Tuesday, June 4, 2024

Gooptu's pens: two that got away


The following was written back in 2005 as a short piece for the now long-defunct magazine Stylus. From what I recall it didn't end up getting published, and I never got around to sharing it properly afterwards.

The two pens shown above were acquired together some years ago.  One is a U.S.-made Waterman 55 from the 1920s; the other is an Indian-made eyedropper-filler with a transparent barrel, probably from the 1940s.  The latter is identified on its clip as a Gooptu’s “Perfection”, and it would appear that the Waterman belonged to its maker – for its barrel bears the personalization “RAI. SAHEB. F. N. GOOPTU/1925” [Fanindra Nath Gooptu, the company founder].

A small story, to be sure, but one that leads to another.  For while an online search for “Gooptu” and “pen” yields nothing about the penmaker [NOTE: this was back in 2005], it leads to an anecdote about Gandhi and another Gooptu pen, as recounted in 1948 by writer, teacher, and politician P. G. Mavalankar (d. 2002):

“It was May 1944. Bapu [Gandhi] was at Juhu.  I went to him with my father. After the talks (between him and my father) were over, I placed in Bapu's hands my autograph- book for his autograph. He took the book with the five- rupee note, and asked for a fountain pen, which was then offered to him by my father. But he returned it, stating that it was of foreign make. He even rejected my pen, which was known as 'Gooptu's Perfection' and was made at Calcutta, under the impression that it was of foreign make. He signed his autograph with a pen lying near him. While signing his autograph, he gave us, in a romantic manner, the history of his own pen. He said: "Once I had been to Banaras.  Mahadev was with me.  I lost my pen there.  Mahadev was naturally upset. So our host, the late Shivaprasad Gupta, presented a pen to me.  He gave one to Mahadev also.  I am still using that pen.  It is entirely Indian-made – manufactured in Banaras – and it works well." After saying this, he said with a smile: "I was told the story (of the manufacture of the pen) by Shivaprasad.  I do not know anything about it. But what he stated must have been true."

Several years later I ended up selling both of the two pens to an Indian collector, with whom I have unfortunately lost touch. Now, of course, there is much information to be found online about Indian pens and their makers, with Gooptu the subject of a biographical entry in Wikipedia and his pens eagerly sought after though very difficult to find. 

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