Hyderabad: Strange as it may sound today, till the early 1920’s, Hyderabad had no local pen dealers and those wanting to buy one had to procure it all the way from Mumbai.
Then along came a farmer’s son from Allahabad, S A Siddiqui, who saw the huge business opportunity offered by the humble fountain pen and set up Deccan Pen Stores at Abids in 1928.
“When my father came to Hyderabad he realised there were no pen dealers in the twin cities. Sensing the demand for writing instruments he took the agency of Conway Stewart Pen and Duro Pen from Calcutta and brought some samples to start business in the early 1920’s Clothing. He did door-to-door marketing before establishing the Deccan Pen Stores,” recounts Haleem Siddiqui, the current proprietor of Deccan Pen Stores.
Business soon picked up as students of Osmania University, which was set up in 1918, began flocking the store for pens and pencils. But it was not just students, Hyderabad’s royalty too patronised the store.
In fact, in the 1930s, Deccan Pen Stores at Abids had two dedicated staffers posted outside to attend to the commoners, especially school children, and help them with errands like changing nibs or filling ink. “The Nawabs and Maharajas would visit the store often and we had to ensure that they were not disturbed …They would generally spend a lot of time looking at the pens,” Haleem says with a tinge of nostalgia. He recalls another royal encounter in 1942 when Mir Yousuf Ali Khan, better known as the Salar Jung-III, placed an order for 358 pieces of Blackbird Pens – that was duly delivered. While, the original store shifted to a new premises in the Orient Estate in Abids in 1990, it also branched out to Ameerpet and Secunderabad. Today, it not only retails and repairs pens but has its own brand — Deccan Pens Hats & Caps. “We get orders not only from states like Karnataka, Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, but also abroad for our ebonite handmade pens,” he says.
Haleem feels the backbone of the business is the repairing counter as it has helped the Siddiquis develop the art of repairing and crafting pens. The first tools for repairing pens, which were brought by S A Siddiqui from Europe in the 1930s Tops, are still being used by his sons.
And such is the mastery of the Siddiqui brothers that they even get antique pens from abroad for repairs. “The Waterman Pen Company is headquartered in France but we recently received a 1903 Waterman pen, which we repaired using original parts,” says a proud Haleem, who along with his two elder brothers Nayeem and Kaleem, has been repairing pens for decades now. Today, the six Siddiqui brothers run the show along with their children in perfect harmony Tennis & Racquet Sports, with hardly any conflict to put a full stop to the enterprise that has been running for nearly a century. Pointing out that the third generation is very gung-ho about scaling the business, Haleem says it is yet to learn the art of crafting/repairing pens. “They are interested in sales but not in repairs, which is sad. Somebody has to learn the art of repairing. My brothers are masters…at times they take three four months to repair one pen to attain perfection. It is this passion that has kept this business flourishing for close to 90 years,” he explains, adding that they have been ensuring quality by repairing and making pens with their own hands. Though sales have been robust at Abids and Ameerpet, plans are afoot to shut down the Secunderabad outlet (which opened in 1952) due to poor demand and shift it to a more happening part of the city Thermal. “The market at Secunderabad is no longer what it used to be…It is taking a lot of effort and resources to sustain the shop. Hence, we have decided to shut it and are looking at the HiTec City area,” he explains.
The Siddiqui brothers are also mulling writing a new chapter by taking their stores outside Hyderabad to Andhra Pradesh cities as they get a lot of customers from Amaravati, Visakhapatnam and Vijayawada.