Saturday Features


  • There is more to life, to pens, to buying and selling than existing, writing, and making profit
- Smriti Ravindra

Aug 11, 2018-

Parenting is a fine juggle.  Take this as a point in case.

There is a rage in our house and neighbourhood over a game my son and his pals have named Pen Fight. Essentially, Pen Fight is playing gucchas, or marbles, with pens-- one pen knocks another off the table, and the person with the strongest pen (read, heaviest pen) wins. You can only imagine how painful this game is to someone like me, who likes to occasionally fancy herself a writer—and it scarcely matters that I rarely put pen to paper. I, like most “writer-types”, am a typist, but the pen remains highly sacred to me, and watching them fly off tables and slam upon floors leaves me writhing with physical pain.

The advent of Pen Fight has transformed many lives. My son, who so far wanted to be a footballer, now wants to be a pen fighter and play in tournaments. That these tournaments exist nowhere other than in houses in our colony and in grade 4 at a specific school seems to make no difference to my son. Anyway, my son is a passionate pen fighter and pesters me daily for pens, and I, who despite the sacredness of pens, had never really taken much care of pens before, have become highly possessive of my stationery of late.

“Please, Mamma, give me that pen,” my son pleads, or, “Please, Mamma, buy me a heavy pen,” and immediately I let out a witch-like screech.

“Stay away from my pens!” I shriek.

Anxiety levels at home run high.

But the truth is my son’s passion for this sacrilegious game has won me over a little. There is little one can do other than marvel at a child’s dedication if the child fills notebooks up with strategies, rules, diagrams, possible logos for tournaments, and various names for absolutely similar looking pens, and so, despite reservations, I have visited several stationery shops in the last two months and asked shopkeepers for “heavy pens”.

“Not pens that write well, but pens that are heavy,” I have explained to bewildered shopkeepers.

It took us a while to find the appropriate beast-pen that could kill other beasts with all but a flick, but we did eventually come away happy with a purchase a few days back. The pen we bought came in a suave leather case, and is apparently built by some leading pen-making European company, and therefore cost me a ghastly amount. (I admit I am more than a little ashamed of my vulnerability before my son’s doe-eyed manipulation. When the rascal’s eyes fill up with tears and his lashes grow dewdrops upon them, when his lips begin to quiver, he looks like an ice-cream flavoured flower, and all the cliched expressions of beauty become fresh again. And I am a sucker for all things delicious. So, of course I end up losing all battles I courageously wage against him.

Anyway, a few days back I found myself outside a stationery shop that went by the name “PenMart” (PenMart fancily painted upon a regal looking billboard), and paid twelve hundred rupees in cash for a pen because PenMart, fancy as its font was, did not have a functioning credit card machine that day.

Once the buy was sealed, my son would not hand the leather case over to me, would not let me put it into the bag, which, as far as I was concerned, held the most valuable thing in the world—my laptop. What was I without my laptop? Who was I without my laptop? Despite my overwhelming love for my son, I worry more about the viruses my laptop could get than the viruses my son often comes home with. The previous represents death to me, the latter a simple visit to Mr Paediatrician. And yet, here was my son, refusing to let my satchel hold his terribly useless pen.

“I will carry it myself,” he declared. “You might break it.”

Oh ye of little faith!

The shopkeeper, a young man with manicured beard and dark, gorgeous eyes was frowning at us. He, like the two other shopkeepers we had spoken to that afternoon (I had hoped to find a suitable pen in shops closer to where we lived, but no such luck), could not quite comprehend the situation. When we had first asked him for a heavy pen, Gorgeous Eyes had assumed we meant heavy in value, something that would mark us as classy and rich, as elites of Mumbai. He had pulled out some beautiful makes from his collections—works of art, he called each of them. He caressed their body, blew on their surface, encouraged us to remove the cap to admire the make of nibs. It was rather exasperating.

“You will find nothing like it in the entire city,” he guaranteed.

But my son and I shook our heads. No, not classy pens, not rich in style. But heavy. Heavy in weight. Naapi tauli deu, boss.

It took his sensitive soul a little while to understand what it was we needed, but he got it, finally, and when he did, he pointed at his son  with his Manicured Chin and asked, “For him?”

I nodded.

“But why?” he asked. Poor thing. Then he addressed my insane child.

“Heavy pens will make your hands hurt. Good pens are light pens. Light pens allow you to write for many hours. Heavy pens will exhaust you.”

I thought he was going to cry. But my son was not convinced. Already shy of strangers, he hid himself slightly behind me and mumbled something incoherent in way of response.

“Huh?” asked the shopkeeper, and the task of explaining fell to me.

“He does not need a pen to write with,” I said, calmly. “He needs it to play with.”

“What does one play with pens?”

“Guccha,” I said.


“Marbles. Ever played marbles?”

“You mean, knock one marble with another?”

“Yes. That one.”

“He needs a designer pen to knock other designer pens off?” asked Bewildered Beauty.

“It does not matter if the other pens are designer or not.”

“Obviously,” he said. I could see that despite the profit we would be getting him, Beautiful was a little angry, a little disgusted by me, and the judgement in his eyes made me squirm. “So,” he finally asked, “Where does he play this game?”

“Anywhere he can find a table. But mostly in school, upon desks.”

“And pens go flying off tables?’

“And slamming upon floors.”

“Ouch!” he cried. Poor thing.

“Ouch,” I agreed.

Gorgeousness then turned to my son. “If the makers of this pen find out you are playing marbles with their babies, they will jump off skyscrapers and kill themselves. What the hell! I want to jump off one myself.”

Son only responded with shy smiles. My son’s shy smiles are his secret missile. Once he gives you the shy smile, there is nothing left to do. So, like me, Gorgeousness lost his war to my son.

And so it was that the shopkeeper, who had just contemplated suicide, decided to comprehend the entire affair through my son’s point of view, and in doing so understood that there was more to life, to pens, to buying and selling than existing, writing, and making profit. And so it was that instead of chastising the Spoilt Prince for his terrible irreverence, Gorgeous shook his head in happy amusement.

“You play well, Young Mister,” he blessed, “and take care of that beauty. She is a beauty, all right, and has cost your mother a fortune too,” and he burst into a laugh.

My son, mortified by this attention, kept his eyes lowered and a dancing smile upon his face.

Published: 11-08-2018 08:09

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