Karunanidhi bought pens from 100-year-old shop at Parry’s

Chennai: The colossus of the Dravidian movement, M Karunanidhi, held four belongings dear when he was alive- his dark glasses, the iconic yellow shawl, a gold ring and his favourite Wality 69 fountain pen sourced from a nearly 100-year-old pen shop at Parry’s Corner. People close to Karunanidhi would tell you that it was the pen that he liked the most.

News Today’ traced the establishment ‘Gem & Co’ located on NSC Bose Road and spoke to its third generation proprietor and pen-maker, Pratap Maddur about the famous pen and his shop’s association with the even more famous customer.

He said,”The Wality 69 fountain pen is manufactured by the 60-year-old Airmail Pen Company in Bombay. We were its only dealers here those days. Initially, we did not know that Karunanidhi was buying from our shop as he never visited us personally. He used to send his people. Later, we came to know through them that the pens were for Kalaignar.”

About the pen, Pratap said,”The pen that Karunanidhi used was a popular model. It was a thick one with a transparent acrylic barrel that showed the level of ink. It became even more popular in the last decade after people came to know that it was Karunanidhi’s favourite. We regularly have customers coming and asking us ‘thalaivar pen kudunga’, ‘Mu Ka pen kudunga’.”

Like all writers, Karunanidhi too adored his pen. He liked it so much that during his infamous mid-night arrest in 2001, he still found time to tuck his pen into his shirt pocket and took it with him to jail.

This Wality 69 was also the same model that Karunanidhi gifted Vairamuthu for his birthday in July when the lyricist went to his house to see the ailing leader and specifically asked for his pen as a gift. It was only recently that Karunanidhi switched to ball pens as he found it tough to hold the thick fountain pens.

People close to ‘Kalaignar’ have talked a lot about how he used to write neat, without any mistakes and in a continuous flow. Being pen makers for three generations, Pratap insists that the secret to this lies in fountain pens.

“A good fountain pen balances your flow of thought to the flow of ink. It becomes a part of you. So mistakes are fewer and your handwriting improves,” he explained.

Gem & Co, being nearly a century old, has many famous people as its customers and it is the only place in Chennai that still repairs fountain pens, says Pratap.

So are fountain pens back in popularity?, we asked Pratap. He said,”We used to get 100 pens for servicing each day and employed 16 staff members. The numbers slowly reduced with the popularity of ball and gel pens. But lately, there has been a resurgence and we are seeing more young customers often accompanied by their fathers and grandfathers who were also our customers when they were young!”


Pratap recounts an interesting tale when a Judge from Madras High Court came rushing to his shop to get his pen repaired,”Judges have a tradition of breaking their pen’s nib after a death sentence is passed. One day, a Judge came to our shop immediately after passing a death sentence to get the nib of his costly pen replaced. It is done so that the Judge may not think of reviewing his own judgement.”