Mention Mahatma Gandhi and many think of fasting, restraint and the struggle for Indian independence. He renounced material comforts, promoted Indian goods and embraced a simple, ascetic life.
These images jar with German pen maker Montblanc‘s launch of a $25,000 pen to mark the 140th anniversary of his birth and some see it as an insult to Gandi. Gandhi loyalists, however, said India’s founding father would have questioned why a public servant would spend $23,000 dollars on a pen in a country with a third of the world’s malnourished children. They feel that the sticker price is the lifetime income of many of India’s poor.
Critics have questioned if the Montblanc pen is the best way to honor Gandhi. The Center for Consumer Education in Kerala has filed a lawsuit to try to stop distribution of the pen.
“Mahatma Gandhi advocated a simple lifestyle,” Dijo Kappen of the center said.
“He was, of course, a nationalist and, in the nature of the independence movement, the only thing he promoted was Indian-made goods. It is a mockery of the great man and an insult to the nation… to use him as a poster boy.”
The $25,000 gold and silver limited edition pen has an engraving of Mahatma Gandhi, the man seen as the father of Indian independence and revered as a global spiritual leader.
The limited edition pen is intended to honour Gandhi, the German premium pen maker said. “I certainly have to say, I wouldn’t have thought that people would have reacted negatively,” Montblanc’s chief executive Lutz Bethge told the BBC.
“Yes, there were questions asked. Does it make sense to combine Montblanc and Mahatma Gandhi? But from what I noticed people were delighted that we were paying tribute to him.”
Just 241 of the handmade pens will be sold, in reference to the number of miles Gandhi walked in his famous march against salt taxes in 1930.
Each comes with an eight-metrer golden thread that can be wound around the pen, representing the spindle and cotton Gandhi used to weave simple cloth.
“What we want to do is talk about the values of Mahatma Gandhi as well. And this is certainly a person who believed in non-violence, peace, education and tolerance, and these are universal values,” added Mr Bethge.
Gandhi’s great-grandson Tushar Gandhi (pictured above displaying the Gandhi pen in Mumbai) has endorsed the idea. His charitable foundation has already received a donation of $145,000 from Montblanc and will receive between $200 and $1,000 for each pen sold.
“Part of the proceeds are donated to the Gandhi foundation. That is certainly something Gandhi would have approved of,” said Mr Bethge.
For those who find the pen a little out of their price range, there is a more affordable version – there are 3,000 roller ball and fountain pens on sale for about $3,000 dollars each.