Kolkata’s Dilip Basak, 56, has been in the profession since the age of 11
“It’s my nesha and not pesha [it’s an addiction and not just a profession],” says Dilip Basak, 56, about his livelihood, which happens to be repairing fountain pens. If the Mont Blanc or Waterman on your desk — whether inherited from your grandfather or a new purchase — has developed a snag, Mr. Basak is not only likely to diagnose the problem but also fix it for you.
“I am the only person in whole of India who is still in this profession,” Mr. Basak went on to declare, “and I am able to make both ends meet.” While it may be debatable whether he is the only one in the whole country doing this job, there is no doubt he is one of the very few, and certainly a highly respected member of the several groups on Facebook and WhatsApp formed by connoisseurs of the good, old fountain pen.
Mr. Basak’s fame among pen lovers is inversely proportional to the size of his workplace — a narrow rectangular space under a staircase of an old building in Bhabanipur — which he inherited, along with the profession, from his father Bholanath Basak, who died in 1998.
“I was hardly 11 or 12 when I got into this line, holding my father’s hand. I will tell you why I came into the profession this early. I was a good student in school, always stood first or second, but one particular year, they refused to hand me the results because I hadn’t paid the fee. My father eventually managed to get the money, but by then I had decided I will never return to school,” Mr. Basak said.
Having dropped out of school that early, Mr. Basak himself may not be highly skilled with the written word, but fountain pens repaired by him have presumably scripted important moments in history. Pens he has fixed include those belonging to Satyajit Ray and Jyoti Basu. “They never came to me personally, of course. Their pens were brought to me by dealers or the showroom people, who would tell me, ‘Handle this with care, they belong to so-and-so’. For a long time, pens from the Raj Bhavan also came for repair,” he said.
Fountain pens going out of fashion — combined with Mr. Basak deciding to stick to his profession — has only helped add to his popularity as a restorer. Back during those days, he was one of the many mechanics in Kolkata who could fix a fountain pen. Today, he is known to fountain pen connoisseurs across the country, who routinely courier him their expensive pens for repair.
“My father, though he was a skilled craftsman, had one flaw — he would get nervous while handling very expensive pens. Whereas I don’t care whether the pen I am repairing costs ₹1 lakh or ₹1.5 lakh. If I start worrying about its value, I would never be able to work on it. This confidence I acquired early on in life,” said Mr. Basak.
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