Ballpoint pens need vertical pressure to force ink on to paper, that can give back and shoulder pains. Fountain pens need no such pressure
NEW DELHI :
Some years ago—I think it was in 2010—I attended a session at the Jaipur Literature Festival featuring the renowned American journalist and author Lawrence Wright. It was not a session I had originally planned to attend. Jaipur is a smorgasbord of delights for anyone with a passing interest in literary affairs. And I was perhaps hurtling from one session to another when I happened to pass by the session featuring Wright.
Just at that moment, Wright was describing how he went about collecting information for his Pulitzer Prize-winning 2006 book The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda And The Road To 9/11 (it is an excellent book, and one of the most borrowed volumes in my personal library. I cannot recommend it enough).
It wasn’t so much the journalistic complexity of his process that fascinated me—though this was quite fascinating—but the attention to detail Wright lavished on the logistical details of his work.
Sitting on stage, Wright picked up his backpack, unzipped it and pulled out its contents. He then took the audience through these contents, why he chose those particular things and how he used them in his day-to-day life as a critically acclaimed journalist.
I was mesmerized. And in the months and years since, I have adopted many of Wright’s gadgets and techniques. For instance, Wright said, he always carried one of those little dictaphones that he could directly plug into a computer’s USB port without needing any cables or convertors.
But the most enduring bit of Wright’s wisdom was his advice when it came to pens. Always use a fountain pen, he said. Why? Because it prevents aches and pains of the shoulders and back.
Wright explained that journalists often have to take notes standing up, without a surface to rest a notebook or a sheet of paper on. Most ballpoint pens need some vertical pressure to force ink on to paper.
Try this yourself right now. Stand up, hold a pen or a book in one hand, and try to write with your pen in the other. The experience can be extremely uncomfortable if you have to write anything of length. Do this often and you’ll soon feel significant pain in your upper back and shoulders. Even more so if you’re wearing a backpack or a knapsack of some kind.
Wright said a good fountain pen required no force at all. The ink just glided on to paper and, coupled with a low friction nib, exerted little pressure on the back and shoulders (this is also great for people with wrist and thumb problems).
Within the week I went and bought myself a basic Lamy fountain pen from a shop somewhere in Gurgaon, adjacent to Delhi. I’ve since been gifted other luxury fountain pens crafted from heavy enamel and precious metal. But all that weight simply defeats the purpose of a fountain pen. At least from the “Wright perspective". I always leave them in a cupboard at home, and travel with my trusty old Lamy.
And so things remained till just a few months ago, when I picked up a pen from the gift shop of the Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein, Germany. I bought a Caran d’Ache 849 model ballpoint pen simply because of its great design and finish, knowing nothing at all of its cult status among pen connoisseurs.
But then I began to write with it and was stunned. It is every bit as smooth and friction-free as any fountain pen I’ve ever used. It is also light, compact, extremely well made and, fancy European name notwithstanding, good value for money (you should be able to get one for less than ₹ 1,500. It will last a lifetime).
If you write a lot with pens and feel the occasional stiffness in the neck and shoulders, why not try changing your pen? It doesn’t really matter if your pen of choice is a Lamy or a Caran d’Ache 849. Anything that you can use effortlessly standing up should do the trick. You might even find yourself writing a lot more than usual, and actually enjoying the feel of nib on paper. Which is never a bad thing.
The next column will look at smart but simple ways of taking notes while reading books. Make... err ... a note of it.