A Make Unmake Story – BW Businessworld
When Bibek Debroy, Chairman of the Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council decided to write this book along with Sovan Roy, the duo chose a somewhat unusual topic. As the name suggests, ‘Inked in India – Fountain Pens and a Story of Make and Unmake’ is about fountain pens, nibs and ink. The book traces the history of not pens in general but the ones specifically made in India.
Why Fountain Pens?
“Most will wonder why is one talking about fountain pens. Aren’t fountain pens dead? The way technology is advancing will people write anymore?,” asks Debroy, who has authored several books, as he took the stage at the India Business Literature Festival (IBLF) – Delhi Chapter.
Industry estimates indicate that fountain pens account for about 10 per cent of the writing instruments market in India.
“This book does two different things. Apart from journalistic accounts, you will not find an account that catalogues the manufacturing of all of these items in India. There is no coherent history in one place of the manufacture of all of these. This is the first thing this book does. It is a documentation, hopefully exhaustive, of all Indian manufacturers of fountain pens, ink and nibs,” says Debroy.
Linked to the Economic Story
The book also illustrates how faulty economic policies destroyed the manufacture of fountain pens and inks over time. At the time of independence, there were foreign and domestic manufacturers. The first thing that cut the economic story short was the clamping down on ink pots.
“That was competition from abroad,” explains Debroy, adding, “The next thing was the reservation for the small-scale sector, restricting entry from the large-scale sector. The third thing was the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act of 1947 which led to several exits of large companies. Then there was liberalisation that made it difficult for Indian companies to survive.”
The Changing Story
In the last two decades, much has changed. Indian manufacturers today can hold their own with the best of the world. Debroy states that they have marketing and distribution problems as they are micro, small and medium enterprises. “Not many would know that a brand such as Sheaffer is now an Indian company by acquisition. Among the five best nib manufacturers in the world, two are Indian,” he says.
The book documents the history and links it with economic policy. Hence it is called ‘make and unmake of India’s fountain pens’. The co-author is also a collector of Indian fountain pens like I am and is based in Kolkata, where he works for the West Bengal government. This is all I have to say. For the rest, read the book,” asserts Debroy.