A Roman Column
THE PENULTIMATE QUEST
Or Searching for the Ultimate Pen
I know, I know that the word 'penultimate' means 'second to last' and not the ultimate pen. But in my house, looking for a pen can become a wild goose chase as if for some unreachable goal: some distantly beckoning, last and final pen in the world. Just now, for example, I was merely desirous of jotting down some ideas for next week's column. So, naturally, I go to my desk to grab a pen. Not any special pen, mind you, not a fountain pen, nor something that claims to be mightier than a sword, but just your everyday ballpoint pen. Yet, one would think I had set out on some quixotic quest for the Fountain of Youth or the Meaning of Life or something.
Now why would this be the trickiest part of my innocent desire to do any kind of writing? Why, I ask my readers through gritted teeth, would I not find a SINGLE pen in my pen-holder? How did I forget that pens are one of those household items, like safety pins, scissors and nail cutters, which are specially designed NEVER to be found when you most need them? Admittedly, we humans have a tendency to pluck pens from the source and never putting them back, but let us not forget that pens also have a built-in paranormal ability to slowly vanish over time, reappearing under the sofa or behind a dresser---a whole secret community of them, thriving in hiding, laughing at us, plotting against us.
But what about those pens that do not emigrate but are visible, you ask? Well, it isn't as if one doesn't encounter pen-like things in the house, but a decent one that writes? That's another story for another time. At the moment I am ready to burst either into tears or a temper tantrum as I rummage through the floral bouquet of multicoloured 'writing objects' displayed all over the house in pretty ceramic mugs. Today, when I am brimming with ideas, these mugs are brimming with an unusually useless cornucopia comprising: two fluorescent pink and yellow highlighters; 3 whiteboard markers in red, black and blue by Pelikan, Crayola and Trattomemo, respectively; an elegant black and gold pen which doubles as a digital pointer (and made out of bounds for writing by my husband whose toy it is); five ball pens, two by BIC, three by Faber-Castell (none of which has either the ink nor the inkling to write a single word); and a nib-less pencil that says Hotel Opera, Madrid. But, amongst such an eclectic gathering, there is not ONE pen that can do the simple act for which it was devised.
Unsuccessfully, I go through the pen-choked mug on the kitchen counter squatting next to my Siddiqua Kobir's much thumbed and turmeric stained Bengali cook book and the batter splattered Betty Crocker's International Cook Book. I inspect the contents of the mug and shout, close to hysteria: "How is it that there are 18 ball pens here, precisely 9 black and 7 blue ones, yet none of them writes?" "Er…9 and 7 make 16, Mummy." My younger son says gently, as one would to a patient who had just wrestled free of his strait jacket. "Whatever!" I splutter. Okay, so I am a bit mathematically challenged at the best of times, and my present choleric state does absolutely nothing for my numerical skills. I wail, "A pen, a pen, my kingdom for a pen!"
"Sorry I can't help you Mummy, but I really don't use pens that much," Son points at the computer. It suddenly occurs to me how true this is for me as well. These days the pen is used for such a limited number of situations----which is still NO excuse for the pens to disappear, I shake a rebuking finger at all the pens smirking at me from their hiding places all over the house.
But it is a fact that these days I use a pen only: 1/ to reach and scratch at out-of-the way places on my back; 2/ to encircle a date on the calendar; 3/ to pin up my hair in a bun when I take a shower; 4/ to reset the time on a digital watch; 5/ to make shopping and to-do lists; 6/ to write checks and sign on dotted lines; 7/ to doodle at the dentists; 8/ to make kababs (what do you mean 'WHAT?'Yes, I use them to wrap the ground meat, so when I pull them off they look like hollow-centered seekh-kababs! Doesn't everyone?); 9/ to label packages for the freezer, like this one that I'm looking at: 'Korma curry from party-April 1995' (95? Hmmm, I really must remember to use it up on my next batch of houseguests. KIDDING!); 10/ and for generally poking at things.
Sometimes, though, like right now, I would like to use a pen to jot down some initial ideas for any creative writing which I will then elaborate and complete on the computer.
I decide that it is time to visit the stationery shop to stock up on pens. I love being in the Cartoleria shop. I love being surrounded by stacks of crisp new papers and notebooks, and clumps of free flowing pens with lubricated nibs that are ready to produce immortal lines. I select a few to test on the writing pad, and practise giving out my autograph to screaming hoards of fans awaiting their turn holding my book in their hands……….
Here I must painfully pull away from the pleasant scene to say that I have almost given up writing by hand. Not simply because of the convenience of the computer, but also because of a violent fear of my own hand-writing, which even at my most careful application starts off as an inky spider with a tendency to tipple, which then becomes increasingly inebriated, barely making its drunken way across my page! It's a pharmacist's dream, a prescription that even he couldn't decode minutes after penning it. No, it's not a pretty sight, and the keyboard has been my lifesaver and partner for life. It's a strong and meaningful relationship, and yet there is a certain something about a pen that still makes my heart flutter!
So, I pick out a bunch of handsome ball pens, knowing full well that in just a few days they will break my heart and disappear. I sigh and pay up, thinking: seize the day, live for the moment. Yes, Carpe Diem; a fool's philosophy probably, but foolishly happy, I Carpe-the-Pen and come home glowing. I take out a special mug and in it I pour my brand new pens with fresh faith. For good measure, I yell to the house in general, "Whoever lifts any pen from here puts it right back, or else…." Luckily, no one asks, or else what?
Exactly twenty-four hours later, as I reach out to the mug to begin my article, I let out a bloodcurdling scream: the mug is empty. I give up! I know now, that I cannot fight the natural order of things. I tell myself I am lucky that I don't have to shout 'Where the hell is the keyboard?'
So, forget the pens, and from ideas jotted down yesterday with a combination of: a) my eyebrow pencil and b) Shhh……my husband's digital pointer-cum-pen, let me finally start my article.
(R) thedailystar.net 2008