German luxury accessories manufacturer Montblanc got a great idea: What better way to celebrate the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi--a national holiday in India and the International Day of Non-Violence--than by hawking a $25,000 collectible fountain pen? On Friday, Gandhi's grandson promoted the gold and silver writing instrument, which is engraved with his grandfather's signature, in Mumbai.
The Montblanc CEO's promise that part of the proceeds will be donated to an Indian charity haven't assuaged commentators from around the world who are decrying the incongruous birthday present. Here are just some of the more vocal responses:
- Remember What Country This Is? Blogging for the Indian newspaper The Hindu, Sujatha Vijayaraghavan lets Montblanc know that there are more appropriate, meaningful ways to commemorate Gandhi's birth: "If Mont Blanc wants to pay homage to the Mahatma, it should contribute the sale proceeds towards providing roads, drinking water, electricity, sanitation and schools to 241 villages in India."
- Oil-Profiteering Is More Defensible Even in Dubai, where wealthy denizens are famously fond of luxury goods, the sales pitch didn't go over well. The editorial board of the emirate's Khaleej Times criticizes the pen on behalf of Gandhi: "He would rather have a pen that is affordable to one and all. Free distribution would be more like it. An image of him on the nib or the cap would have meant little to the man who gave the world the weapon of non-violence. But achieving literacy and education for all would have been closer to his dream."
- Not the First Time that Gandhi's image has been shamelessly commercialized, sighs the Guardian's Randeep Ramesh. As he notes, several of the world's most popular companies have also cashed in: "When Apple urged people to 'Think Different', it used an iconic image of the loinclothed Indian leader. Even Google, which proclaims 'Don't' be Evil', has today plastered Gandhi's image on its search engine." Accepting the fact that this marks "a triumph" for the exact economic imbalance Gandhi opposed, Ramesh still thinks there is hope to reclaim Gandhi's image so long as people remember his message.
- Mad Men at Montblanc It's hard to know what annoys Take Part blogger Giulia Rozzi more, the pen itself or the enormous billboard showcasing it, located conspicuously above the "slums of Mumbai." She vents: "Wow, can this be more ironic? Way to rub the drastic economic differences in peoples faces. I think most folks living in the slums are saving their rupees to purchase things like shoes or a roof to cover their shack, not a writing utensil."
- 'Great Moments in Branding' muses a sarcastic Floyd Norris in the New York Times. He also challenges readers: "Can you think of a less-appropriate product to bear Gandhi's name?" On a related note, blogger Michael Leddy reminds us that Montblanc was also responsible for an Obama themed "Yes We Can" pen, which he also condemns as "ill-conceived."