Friday, October 2, 2009

अच्छा कलम, श्री गांधी!

or, Nice pen, Mr. Gandhi!

Montblanc's current release is raising eyebrows, and causing at least one person's ashes to spin in their respective molecular orbits.

I'd say spinning in his grave, but they cremate people in India.

Yes, Montblanc, living in a level of irony that was once considered an imaginary universe, is releasing a pen on Mohandas K. "Mahatma" Gandhi's birthday. They are only making 241 of them (to commemorate every mile Gandhi marched to the sea in order to make salt and protest the British Empire's unreasonable control of the salt trade). The price?

Wait for it...

$23,000. While it oughta be, this is not a joke.

Gandhi's sole possessions for much of his life amounted to little more than the clothes on his back, the sandals on his feet, a food bowl, a watch (he liked to be punctual;I think that may have been the lawyer in him), spectacles, and his wooden staff. These of course, were auctioned off for a little over $2 million to an unnamed Indian businessman, who promised to bring them back to India to be put on public display. Also ironic, but not nearly as many irony particles.

There are so many things wrong with a limited-edition, high-price-tag luxury pen, commemorating the life of a man who thought such things were not only stupid, but verged on criminal, that I can't even begin to figure out what the brainy marketing a-holes at Montblanc were thinking. That Steve Jobs would use Gandhi's image to sell more Macs, well, that's pretty reprehensible, though it's more of the image of the guy, and the fact that he was bucking the system, not that he would have used the computer.

(Would the Mahatma have simply blogged, like the rest of us? Imagine one person being able to influence millions of people through the printed page. Whatever happened to good old pamphleteering?)

Gandhi would be in the streets protesting the thing. That should be enough for Montblanc to not do this. Montblanc is attempting to mitigate the irony by donating a lot of money (the cost of six of these pens, plus a thousand bucks from each sale) to the Mahatma Gandhi Foundation (his great-grandson runs it, and is quoted as using the thin metaphor that Gandhi's "writing instrument was his greatest tool" - apparently not his mind or his courage - what could Gandhi have done with a really great pen?). So much for standing on the old man's principles.

Meanwhile, the folks running his old Ashram think that Gandhi-ji would have sold the damn thing and used the proceeds to feed the poor.

Unfortunately, even Gandhi's own advice to his followers about "adopting every western vice as quickly as possible" would fall upon deaf ears these days. Apparently quite a few Indian well-to-do types have already pre-ordered the pen, including a few government bureaucrats. More irony particles, in the land of one-third of the world's poor.

If I ever get the chance to have my own Montblanc commemorative pen in my image, I want it to include a small firearms function, so that every time someone tries to write with it, it shoots them in the foot.

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