“Though plastic covers and bottles come to our mind when we talk of plastic pollution, the real villains are ball-point pens. They are the least recycled ones as it is tough to segregate the metal nib and ink from these pens” – Lakshmi Menon, artist
Kerala is witnessing an ambitious drive to replace plastic ball-point pens with ink pens. Yes, the good old ink pen, the one which needed to be filled with ink every day; the one, which, at times, stained your hands and shirt pockets with ink.
Initiated by the state government, the move has caught the imagination of civil society groups, artists, schools, colleges and individuals. The ink pen has found a proud place in the government’s ambitious Haritha Keralam Mission (Green Kerala Mission), which promotes environment-friendly way of living. The education department has issued orders encouraging the use of ink pens instead of cheap plastic ball-point pens, which are causing huge damage to the environment.
“Our move is not just against ball-point pens. At a deeper level, it is a fight against the use and throw culture, which corrupts our environment and our mind,” said Education Minister C. Raveendranath. The government has not banned ball-point pens. “We have only exhorted the children to use ink pens instead of ball-point pens. The response is beyond our expectations,” he said.
The government’s call has found resonance across the state with many groups, institutions and individuals extending support. “It is a big movement with multidimensional impact,” said Achuthsankar S. Nair, a professor at Kerala University. Nair, an active force in the campaign against ball-point pens, said the use of ink pen was a great lesson on life. “While a ball-point pen teaches a child to throw away everything once the use is over, an ink pen makes him more careful and sensitive,” he said. “One has to really take care of an ink pen and remember to fill ink every morning. But, if the ink gets over, one can borrow it from a friend and can give it back the next day. Through all these, children are learning big lessons about life,” said Nair.
There are 45 lakh school students in Kerala and most of them use at least two ball-point pens a month. Once used, they are simply thrown away. “The ball pen companies also encourage the use and throw culture as it suits them. Since the Chinese pens come dirt cheap, it has become a habit to buy them in bulk and most of them do not last beyond a few days. They are dumped and are replaced by the next set,” Nair said.
Jessy Narayanan of Malayalam Pallikoodam, an initiative to encourage Malayalam learning and culture, said although ink pens came with some inconveniences, their long-term benefits were greater. In her school, students use only ink pens. “Bringing children closer to nature is the core of our initiative and replacing ball-point pens with ink pens is one such step,” she said.
Several panchayats and schools across the state have similarly responded to the movement. “We have decided to distribute ink pens to all school children in our panchayat with the help of sponsors,” said Anila M.S., president of Karakulam panchayat in Thiruvananthapuram district. Other educational institutions are initiating similar moves.
The drive in favour of ink pens has found support from the field of art as well, including the Kochi-Muziris Biennale. Well-known artist Lakshmi Menon is making an installation with discarded ball-point pens. “The volume of plastic pens getting discarded is scary. Nearly three crore pens get discarded every month,” she said.
According to Lakshmi, plastic pens are very high on pollution quotient. “Though plastic covers and bottles come to our mind when we talk of plastic pollution, the real villains are ball-point pens. They are the least recycled ones as it is tough to segregate the metal nib and ink from these pens. So they are left in the soil,” she said.
Her initial plan was to collect 10,000 pens for her installation. But now it has touched seven lakh and she is still getting calls offering more. “People from faraway districts have come with all these discarded pens collected from schools and other public places. I was so touched by the response and the level of awareness of common people,” she said. Lakshmi is planning the installation to be a permanent one. “Let it be a permanent reminder of the damage caused by ball-point pens,” she said. The Biennale Foundation has decided to create an ‘immini ballya onnu’ (a bigger one), inspired by writer Vaikom Muhammad Basheer, with the 7 lakh pens collected as part of the Pen Drive.
Lakshmi, who is a designer at an art gallery in San Francisco, recently got a call from London, evincing interest in a similar project. “Ball-point pens are an international threat. Any global citizen can relate to it,” she said.
The ink pen versus ball-point pen theme has found its way to films, too. Hafeezul Haque P., a college student from Malappuram district, who made a short film on the subject, said the theme struck him when he saw many ball-point pens being thrown around in the school where he studied. “Using an ink pen is a silent revolt against the use and throw culture. It is a small step, but a significant one,” said Haque, whose short film Mashi (Ink) was released on YouTube recently.
Sensing the success of the move against ball-point pens, the government now plans to extend the drive to all private schools and offices. “That will be the next step,” said Raveendranath, who himself has stopped using ball-point pens since the drive started. “I am a proud owner of an ink pen now,” he said. “If we are able to sustain this enthusiasm, it will lead to bigger things.”