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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - The nondescript facade with a fading nameplate misses the attention of passersby at Chowringhee Lane in Kolkata, remaining a go-to place only for connoisseurs who still cherish the old-fashioned art of handwriting.
In its quiet and quaint interior, a visitor can try thousands of vintage and high-end fountain pens from brands like Montblanc, Parker, Pilot, Visconti, Wilson, Waterman, Pelikan, or Sheaffer, and watch as Mohmmad Imtiaz brings them back to life.
The Pen Hospital represents a bygone era in an age of instant electronic messaging, but it still draws lawyers, academics and collectors from across India and, lately, also young people who have been increasingly attracted to fine writing instruments.
Established in the 1940s by Imtiaz’s great-grandfather Mohammed Shamsuddin, the shop has stayed in the family ever since. Imtiaz’s partner behind the counter is Mohammed Shahbaz Reyaz, the son of his late brother.
“Despite the popularity of high-tech laptops and iPads, pens are also getting popular and that’s the reason I have roped in my nephew into the business. My son will join, too,” Imtiaz told Arab News.
“There is a renewed interest in fountain pens among the new generation. Today, half of my customers are younger people and this gives me hope.”
Depending on the model, it costs between 25 cents and $60 to have a pen “treated” at the Pen Hospital. Sometimes, parts of older or rarer pens need to be procured from different sources.
Imtiaz repairs seven to eight pens a day on his “operation table” — the shop’s counter.
“Sometimes the workload is so high that some customers have to wait a week for an appointment,” he said.
There used to be many such shops during the time of Imtiaz’s great-grandfather and grandfather, but most ceased to exist in the 1990s, when cheap, disposable ball pens hit the mass market in India.
Now, Imtiaz believes his Pen Hospital is the “only shop in eastern India” that still deals in the trade, which began to thrive again only a few years ago.
“Things started taking up after the COVID-19 pandemic. Long periods of lockdown forced many people to read and write, and people started coming with old fountain pens for repair,” he said. “Some people discovered vintage pens in their cupboards. They have not used them for decades.”
His shop has a special value for collectors like Sarthak Ganguly, a media professional, who has been visiting the Pen Hospital for almost 20 years.
“The Pen Hospital is the only place in Kolkata where you can look for some nice vintage pens,” he said.
“Here you will get a fountain pen that can cost you from $1.20 up to $1,200. Many fountain pen collectors, like me, have at least 1,000 old and new fountain pens. Most of my pens have been collected from the Pen Hospital.”
In a city like Kolkata, known as the cultural capital of India, writing with a pen brings together craftsmanship, style and a touch of nostalgia — something that younger people are increasingly fond of.
It is mostly the new generation of collectors that Ganguly sees at the shop in the morning.
“The young generation is buying fountain pens and that is really heartening,” he said.
“The Pen Hospital not only has nostalgic value, but also it is a pleasure to visit such an iconic shop. It reminds you of history.”
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