Gone are the days when good handwriting was given a lot of importance, people made all effort to get it, teachers and parents encouraged it, and students were applauded if they wrote beautifully.
As children, we were taught to write on a takhti or phatti (traditional wooden slate) with a kanna kalam (straw pen) dipped in kaali roshnai (black ink) to master the art of writing in a fine flow. It went on for years in our primary school. Every day, the plank would be coated with gaachi (Multani mitti or Fuller’s earth) to dry the ink and, after washing, dried by swirling it up and down in sunshine. While doing so, children would sing in chorus: “Soorja, Soorja phatti sukaa’ (Come sun, dry my slate).
We even prepared our own kalams (reed pens) from the stems of narra (rosewood) or kanna (straw) and the ink from a mixed powder of charred almond shells and kikkar (cockspur thorn) gum. The viscous, paste-like mixture was allowed to dry in the shade over the corrugated surface of a chhajj (winnow) to make shreds of kaali roshnai. The ink was kept dissolved in water in earthen, metallic or glass dwaats (inkpots).
To avoid spilling, a piece of cloth or soofa (sponge) was placed inside to soak ink and wet the kalam when it was dipped. Teachers and parents helped us incise the kalam at an apt angle using a knife to make a fine nib required for the cursive flow on takhti.
Then dawned the age of using nib holders for writing on notebooks. For meticulous writing, special Z or G nibs were available at stationery shops. Teachers would make students do cursive-writing practice on four-line notebooks. In smaller classes, we wrote over poornas (dotted lines). In those years, the use of ball-point pen was discouraged, as it was believed to ruin handwriting.
In those days, there was a craze for fountain pens. Owning a Parker or a Shepherd was a matter of pride. The China-made Wingsung pens with shining golden or silver caps were available widely. Chelpark, Kores and Veeto were the fine brands of blue, blueblack, and black ink, respectively. Today, only people from the cursive-writing era use a fountain pen.
Handwriting reflects the writer’s personality and emotional framework. Everyone’s style is as unique as fingerprint, says graphology, the scientific study of handwriting. Graphologists can reveal a great deal about people by deciphering the stretches, strokes and tilts of their handwriting. Some write magnificently and some weirdly. A letter written in a beautiful hand says more than the same words just scribbled on the paper. Calligraphy, the art of beautiful handwriting, adds value to the document. The beautiful strokes and penmanship connect better than a handshake or a hug. Writing builds hand-eye coordination and involves finer motor skills.
People of my age or older, who wrote with kalams on takhtis in childhood, still have beautiful handwriting.
The invasion of mobile phones, laptops, desktops, iPods and other electronic gadgets as writing tools in business, personal and official correspondence, all done on e-mail, threatens to make pen and paper obsolete. Paperless communication has no element of romance. Writing to near and dear ones in own handwriting has a different charm. It’s an art that was being practised for thousands of years, an art that must be kept alive. Long live calligraphy, another thousands of years.
The writer is additional director of research at Punjab Agricultural University in Ludhiana.