Tribute: A J Philip

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Mera pen

by A.J. Philip

MY colleague Roopinder Singh and I have one thing in common— a passion for pens. For us, a pen is not just an instrument for writing. It is also a thing of beauty. Every time he had a new pen in his pocket, I would notice it, just as he would never fail to make a comment whenever I flaunted a new one.

One day, while attending the editorial conference, my eyes naturally fell on a thick golden Sheaffer pen in his breast pocket. After the meeting, he handed over to me the pen so that I could feel its exquisite beauty. He even prompted me to write something with the pen. I felt delighted.

I could easily make out that it was a vintage Sheaffer, which had not lost its golden lustre. Of course, I knew he had many beautiful pens. I wondered for how long he had been collecting pens because he was not old enough to have such a vintage collection.

Unlike him, I could not boast of any vintage pen. The oldest I had was a Sheaffer, which my father gifted to me when I joined high school. I never parted with the pen, with which I appeared for all school and college examinations.

It took years for me, a struggling journalist, to buy another Sheaffer after a petty thief took away from my bachelor’s den in Delhi my favourite pen and watch — a Favre Leuba — which my grandfather had worn before he departed this world.

Roopinder disabused me of my belief that the expensive pen belonged to him when he told me that his fabulous collection actually belonged to his father Giani Gurdit Singh.

How come he allowed him to use his fountain pens? Usually, connoisseurs of fountain pens never allow anyone else to use their prized possessions.

Then, he let out the secret. Due to old age, the Giani could no longer hold a pen and write with it, though that had not impeded his work on the Guru Granth Sahib. So, he allowed his son to use them, instead.

As Roopinder told me, the pen I was holding was his father’s most favourite. Was it with this pen that he wrote Mera Pind, one of the greatest novels in Punjabi? He could not answer that question with certainty.

Later, my colleague gifted me a copy of the beautifully produced Mera Pind. I had two reasons to politely refuse the gift. One, I would not be able to read it. Two, I wanted someone else to read it, rather than it merely adorning my bookshelf.

I had no chance to meet Gianiji but on several occasions I benefited from his scholarship. Whenever I had any doubts about some historical or other aspects of Sikhism, it was to Roopinder that I would turn. Most of the time he was able to answer my queries. One such question prompted him to show me his father’s magnificent collection of miniature paintings related to Sikh history.

On a couple of occasions when the questions were trickier or complicated, he would say that he would soon get back to me. Sure enough, he would call back with the correct answer in a jiffy, for he lived with a living encyclopaedia on Sikhism, who breathed his last on Wednesday.

Published in The Tribune, January 19, 2007