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October 2, 2009

Fountains of dismay greet Montblanc's 'Gandhi Pen'


Long story (by Amy Kazmin in the September 30, 2009 Financial Times) short: Swiss luxury penmaker Montblanc has just come out with a $23,000 pen (above) to commemorate the austere, ascetic leader of Indian independence's birth on this date (October 2) in 1869.

Here's the article.


Fountains of dismay greet Montblanc's 'Gandhi pen'

The Swiss penmaker Montblanc, in a jarring attempt to raise its profile in India, has unveiled a gold-and-silver fountain pen to commemorate Mahatma Gandhi, the independence leader whose austere asceticism was at the heart of his liberation campaign.

The limited-edition Ma­hatma Gandhi pen, priced at Rs1.1m ($23,000, €15,800, £14,400), has an 18-carat solid gold, rhodium-plated nib, engraved with Gandhi’s image, and “a saffron-coloured mandarin garnet” on the clip. The pens were unveiled this week, before the national holiday on Gandhi’s birthday.

Dilip R. Doshi, chairman of Entrack, Montblanc’s distributor in India, said the pen embodied Gandhi’s timeless philosophy of non-violence and respect for all living creatures. “We are creating a thing of simplicity and beauty that will last for centuries,” he said.

But Amit Modi, secretary of the 102-year-old Sabarmati Ashram that Gandhi founded to promote his ideas of radical egalitarianism and simple living, expressed dismay at the product, which he called “not relevant” to Gandhi’s name. “If he had seen this, he would have thrown it away,” Mr Modi said. “I cannot imagine why anybody has done this. We cannot recognise this.”

Indian companies generally shy away from using the image of the Mahatma, given his near-sainted status, and rare commercial uses of his face overseas have generated controversy. Yet the pens have received the blessing of Tushar Gandhi, the Ma­hatma’s often vocal great-grandson, who received €100,001 ($146,000, £91,500) from Montblanc to build a shelter for rescued child labourers.

“I know there is a contradiction between the man they are commemorating and the product they are commemorating him with, but you can’t expect a company like Montblanc to come out with a cheap thing,” he told the Financial Times.

Mr Gandhi, who led the outcry when his illustrious ancestor’s spectacles and other personal items were auctioned abroad this year, said Montblanc had shown “a lot of guts” to dedicate a luxury pen to the independence leader.

But Suhel Seth, a brand expert with Counselage, said using the image of Gandhi – a rare symbol of national unity in an often bitterly divided country – could backfire.

“Look at the illogical marketing,” Mr Seth said. “Montblanc is an elite product, a luxury product. Gandhi stood for everything that was non-elitist. Here is a pen that uses the idiom of a man who believed in third-class travel to promote a first-world product to luxurious desk tops.

“I think it’s such a misread of the Indian psyche. When you tinker around with that symbol of credibility, respect and honour, you risk a backlash that no brand needs or deserves.”




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October 2, 2009 at 02:01 PM | Permalink


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Easy solution: Raise the price to Rs 2m of which (at least) 1m goes to some kind of charity acting in a way that's similar to what Gandhi has done. Montblanc still gets the same amount of sales (seriously, if you've got the cash to spend $23k on a pen, you can also afford $46k) and both the seller and buyer get to share that warm fuzzy feeling of having donated to a charity. MB even gets to have the cake and eat it -- make huge profits AND donate.

Posted by: y | Oct 3, 2009 2:23:53 PM

You know, Joe' has a damn good point.

Also, if you've ever used a fountain point pen (I wish my work situation was conducive to it, alas, I'm throwing pens all over my desk scribbling notes in haste) there is a feeling of throwback to slower times. When the words had to be thought about as you were writing.

So although the cost is high, although the pen might be overly ornate, the more I think about it, the less I think it was a miss-step.

Posted by: Rocketboy | Oct 3, 2009 9:02:55 AM

This "vulgar excess of materialism" is the result of the capitalism which has raised the standard of living in India beyond belief in the past 20 years. As a symbol of that idealogy's success, should we really sneer at it?

Posted by: jim` | Oct 2, 2009 10:38:56 PM

for someone who spent all is life renouncing worldly items. The half naked man as the westerns called him will surely be honored with a Rs 1.1m pen. Great idea guys.

How about feeding some school kids, paying for someones tuition or just not doing anything ?

Mr Doshi, you need to check up on what Gandhi stood for and honor him in ways that will make his teachings last longer.

Posted by: sai | Oct 2, 2009 6:57:07 PM

That's just bad taste commercialism in the extreme.

What next? A Mother Teresa commemorative gun made of diamonds?

Posted by: greywulf | Oct 2, 2009 5:55:21 PM

On the other hand, I could see where this ridiculous pen would appeal to the pride of India's nouveau riche.

Posted by: Josh | Oct 2, 2009 5:51:27 PM

Gandhi would have preferred a Bic, not this elitist abomination. I'm sure it's beautiful and extremely well crafted, and one can own one or possibly help improve (or save life's) 10 to 100 if not more desperate families.

Posted by: Joe Peach | Oct 2, 2009 5:08:54 PM

These guys should be asked to spend a week at Gandhi camp at Sewagram in Maharastra, and in Summer. That should do the trick.

Posted by: Vinayak | Oct 2, 2009 4:13:39 PM

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