Dilip Basak, Ma Durga and the hand-made pen for a daughter!
Dilip Basak, Ma Durga and the hand-made pen for a daughter! A father’s love turned to perfection to celebrate the homecoming of Bengal’s daughter!
I have never seen a fountain pen being made before my eyes. Thus, when I got the chance, to see ace craftsman Dilip Basak turn a fountain pen as I waited, I jumped up and seized the opportunity. The fact that he promised to make an exception for me and open his workshop during the Durga Pujas was what was really the icing on the cake – Maa’s blessings, in its purest form.
Dilip Basak was at his magnanimous best – he laid out a bundle of ebonite rods for me to pick from and that done, took exactly three hours and forty-three minutes to turn my precious possession, from the scratch. What is remarkable, and I still can’t comprehend its true purport, he made the pen without using even the most basic of implements – a ruler for example. Mark my words, the man is sheer genius – he was taking measurements, almost arbitrarily, using his fingers! Do I need to add here that the dimensions, however arbitrary they looked, were perfect, down to a hair’s breadth? Phew!
He turned the section, the barrel and the cap, manning his lathe machine in a space that is big enough just to fit his frame. Often looking away from the pen being turned, even as the machine rolled and his hands instinctively felt and shaped it to perfection. His smile perpetually stuck on his face, he kept regaling me with his joyous banter – of how he learnt his ropes from his father as a child, how the legendary Dhar babu had showered his blessings on the young Dilip, how connoisseurs from around the world seek him out to mend their favourite pens and how he now wants to take the next logical step into the world of pen turning, to establish his name brand.
He then sat down on his haunches, right where he was standing to man the lathe machine – and switched on the buffing machine to polish the pen that he was creating for me. Truth be told, such restricted is the workshop, that sitting across his make-shift counter, and craning my neck in every conceivable way, I could not see the pen taking shape, even though I could discern the rough outlines. As the wheel blurred on monotonously, the only saving grace, to my rapidly beating heart was the glow on Dilip Basak’s face as his handiwork obviously started to fill him with the kind of pride that masters allow themselves to feel, to celebrate their creations.
He then pulled out an antediluvian tin box, from which he selected a standard nib, an old Pelikan feed and a vintage ball clip. Will you believe me if I tell you that everything fitted into the pen as if they were made for each other? Unbelievable as it may sound, the fittings required no scraping, leave alone re-engineering and were set into place before my incredulous eyes, by hand and without the use of any fasteners!
That done, it was back to the polishing machine and the breaking of the smile on an obviously proud Dilip Basak’s face, his satisfaction with the piece now evident, even to the newbie like me.
And then I saw the pen. What do I say? What can I possibly say? In a world of make-belief, it is like a breath of pure, fresh air! In a world of plastic, it is ebonite. In a world full of copies, it is an original, a handmade work of art. Mass produced be damned, this is bespoke, boutique!
From start to finish – and I timed it – it took the master exactly three hours and forty-three minutes. The pen writes beautifully, is extremely well balanced and is a sheer beauty in terms of performance. The unique thing about the pen is the section threading, which is way up front as opposed to the normal (?) cap threading which are towards the end where the barrel meets the section. Initially, I was a bit apprehensive, as I had thought that the threading will disturb my grip, perhaps even make writing with the pen difficult. But hey? There is no such hassle. It writes as beautifully as it looks and the threading does not come in the way of my grip either.
I learnt that Dilip Basak is taking this leap of faith, urged by his daughter who is around my age and that she will soon join him in the business to look after the commercial aspects. My good wishes to her. Durga Puja, here in Bengal is about a daughter’s homecoming, about celebrating daughters. I guess, the pen that I am carrying home is also a father’s love and affection, hand turned in ebonite, in the truest tradition of everything that is Bengali.
Want to make your daughter, all daughters, your Ma Dugga special? Extend your support to Dilip Basak. I just did.
- Jyotshna Agiwal