, but now you know the truth);A hairy upper lip was a sign of virility, dynamism and what the patroness of this blog would call 'dudeness'. But, as a great man once said, uneasy lies the upperlip that wears the crown.Our hairiditory magnificence was a source of jealous pride.With our beauty came the curse of honor.A half shaved moustache was the height of insult.Lesser men envied those blessed with our glory, resenting our dramatic presence. Bloody feuds were fought over insults thrown at our regal splendour.

Through most of twentieth century we clung tenaciously to stiff-upper lips and were lovingly smoothed by brilliant detectives and PIs. We graced the dashing smiles of dandies who frankly didn't give a damn and were waxed eloquently by iconic artists who dallied with the very creme de la creme of  the age.We were broodingly combed by philosophers who went beyond good and evil or lent sternness to others with weak mouths or lay in glorious state upon the lips of some who believed they had a superior mission. We bracketed  and augmented comic relief. We were, perhaps, the most dynamic fashion statement a man could make.But such an age was too glorious to last.

The 21st century saw a baldfaced betrayal of the Mustachio Creed. No longer embraced by the mainstream, only a particularly confident or careless upperlip  would acquiesce to carry our weight. The metro sexual male found other outlets for facial hair grooming, like the detestable chin fungus called a "soul-patch" (more like a soul-blight) Beards of different sizes and shapes began to return to the face, but the poor mustache began to be seen as a mark of provinciality--doomed to the likes of Texan steerherders or Mexican wranglers. Even our stalwart patrons, the Malayalees, are beginning to withdraw their support, moving towards a clean-shaven look rather than the favored face-ornament of yore. Even the proprietor of this blog is only allowing this lament because her father happens to sport a particularly virulent mouche! We are forced to perch precariously on available upper lips, forever wary of the blade.

Weep ye mortals-- not for the fallen mustache, but yourselves. We used to be enough to mark a man's manhood. It didn't matter if you had the cheapest car, or whether your daughter worked or if your son took up fashion designing, or if there are people kissing in front of you-- your mustache would have established your credibility. Now what will the poor man do to prove himself?His security, once so prominent and worn bravely in the middle of his visage, now flounders in the face of so many new things, exposing his vulnerable upper lip to everything!

Perhaps, it is inevitable. We could not have protected the substance of manhood forever. It is only natural that the cycle turns and the baton is passed. We learn to enjoy the few months when we sprout on young lips and lead our charges into shaven puberty and decline with grace. We only hope that our replacement will be as tangible as we have been. Mankind is a wayward race, easily distracted and ready to take offence. They have outgrown us, but we hope that they have grown up in the process.
We thank the kind readers who have patiently listened to our plaint