In times when text messaging and email are the preferred forms of communication for many, fountain pens may seem redundant. But for those who still enjoy putting pen to paper, they remain a treasured writing tool, to be acquired and maintained with love and care. Most casual pen users and collectors would be familiar with the many nib styles that are commonly available: for example, fine, extra fine, medium, broad and stub, to name a few. Interestingly, there is also the speciality “music” nib said to have been created exclusively for composers of Western music, who needed greater line-width variations to draw quavers, semi quavers, bar lines, treble, bass clefs and the other symbols used in scoring. Some of the symbols require thin lines to be drawn, while others need to be tapered off, and still others require bold filling in.
The website Gourmetpens.com states that music nibs are wet nibs, with a more generous flow of ink than others, making it easier to draw and write thick, thin, tapered and curved symbols and lines. A variety of factors facilitate the required wetness of the music nib, such as the feed that supplies ink to the nib, the tines or tapering edges on either side of the slits and, finally, the tip of the nib. Conventionally, music nibs have two slits and three tines, but some premium fountain pen brands also have music nibs with a single slit and two tines. The tips come in a variety of styles—rounded, elongated, or stubs. Master nib designers like Yukio Nagahara and his father Nobuyoshi Nagahara have for decades designed and handcrafted nibs for Sailor pens, and their music nibs, such as the Naginata Cross Music Emperor (resembling the shape of the Japanese Naginata sword), and costing upwards of $714, or around Rs.48,000, are treasured by collectors.
However, music nibs need not be used only for writing music; they are also recommended for people with elegant handwriting, or even for architectural drawings. In fact, given the line-width variations of music nibs, they could possibly be put to great use even for writing the Devanagari script, or notations of Hindustani classical music. Music has largely been an oral tradition in India, so perhaps using writing tools especially crafted for music has never been accorded much importance by Indian pen makers. Having said that, it is equally true that the penmanship of some Hindustani musicians has been exemplary. K.G. Ginde, veteran scholar-vocalist of the Agra gharana, handwrote hundreds of bandish by his guru S.N. Ratanjankar for the manuscript of a three-part compilation published as Abhinav Geet Manjari. His handwriting was so clear, beautifully formed and neat that it was almost impossible to believe that the notations had not been typed. A handwriting sample of path-breaking vocalist Kumar Gandharva (Theory.tifr.res.in/~mukhi/Music/gandharva.html) shows his bold, expressive handwriting with many curves, flourishes and wavy lines that perhaps would have been ideal for a music nib. Other musicians too have maintained diaries and journals full of a wealth of information written in a spidery hand with an extra fine nib. Pen makers outside India have launched limited and special editions dedicated to great musicians across the ages—Johann Sebastian Bach, Johannes Brahms, Luciano Pavarotti, Yehudi Menuhin, John Lennon and many more. How about a limited edition dedicated to one or more of the great musicians of India, with a music nib if possible, please?
Shubha Mudgal tweets at @smudgal and posts on Instagram as shubhamudgal.