Mohammad Imtiaz is a third-generation doctor who operates a small hospital in India. He is quite good at healing his patients—which happen to be fountain pens. For decades, Imtiaz has been repairing and selling fountain pens at his Pen Hospital in Kolkata. Situated in a narrow alleyway of Chowringhee Road in Esplanade, this one-of-a-kind hospital has been treating broken nibs and pen pistons since before India gained its independence in 1947. Fountain pen connoisseurs and vintage pen collectors in Kolkata and the surrounding area know where to go if their pen is broken and bleeding blue.
“It’s been 77 years since this shop was established by my grandfather, Mohmmad Samsuddin who had come to start his own business in Kolkata from Bihar in 1945,” said Imtiaz. Along with his brother Mohammad Raiz he inherited the business from their father Mohammad Sultan in the 1980s. After his brother’s death this year, Imtiaz now runs the show with his nephew and son. The Pen Hospital’s collection boasts pens ranging from 20 to 20,000 Indian Rupees. The iconic shop sells and repairs both Indian and global pen brands like Parker, Mont Blanc, Pilot, Sheaffer, Waterman, Pierre Cardin, Swan, Wilson, Blackbird, and Pelican, to name a few.
The wooden cupboards of this small, almost cramped shop have a display of both old and new pens. A glass table top doubles up as the operation table for the doctors of the house to look into problems of the ailing pen. “We have sold vintage pens dating back to the 1930s and 40s. The stock for antique pens sometimes gets sold out quickly,” says Imtiaz while closely looking at a broken pen with his sharp eyes through a magnifying lens.
Besides being a pen selling and repairing stop, Kolkata’s Pen Hospital has also become a place of rendezvous for the city’s pen connoisseur and collectors,” says Sathak Ganguly, a Kolkata-based journalist and a devout fountain pen user. He has been visiting this shop since 2006 when he had to fix a broken pen. “I happened to meet Raiz in the hospital, for the first time when I had gone to repair my pen. Since then I have made countless trips to the shop. I feel at home here.” Ganguly said. I have got to know about other fountain pen fanatics and their collection from here, he added. A vintage pen collector himself, Ganguly has a personal collection of around 1,000 vintage pens.
The Pen Hospital’s clientele includes a long list of noted Bengali writers, filmmakers, politicians, judges, doctors, journalists, college professors, and high-ranking government officials. The shop has repaired the pens of many famous personalities including the pen of Oscar-winning director Satyajit Ray. With the changing time where fountain pens are losing their space and charm, this shop is heavily dependent on pen connoisseurs and collectors who have pens as part of their heirloom and antique collections.
“In the age of computers, despite the dwindling number of pen users, there has been a reinvention of the fountain pen among the younger generation in the last couple of years and this has given us hope,” says Imtiaz.