`A love letter to my pen': Hyderabad's 94YO Deccan Pen Store not sells writing instruments but creates history

By J.S. Ifthekhar  Published on  30 July 2022 7:00 AM GMT
`A love letter to my pen: Hyderabads 94YO Deccan Pen Store not sells writing instruments but creates history

I am but a pen, and one day my ink will run out. But that is not the case with Sabih Akhtar Siddiqui. The pens introduced by him to Hyderabad are still a rage and so is his Deccan Pen Store (DPS). Ninety-four years later, he opened an exclusive pen shop at Abids. It remains the favorite haunt of both connoisseurs and neophytes.

When the young Sabih set out from Allahabad, his hometown, to Calcutta in 1928 little did he know that he was scripting history? A businessman, he wanted to do something different this time. He met a representative of Conway Stewart and learnt about the wide range of iconic fountain pens manufactured by the company. He struck a deal and was told to open an exclusive pen store in Hyderabad. It was the time when Osmania University had been just established and everyone was looking to Hyderabad for higher education.

"So Hyderabad was the right choice for setting up an exclusive pen store", says Salman Siddiqui, the grandson of Sabih. The latter passed away in 1968.

Sabih was not wrong. His dream venture proved an instant hit. Given the wide range of branded pens sold here, it attracted pen lovers in droves. The royal family of Nizam, nobles, and nawabs too showed keen interest in pens like Cross, Sheaffer (US), Waterman (France), Parker (UK), and Omas (Italy). There were many Britishers those days in Hyderabad and they too started making a beeline to DPS since there was no other store in the city that showcased such international brands. Sabih engaged a person well versed in English to attend to his foreign clients. Once a person gets used to a quality pen he wouldn't go for a poor substitute.

A shrewd businessman, Sabih quickly realized that selling pens was not enough. There ought to be a servicing center as well. So he started concentrating on repair and service and it remains the USP of DPS even now. Not just from India, pens come here for repair from all over the world. Be it a faulty cartridge, a clogged nib, ink bleeds, smudging, or skipping - there is a cure at DPS. Expensive pen owners do not discard their writing instruments when they develop a problem. They just head to DPS to get the problem fixed. At the hands of Nayeem Akhtar Siddiqui, the founder's son, faulty pens get a new lease of life. An expert repairer, under his watchful eyes two repairing units function at Abids and Humayun Nagar.

The DPS was a famous landmark at Abids in those days. Oldies recall how two persons dressed in traditional sherwanis used to sit at the two windows on either side of the main entrance. Their job was to fill ink, change nibs and attend to minor issues of pens. Office goers and students used to drop here for a quick refill. Over the years the DPS has shifted to new premises at Abids and added two more branches at Ameerpet and Secunderabad. The latter was shut down during the pandemic and is expected to start functioning soon.

The DPS is a writer's delight. There are pens and pens all over the place – of all shapes and sizes. From as low as Rs.5 to a few lakh, DPS offers pens to suit every pocket. Some premium pens like Cross, Waterman, Sheaffer, and Infinium come for jaw-dropping prices. The starting price itself is upwards of Rs.3000 to Rs. 5000. And there is no limit on the high-end pens. They come for Rs. 10 lakh and even more. There are quite a few high-end ink pens manufactured by DPS like Deccan Advocate, Deccan Author, Deccan Onyx, Deccan Acrylic, and Deccan Cigar. An important aspect of the Infinium pen is that it lasts for life and it has no removable refill. Enough ink is packed into it to last for at least 75 years, says Uzair Siddiqui.

These are all-weather, all-condition pens that stand up to almost anything explains Salman Siddiqui. Demand for ink pens, he says, has soared again. Of late students and office, goers are switching over to ink pens.

Who buys such expensive pens? Besides celebrities, film stars, and politicians, many people are crazy about pens. For them, no price is high enough to pander to their taste. Like stamp collection, pen collection has also evolved into a hobby.

For some flaunting, branded pens are a status symbol. Prince Mufakkham Jah Bahadur, the grandson of the 7th Nizam, Mir Osman Ali Khan, is said to be a regular customer at DPS. He drops in here once in six months and picks up a pen costing not less than Rs. 50,000. Hyderabad MP, Asaduddin Owaisi, is believed to have purchased a pen costing a few lakhs for his daughter's marriage. Staff at the DPS are reluctant to share details and preferences of their customers.

Six years from now DPS will be entering its centenary year. The family plans to open more stores outside Hyderabad, probably in Delhi and Mumbai. Some new DPS brands and features are also in the pipeline, according to Uzair Siddiqui. Why did the family not think of expansion till now? Well, the DPS founder, Saibh Siddiqui, was not keen on it for various reasons. He felt employees if engaged, will not show the same courtesy to customers as a family man does. He wanted all his seven sons to be in the same trade. And as per his wishes, all his children are in the family business. Some are now into manufacture, some repair and servicing and some look after the stores.

When you write the story of your life don't let anyone else hold the pen. That's the family motto.

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