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Writing wrongs in the name of the Mahatma

What’s the most you’ve ever paid for a pen? Actually, I’m getting a little ahead of myself. Let’s rein things in a bit and start with a simpler question.

Have you ever paid for a pen? Because I’m not sure I have, now that I think about it. I’m not saying I’m one of those people who steals all my pens from banks or anything. I’m just saying I seem to end up with plenty of pens without having to pay for them. Granted, a lot of them are engraved with bank logos, but I might have just stolen them from the people who stole them in the first place. I don’t really pay that much attention to how I go about acquiring my writing utensils.

They’re pens, after all. They come and go pretty frequently in my life, and luckily I’ve managed to avoid becoming too attached to any of them — although I do have a talking pen that plays “Family Guy” quotes that I’m quite fond of. Still, even that one won’t cause me much distress when I inevitably lose it or allow it to be stolen by someone like me.

Anyway, back to my original question, because I know there are some folks out there who view writing utensils as status symbols and pay exorbitant amounts to own pens they hope other people will find really impressive. How much do you suppose those folks would be willing to pay for a pen? A few hundred dollars? A few thousand? Ten grand?

How about $25,000? That’s the price that German pen maker Montblanc is asking for its newest design. It’s stylish, it’s ergonomic, and it writes in real ink, just like pens that cost tens of thousands of dollars less.

Before you answer, though, you should know there’s more. The new Montblanc pen also comes with eight meters of golden thread that can be wound around it, representing a spindle and cotton that one might use to weave cloth. That’s because the pen and its astronomical price tag are meant to honor the 140th anniversary of one of the most renowned cloth weavers of all time: none other than Mahatma Gandhi.

That’s right: Mahatma Gandhi, the man who spent his time on Earth renouncing material comforts, promoting Indian goods and embracing a simple way of life. What better way to honor the man than with a German pen that costs nearly 25 times what an average Indian earns in a year? Frankly, I’m surprised someone didn’t think of this sooner. It just makes that much sense.

As you might imagine, the concept has drawn its share of critics questioning whether a pen that costs more than most cars is the best way to honor the former Indian leader. One group, the Center for Consumer Education in Kerala, has even filed a lawsuit to try to stop distribution of the pen, with spokesman Dijo Kappen saying, “The only thing [Gandhi] promoted was Indian-made goods. It is a mockery of the great man and an insult to the nation … to use him as a poster boy.”

Kappen should know, though, that not all Indians share his view, including the Mahatma’s own great-grandson, Tushar Gandhi. The younger Gandhi whole-heartedly endorsed the pen idea after his charitable foundation received $145,000 from Montblanc, along with the promise of receiving another $200 to $1,000 for each pen sold.

If all this sounds like something you want to be a part of — and let’s be honest, how could it not? — you’d better act fast. Only 241 of the handmade pens will be sold. Why 241? Because that’s the number of miles Gandhi walked in his march against salt taxes in 1930, of course.

If, however, you’re unable to get your hands on one of the $25,000 models, don’t fret; Montblanc will also be offering a more affordable version that will only set you back a mere $3,000. Sure, that might seem like a lot for a pen, but keep in mind that it’s $22,000 less than the genuine article. That’s roughly 88 percent off. With savings like that, you can’t afford not to own one.

As luck would have it, I have $25,000 lying around that I don’t know what to do with, but I don’t imagine I’ll buy one of the pens. Obviously I could use a pen like that — who couldn’t? — but I think I’ll just wait until someone leaves one at the bank so I can acquire it the old-fashioned way.

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Todd Hartley

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10 2009

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