Saturday, June 12, 2010

Writing instruments

A shop specializing in pens seems to be a bit of an anachronism, but Gem & Co. is merely one of the more visible such specialist shops in George Town. It has been around for over 80 years, having been established by M.C.Cunnan Chetty in the mid 1920s. In its heyday, Gem & Co. was one of the largest pen companies in south India. Name a brand, and Gem & Co. would have it in stock: Pelikan, Sheafer, Parker - all those brands were carried in pretty large quantities by Gem & Co., thanks to which they still have a large inventory of spare parts for all those pens. Also in that inventory, supposedly, is a significant lode of parts for vintage Mont Blanc pens.

Apart from all these well known brands, Gem & Co. had their in-house brand: the Gama Pen. I believe the brand still exists today, but has fallen in its cachet. Today's Gamas are plastic, steel-nibbed items, probably one very much like another and therefore lacking in individuality. But through the 1940s and '50s, when the brand was new, they had very specific sub-brands. And for its high end brands - the ones that were sold between Rs.50 and Rs.75 in those days - the nibs were made of 14-carat gold, coming with their own usage rating. A number stamped on the nib, e.g., '15', indicated the years of continuous use the nib could be put to.

As if establishing this shop were not claim enough to fame, M.C. Cunnan Chetty has another reason to be remembered by the citizens of Madras. It was he who made the original 'man missing' complaint in a 1952 case which went on to become the deliciously horrifying "Alavandar Murder Case"!


P.N. Subramanian said...

I have been reading you for some few hours now and adore your style. Here in this post, you could have given the exact location as well.

Shantaram said...

@PNS: It is on NSC Bose Road. Quite a famous shop; as they'd say, "யாரை கேட்டாலும் சொல்லுவாங்க!"