I have been thinking a lot about pen pencils these days, their gradual decline in sales over the past decade owing to a faster decline in people preferring to write on paper over type, and the lack of options when one goes shopping at a stationery store. “Here you go,” said the shopkeeper as he opened a flat plastic box containing several colorful pen pencils. None of them of a notable brand, so I asked him for one. He then showed me pen pencils made by Cello, Faber-Castell, and Camlin. No sight of Rotring or Staedtler and I did not dare pronounce the words for he would have taken me for a madman. I don’t blame him because no one buys pen pencils these days the way they used to ten years ago. No one other than the New York Magazine spends much time in selecting a pen these days the way they used to five years ago. And no one talks about stealing pens from their friends like they have been doing since they invented stationery. You may call me a madman for confessing the crime. But I can’t stop thinking about pen pencils and the time when I stole a distinctive yellow Rotring Tikky II mechanical pen pencil from a classmate during my diploma days sometime between 2009 and 2011.
I don’t remember the details of how it found its way into my person but I can assure you that it must have been a voluntary move. Nothing happens by chance in this world and I can guess how my love for stationery must have helped me bag that big boy when its original owner was not looking. I was focusing on the impending horror of a degree education at that time, but I clearly remember the nature of the person I stole it from. He was a good young guy nearing adolescence, the only son born to possible rich parents who could either afford to buy him a Rotring pen pencil or had wealthy friends or business partners who could buy it from the West or the home country Germany itself and gift it to their son. Either way, he didn’t take care of it much because one, it was easy for me to steal it, and two, he seemed unperturbed after it went missing. As a young, taciturn and still slightly cunning for his actions, I would keep an eye on him on the days after the crime was committed. Nothing. No signs of irritation nor did the principal or head of department come to our class to investigate about a missing pen pencil. I was safe.
I also don’t remember having used it much. Because I had this common life feature of saving the best for last and not using it lest I damage it or use it up completely, my memories with the pen pencil are short-lived. I was not much into reading either at that time, which is where I use it extensively these days in case you’re wondering why I visited the stationery store before. I have a good habit of scribbling thoughts and underlining sentences while reading, which helps me retain stuff months, years after I have read a book. So, a pen pencil is absolutely essential if you are a reader.
I don’t think I used the Rotring pen pencil any more than the time it takes for a single 0.5mm lead to finish itself either by chafing itself on paper till the last bit of graphite or through the easier, more common, and the classic, irritating way of fracturing itself by the time you have reached 60% or so of a single lead. The USP of the Rotring pencil – as compared to other local, cheaper ones that we get in India – is that when you click and release, the chuck (that holds the lead in place) does not slide back. It stays there, giving you enough lead to write with in a single press. Most popular alternatives that we have today need to be pressed a couple times before you get the perfect lead-to-nib ratio in order to write without breaking it. It was also heavier than other pencils, and even some popular pens like Lexi 5, Racer Gel, Cello Papersoft, and Cello Gripper. You felt like you were holding a piece of something royal you can’t really figure out what. Maybe that’s why Rotring is still so active in the stationery business.
What I do remember, however, is the immediate fate of the stolen pen pencil. It did not last long with me as soon after my initial excitement over its acquisition I misplaced it. I had at least four different pencils at that time and only the Rotring left me without saying a goodbye. I have not ruled out the possibility of someone having stolen it from me and neither of the possibility that that someone could be its original owner. All I know is that my fleeting experience with the pencil really got me. In a way, it really pushed me off to this utter madness about stationery that I have maintained even after starting my career in marketing.
It is how I got introduced into this unknown field of consumer products, a field higher than that of the common things you see in the shops and online stores. For every product that you buy there is a better, costlier version which if you manage to buy is going to make going back to the lighter, cheaper version very difficult. The same way I haven’t been able to make peace with all the pen pencils that I have owned since then, none of which have been a Rotring. You and I know both know the reason. TN.