Pencil boxes were always special in my childhood days. My first pencil box was a brown coloured one that I won in a fancy dress competition for dressing up as a bride. Everyone told me that it was supposed to look like a “hot shot camera” but I had no idea what a hot shot camera was. Anyway, it was a prized possession and though it was too short for new pencils and as inconvenient as a pencil box could be, I was proud to own it.
My second box was a blue plastic one that I used for several years. About this time, magnetic boxes came into the market. Or it is possible that they were always there, but I had been unaware of their existence. In any case, it soon became a rage in the class. I also got one but it was too shallow. Nevertheless, I loved it. By this time there were other fancy accessories coming with pencil boxes. One such cool add-on was a small hinged slotted piece of white plastic in which pencils could be inserted side by side. The Gulf War was on at the time, and we used to insert two or four pencils in that thing, raised it at an angle using an eraser, and pretended they were scud missiles which we saw on TV everyday.
There was a boy in our class (he later became my best friend) whose parents went abroad and brought him a state-of-the-art pencil box. Now THAT was something: It was two sided, with a set of small piano like keys. Pressing these keys popped out hidden drawers here and there containing erasers and pencil sharpeners (rubbers and cutters, we called them), or caused the lid to spring open, or the pencil rack mentioned before to spring up. As far as I remember, there was even a magnifying glass and a thermometer in it. He soon discovered that he could make a functional missile by putting a light eraser or a piece of chalk on a part that sprang up, and pressing the right key subsequently. It was, as Onida would have put it, “neighbours’ envy, owner’s pride”. My parents had also been to Europe, but alas! They never brought me any pencil box.
There were several variations of the double-decker boxes available in the market. The simplest variety had a tray that had to be lifted out of the box to reveal a lower compartment. The magnetic ones were invariably double sided: you had to turn the box up side down to find that it was again a pencil box from the other side. The most sophisticated variety had a tray hanging from the lid which folded inside when the lid was closed, and came out again when the box was opened (the one I had got stolen). I even had one that had a built-in ruler cum protractor cum stencil as its lid. Some people also used zipped pouches for keeping their stuff, others used boxes shaped like cars or telephones.
As we grew older, somehow pencil boxes became passé. Using a pencil box was childish; keeping your pens scattered in a side pocket of your bag was considered more mature behaviour. However, many people still used pencil boxes when they had to carry a lot of extra stuff during the exams. In college, of course, carrying a pen in one’s shirt pocket was more than enough, and if at all someone wanted to write something they borrowed a pen, sometimes even from the professor. Engineering drawing was an exception where some people carried pencil boxes. During the exams I carried my stuff in a teddy-bear like zipped pouch my aunt had made for me. Other people tried to tease me about it initially, but when they saw that I was actually enjoying all the attention, they thought it was cool.
As I looked through the pencil boxes here in this shop, I felt nostalgic. Today most kids do not have any fascination for simple things like pencil boxes, and yearn for an Xbox as a birthday gift. Maybe that is a good sign for our country: it shows how people’s purchasing power has increased. However, I would still say it takes away a lot from the delight we had in our childhood by finding pleasure from trivial things.