‘The pen is mightier than the sword’ – a famous proverb written by novelist and playwright Edward Bulwer-Lytton aptly sums up the value of a humble pen. An object of great fancy and attachment, it is a writer’s most priceless possession. However, pens are dispensable in nature and get broken and ruined after prolonged use. While many throw them away, there was a time in Kolkata when people would take their pens to a ‘pen hospital’ to get them treated.
As unbelievable as it may sound, pen hospitals were indeed central to the city’s landscape. While most such hospitals have been erased with time, there is one remaining in the heart of Kolkata.
As you exit from gate number 4 of Dharmatala Metro station, you will spot a ‘Pen Hospital’ board hanging on the left side of the sidewalk. On one side of the narrow alley, Dr Mohammad Imtiaz sits in a small shop and ‘treats’ old and broken pens.
Started in 1945 by Imtiaz’s grandfather Samsuddin, the cluttered shop houses several invaluable gems – pens.
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When the ‘Pen Hospital’ was established, royal pens like Waterman, Shepherd, Pierre Carda and Wilson among others were brought from abroad. There was no one to fix it. As a result, the journey to Pen Hospital started with the idea of alleviating the grief of pen lovers, said Imtiaz.
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Imtiaz and his brother Mohammad Riaz took the hand of their father Mohammad Sultan and started working in the hospital. After the death of his younger brother, he took over the hospital and his family continues to rely on it.
“Our job is to use ink-pen or nib,” said Imtiaz, who was waiting for a customer at the hospital. “Nowadays, writing with ink and pen is over. Most of the time, people use a pen once and throw it away. Now is the age of computers. There are still some people who write in ink. They come to fix the broken pen. Some people buy an old pen for fancy.”
The Pen Hospital’s collection boasts of pens ranging from Rs 20 to Rs 20,000. Using pieces of equipment of varied sizes and shapes, Dr Imtiaz ‘heals’ the broken pens and gives them new life.
Over its long illustrated history, several renowned professors, writers and journalists have come to this pen hospital to cure the disease of their favourite pen.
During one such ‘pen operation’, the doctor of the pen hospital said, “Foreign pens are very expensive. People still bring pens worth Rs 10,000-12,000 for repair. The ink filling system from the nib of the pen is different for each pen. Not all pen parts are always readily available. In that case, as soon as the technology of the old pen is changed, the pens get new life. This is why I like the smile on the face of the writer ”
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