Mohit M.Rao meets B. Shama Bhat, a specialist in repairing pens since 1971
Like a doctor is immediately recognised by his white coat and stethoscope, B. Shama Bhat, probably the city’s only pen repair specialist can be immediately recognised by ink-daubed fingers and caps of pens sticking out of his pocket.
Even in the age of use-and-throw pens, 59-year-old Mr. Bhat still tends to pens, almost surgeon-like in his approach, replacing the bent nibs of fountain pens or diluting solidified ink to ensure smoothness of writing.
In over 45 years of experience dealing with only the omnipresent writing instrument Mr. Bhat who runs the Vijaya Pen Mart in Hampankatta has accrued a strange wizardry over customers and the pens they want.
Take for instance, a customer who walked into a store and asked, only with the gesture of his fingers, for a pen whose name he had forgotten. Just merely by the way the fingers presented itself while holding an invisible pen, Mr. Bhat guessed the brand wanted by the customer.
Vijaya Pen Mart was started by Mr. Bhat’s father-in-law Venkataramanaya in 1958, and he joined the business in 1971. This was the time of the fountain pen, when nibs, and ink pots were as common a sight in classrooms as notebooks.
“It was mandatory for students to use fountain pens as it helped students develop a neater handwriting. Now, they use only gel and ball pens, and for neater handwriting, they go to handwriting institutes,” he said.
At the heydays of fountain pens – when manufacturers like Pilot, Swan, Blackbird, Flame, Ashoka were household names – Mr. Bhat saw between 500 to 1,000 pens arriving at the store daily for repairs. Now, the number has dwindled to around eight. “While a few students do turn up, most clients who come for repairing pens are court judges, document writers, school headmasters and officials in Deputy Commissioner’s office and taluk office, “ he said.
Apart from reduction in pen repairs, Mr. Bhat even laments that his job has transformed from a salesman’s job to just a delivery man. “Customers used to walk in and ask many questions before buying a pen. It used to be a challenge to sell a pen. Now, however, brands are what people want. They see an advertisement on television or in newspapers and they only want that pen,” he said.
Does it sometimes get dull for Mr. Bhat after having dealt with pens for four decades? He scoffs and immediately retorts: “From the time a boy enters Class 4 to when he retires, he needs a pen. I’ve had customers for over 30 years and it is exciting to see them every time they enter the store. And, everyday, I’m learning something new – new brands, new customer preferences. I still feel like a student learning about things,” he said.