AMIR PANJWANI (73) has been a ‘pen doctor’ for over five decades now. For many years, the Mumbra resident would visit pen shops in Fort area every day, collecting pens that needed repair. The visits have dwindled due to old age and falling demand, but his passion for his work is unabated. “I work three hours in the morning, have lunch followed by a nap and then work for another three in the evening,” Panjwani says. He knows a pen from ‘A to Z’, he says, the usual ‘ailment’ that needs fixing is a ‘broken nib or feeder, blockage in the pump or overflowing ink’.
In many small cities, the moniker ‘doctor’ is still used for a pen repairer, the honour probably due to their ability to fix a prized possession. Panjwani says he did not call himself a pen doctor, but had the title used for him by many happy customers.
“When a customer sends a pen for repair, it usually holds a lot of importance for them. Pens can have tremendous sentimental value: it was probably passed down generations, was a gift, was your first valuable possession and reminds you of times of financial hardship. We have to be very careful while repairing pens. If we end up damaging it, no money can replace the value it holds for the customer,” Panjwani says.
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He adds this probably is the reason why many youngsters do not enter the profession anymore. “My years of experience in repairing pens of almost all brands give me the confidence to dismantle a pen to fix it. I do not think youngsters are willing or capable to take such risks with expensive pens they don’t know about,” he says. He adds that while earlier people would send even regular ink pens for repair, these days, the only pens he receives are costly or from a collector’s edition.
“Most men who were in the profession have passed away. There are only a handful of old-timers now, with a few pen shops roping in youngsters,” he says.
For more than a decade around the 70s, Panjwani worked in a pen shop as a salesman and learnt all about pens. In 1982, he quit to work full time as a repairer. “Those days, I would buy discarded pens from scrap dealers, fix them and resell them to pen shops. I would also collect some parts to use them on other pens that needed fixing. Over time, I collected the required tools and spare parts and would visit pen shops. Customers would approach them with broken pens and they in turn would give them to repairers like me for a commission.”
“Now, I cannot venture out of the house too much due to my age and illnesses. So, shop-owners send the pens through their errand boys. I sit at my work station in my home and repair them,” he says. He stills remains connected to a few pen shops, such as Shukla and Co. in Fort, South Mumbai.
The owner of the shop, Abbas Ambawala, says the cost of the pens they send to the ‘pen doctors’ is usually very high and hence they only trust old-timers like Panjwani.
“Sometimes, the nib itself is gold-plated, or made of gold, costing over Rs 25,000. Panjwani has been coming to our shop since my father’s time. There are only a handful of such repairers left. Even customers ask us to send their pens only to him,” Ambawala says. Shukla and Co. was begun by Ambawala’s father, Faiz Hussain, over 40 years ago. “People then were so fond of their pens that they would tape broken parts together and continue to use them. However, it is a dying industry and we may stop using pens altogether in a few years, except as a hobby,” Ambawala says.
For Panjwani, the loss of demand is not a concern. “I do not work for the money anymore. I repair pens to pass my time. There are still loyal customers who ask for their pens to be sent to me. Till I am known among such people, I will continue to work.”