Last Updated: January 10, 2023, 20:24 EST
Once upon a time, it was Sattur town in Tamil Nadu’s Virudhunagar district that was called the hub of pen nibs used in most fountain pens manufactured in India (Image: News18)
When the nib-making industry in Sattar was at its peak, there were over 200 enterprises making fountain pen nibs in the town, with steel imported from the United States and the Soviet Union.
A writer’s tool, a pen is probably the only object that transcends the boundaries of time, place and class. From quills, sticks, and stones to much modern ink and ballpoints, pens have been part of history since the beginning of time.
Some of the limited-edition fountain pens are highly valued luxury items, much like jewelery that people spend lakhs of rupees to own. And once upon a time, it was Sattur town in Tamil Nadu’s Virudhunagar district that was called the hub of pen nibs used in most fountain pens manufactured in India.
In the 1960s, when the nib-making industry in Sattar was at its peak, there were over 200 enterprises making fountain pen nibs in the town, with steel imported from the United States (US) and the Soviet Union.
However, that was a long time ago, and the number has dropped dramatically since then. Despite the dwindling number of pen nib factories in the town, the livelihood of over 2,000 workers is dependent on the handful of units that are left today.
Today, the majority of the nibs produced in Sattur are exported to the state of Calcutta.
News18 talked to some of these workers and owners of these nib-making factories to understand the reason behind the dying industry.
The arrival of ballpoint pens
According to Thangam, a worker from Sattur who has been making pen nibs for the past six decades, the arrival of ballpoint pens was predominantly the reason why the nib industries are paralyzed.
While pen nibs are made entirely by hand, there are very few takers of them now.
Thangam further said that factories in Sattar have very old machinery and owners don’t enough capital to import new ones. “So many owners have left the pen nib manufacturing business and gone to other jobs. I’m still in this business as there are no options left,’ he added.
Cessation of government subsidy
According to the owners, earlier, plates for pen nibs were provided at subsidized cost by the state government. Now that the subsidies are stopped, it is another reason that paralyzed the nib industries.
The factory owners said that only if the Tamil Nadu government comes up with any plans to save the nib industry, Sattur’s dying enterprises can be saved.
As per the owners, earlier one factory can wholly produce 30,000 nibs per week, while the current number decreased to less than 10,000 per week.
A decade earlier, a nib was Re 1, and the price has increased to Rs 5 per unit, depending on the negotiation, owners said adding that they also have to pay laborers up to Rs 200 – 250 a day.
(With inputs from News18 reporter Alageeswaran)
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