Indelible ink

Located in a narrow lane in Rajahmundry of Andhra Pradesh, the tiny, traditional home of K.V. Ratnam & Sons is the keeper of a precious legacy. It is from here that many handmade, ebonite fountain pens made their way into the hands of freedom fighters to script stories of independence and struggle.

As you enter the house on Fort Gate Street, the first thing that greets the eye is a laminated handwritten letter by Mahatma Gandhi: “Dear Ratnam, I must thank you for the fountain pen you sent me… I have needed it and [it] seems to be a good substitute to the foreign pen. Yours sincerely, M.K. Gandhi, 16.7.1935.” The letter inspired K.V. Ratnam and his family to take forward the enterprise of manufacturing fountain pens under the name of Ratnam Pen Works. Ratnam’s son, K.V. Ramana Murty, now carries forward the legacy.

It all began in 1921 when Ratnam met Gandhiji in Wardha and presented a metal mould. But the latter advised Ratnam to create something from “pin to pen”, which were then being imported extensively. In 1932, he sent his first handmade pen to Gandhiji, who rejected it as some foreign materials were used in its making. A determined Ratnam worked hard for the next one year. In 1933, when All India Village Industries Association secretary J.C. Kumarappa visited Rajahmundry, Ratnam handed over the first “Swadeshi” pen to Gandhiji.

Subsequently, pens made by Ratnam came to be known as Ratnam Sons or Swadeshi pens. Those pens were used by prominent freedom fighters and other eminent people. The pens are now priced in the range of ₹250 to ₹2.5 lakh.

The most popular one is the Supreme pen with a gold nib. “This takes two weeks to one month to be made. These are customised pens with gold nibs, sometimes carved with the user’s name on request,” Murty says. The prices of Supreme pens with gold nibs starts at ₹20,000, and orders come from as far as Germany and Australia. Murty and his two sons make 12 normal pens a day.

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