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  • Writer's pictureL.J. Singh

My First Letter to My Wife-to-be (With My Father's Fountain Pen)

Updated: Jul 3, 2021

Matriculation examination was then conducted by Panjab University, which has shifted, after partition, from Lahore to Solan, before getting permanently established in Chandigarh. After passing my matriculation in 1952 I couldn't join college due to my ill-health, but after a loss of one year, in 1954, I joined Khalsa College Amritsar for F.Sc, which in those days was equivalent to the present day's 10+2. During my very first year in college, I got an interview call for joining a 5 years Marine Engineering Course Indian Naval Dockyard Bombay, for which I had taken an all-India competition Test, sometime earlier. I got through my interview conducted at Jullundur and joined my course at Bombay, where we were given accommodation in the hostel managed by the Ministry of Defence. There in the hostel, my roommate was another Punjabi boy from Batala. In the course of time, we became very good friends, and whenever we came on annual vacations, which just for 2 weeks, we used to visit each other's home, mine in Amritsar, and his in Batala.

In 1955, midway between our 5 years Course, I was engaged to be married to my friend's younger sister, whom I had met during my visits to her home. In those days, betrothed persons were not given parental permission to meet or even write letters to each other. But somehow, I convinced her brother to allow me to write letters to his sister, now my fiancée, he agreed, albeit reluctantly, but his father was dead against this small liberty. When next I came to Amritsar on vacation in 1956, I told my father about my desire of writing a letter to my fiancée and the predicament too. He kept quiet for a day or so, but then he gave me his own fountain pen and advised me to write a letter to my fiancée, and just post it. Luckily my fiancee's brother was the first one to meet the postman who delivered my letter at their residence in Batala. My batch-mate, my friend, and now my relative- all-important brother-in-law, with whose manipulations I could see my fiancée at her home. Even she used to manage to come to Golden Temple and see me along with her mother-in-tow, during my vacation stay at Amritsar. In fact, when we got married in 1962 after nearly seven years' courtship, if it can be called a real courtship, she brought along all the letters which I had written to her. Though the same have been misplaced when I shifted to my own bought residence after my father's demise. But, other than my fiancée's brother, the major credit of my writing letters and meeting with my wife before marriage, goes to my father who despises being an old-timer helped me write my first letter to my wife-to-be, with his fountain pen. Now I wonder if I had used some other pen, there would have been a different story. I feel it has become my very sacred duty to explain more about my father and his fountain pen.

My father was not an educated person, nor he can be called an illiterate, though he had little formal education but, he was worldly-wise. He had a small grill-making workshop but had a great reputation in his profession. A British officer engaged the services of my father for fabricating designer grills for his new residence, who also must have observed my father noting down the measurements with a pencil stub. On completion of the job, the Englishman was so delighted with my father's exemplary work, he gifted him with a brand new Sheaffer pen along with the remuneration. I sometimes wonder that why an Englishman chose an American pen rather than Made in England, the famous Parker pen. My father always mentioned if anyone cared to ask about his attachment with the pen, that his Sheaffer pen is named after Walter A. Sheaffer, the owner of an American company. This fountain pen became the most prized possession of my father who became very possessive about it and used for signing purpose only. His was a big, bold, upright signature that was as typical as the man himself – straight forward, confident and no-nonsense. By comparison, my signature looks like a scrawl. If my father’s sign resembled a mountain river in full spate, its waters crystal clear: mine is like the same river in the plains, meandering and silt-laden, as it laboriously makes its way towards the sea.

When I joined high school, I mustered the courage to ask my father to let me use his pen he points blankly refused but promised to let me use it in the Matriculation final examination. This pen proved to be my lucky charm, at all the examinations, it wrote beautifully, with obvious dexterity. Even with my heavy hand and fairly speedy writing, there never was a tear caused by the pen’s nib – not even on the near translucent, “continuation sheets” that were used in the days of yore for typewriters to print out carbon copies and which comprised of a good part of papers I used to write on. I felt like a man possessed. It is as if my father was guiding my hand. Zap goes all my nihilism, my lack of self-confidence, the million inconsistencies that clouded my mind, as somehow, his quiet confidence, his unwavering poise and his self-assuredness flowed from the tip of the pen even as they wrote as if following some supernatural dictate, destined to crystallize thoughts for posterity.

This pen became a permanent companion through all the semesters and all the examinations that shaped me into the well-contented person that I am today. A fountain pen is much more than a mere instrument that writes in a particular manner leaving marks on paper, at times barely coherent while at other times of exceptional purport. It too has a soul and is as much an extension of the person wielding it as the very essence of its owner’s thoughts. Today, my father is no more with us, but as I hold a pen in my hands, the memories flood in. And I lapse back instinctively, to try and replicate his handwriting, his way of holding the pen, of writing with the kind of command he used to display. It is always difficult for little boys to step into their father’s shoes. As both his son and a fountain pen collector, I can appreciate it. Whenever I need a little dose of my dad, I can always pick up one of his old pens and find a point of connection. A deep sense of feeling that the pens have souls, intelligence, feelings and can communicate? I guess the term that describes my obsessive attachment with my father’s pen best is Barakah – in Arabica blessing that flows through a physical object.

Written By-

Lal Singh

Retd. Chief Engineer (IMN)

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