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One Pen?

For some reason I said this to one of my students this afternoon. The group on Wednesdays could not possibly devalue their street cred by actually lugging their own biro about with them. Fair enough, I understand entirely. When I was about their age – somewhere between 16-19 – I would not have been caught carrying anything that would not fit in a pocket. All money, make-up, whatever, had to fit in there and that was that. All this pre-dates mobiles of course.

Anyway, where they have no pen, I am required to dish them out weekly, one pen each. They always leave them behind too, for the same reason they never have one in the first place; so the only thing they are costing the tax-payer is a bit of ink, my time and the building overheads. The hope is, with the qualification they get, they will eventually end up tax-payers themselves and can subsidise the next generation of non-pen carrying students.

I have digressed. What I was going to say was that saying “One pen” reminded me of something. Then I remembered it is what the street kids often say to you in India when they are mobbing you for stuff. I told the students this and they thought it was funny. I suppose it is really. They can beg or borrow a biro any time they like; they are of little consequence. In India, like everything, they have value.

I ran out of the one pens I took quick enough when I went to India for the first time. It was in November 1998, a fact I would have not remembered if I had not recently found a travel diary I wrote. I do remember that I ended up doling out sweets too, in the absence of one pens. Once, in the desert state of Rajasthan, a kid pinched me hard on the arm for my trouble. I have always wondered why, but I can’t say I blame him.