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Omkar Yarguddi @edgy_YO
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A story of how changing times and preferences lead to the decline of a local business - #thread…
Story by @TheQuint
The oldest memory I have of using fountain pens goes back to std. 5 in school. Till std. 4, we were made to use pencils and I absolutely hated using them because you needed to press hard on the paper for the writing to be fairly dark and legible.
So imagine my joy when we were finally allowed to use pens in school! My mother had bought me and my cousin some beautiful fountain pens on her trip to Mumbai in the summer vacations.
(we were both in the same class. I come from a joint family with 4 kids of my generation. So if anyone got something, the other 3 also had to get the same thing. Else, there'd be murder!)
Their biggest draw, at first appearance, was that they had popular cartoon characters printed on the body! I remember spending the first few minutes fiddling with the cap to get the top and bottom halves aligned just right. (I am a little obsessive like that :P)
Immediately I ran to the local shop to get the first bottle of blue ink to take these babies for a test run. My dad filled them up, got the ink to flow properly, and handed it over to me. I am not kidding, I was smitten the moment I started scribbling randomly!
The greatest thing for me was the fact that I did not have to apply any pressure for it to write. It just flew over the surface of the paper. It meant no more aching fingers during homework. It meant I was not a pencil pusher (don't mind the pun) anymore xD
From then on till the time I finished std.10th, I exclusively used fountain pens to do all my writing. In the process, I also managed to develop a good handwriting. But all of that went for a toss once I started Junior College.
I used to travel about an hour one way by bus on bumpy af roads to college. I had to switch to using ballpoint pens because the ink from the fountain pens started to splash into their caps and covered my fingers whenever I pulled one out to take notes. *sigh*
Fast forward two years to 2010 when I moved to Pune to study engineering. I had completely stopped using fountain pens by then, and nobody else did either. But as fate would have it, I happened to meet a chap called Payas Awadhutkar, a year my senior.
Damn near the most brilliant fellow with some of the most diverse interests I've ever seen! In him, I found a great friend, quizzing teammate, pakka Puneri, and finally, someone who still used fountain pens to write!
He was the one to introduce me to places like Goodluck, Bipin, Bedekar, and Kalpana Bhel, and also to Kale Pens - a small shop next to the Dagadusheth mandir where they sold pens they manufactured themselves.
I still remember going there sometime in my second year of college with Payas to buy a pen. The owner kaka showed me some samples, I picked one. He assembled the pen right in front of me, (surprising!), filled it up, adjusted the spacing between the nib tines and handed it to me.
I thus became the proud owner of a Kale pen! I used it for a while, but fell back to my habit of using ball pens for some reason. (Habits are hard to change, I should know.) I think I still have it somewhere at home among my other fountain pens...
I moved houses recently and while packing up, I found an old Kale pen which at one point belonged to my grandfather. I had picked it up on one of my trips home and kept it like a treasure. It was in dire need of servicing.
I have recently taken up writing with fountain pens again. So off I went to Kale Pens, hoping to also buy maybe another pen while I was there getting the other one serviced. But the shop I arrived at was definitely not what I remembered from years back.
The location was still the same. That old peth feel was still the same. The guy running it was also still the same, only a few years older. But there were definitely signs of decay. Half the steel letters from its signs had fallen off, there were no pens on display anymore.
Luckily, they still had nibs and kaka was able to get my grandfather's pen ship-shape. When I asked what happened, he merely said "आता कोणी शाई पेन वापरत नाही (Nobody uses ink pens anymore)". As the years passed demand kept falling, and with it, their sales.
Eventually they had to close down their factory and stop producing pens altogether. Now they just sell nibs which proudly claim a 5-year guarantee, and their ink in their signature plastic pouches - pouches which keep alive a dying business, not unlike blood bags and humans.
I left with a repaired pen, a couple too many spare nibs than I might need in the near future, and a sad feeling because I could actually see a business that once did well dying a slow death.
I guess if there's anything to take away from this story is that one should keep an eye out on changing trends. There are times when there is a definite shift in how the market functions. How a business responds to it can make or break it.
Maybe they were blindsided by a sudden drop in demand one year and never recovered from it. Maybe Kale kaka saw this happening, but couldn't do enough to change in time. Maybe he tried, but wasn't successful.
In the words of former Intel CEO Andy Grove, 'Only the Paranoid Survive'. For businesses, it means constant vigilance not only over competitors, but also over the market as well as how they function and what skills they acquire that might be of use in a time of crisis.
All of these, and other things help you weather storms, and even thrive in times of adversity - much like how Intel did under the threat from the Japanese by changing the core focus of their business from memory chips to microprocessors. There is much to be learned from this tale
As for Kale Pens, the future does not look promising. One day it will fade into oblivion. For now, it tries to stay afloat clutching at whatever straws it might find, a vestige of a time gone past, a time when people still preferred writing with fountain pens...
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