It is true what they say about the pen being mightier than the sword. Often, written documents tend to have more impact than physical actions. The Maldivian history illuminates the fact that a pen could achieve what actions previously failed to. Fifty years since the Maldives gained independence from the British Protectorate, it is a pen that we look back to. In fact, it is a pen that remains to re-write the historical tale of our independence.
As it happened, the then Prime Minister Late Ibrahim Nasir Rannabandeyri Kilegefaanu, KCMG, NGIV, called for a revision of the British protectorate agreement; calling for an increase in annual pay while asking to shorten the period of the lease. Maldives, which had been under the British Protectorate since 1887, had had enough of the British military influence in the islands and was ready to be her own nation. Thus, after endless negotiations, the country finally got the independence she deserved on 26th July 1965. For those of you wondering how a pen becomes significant in this ordeal, the latter has a history of its own.
Abdul Sattar Moosa Didi, NIIV, former High Commissioner of Maldives to Sri Lanka who is honored as an “independence hero” in the Maldives, is the bearer of the pen today. Abdul Sattar was one of the leading figures during the negotiations with the British government to bring independence to the country. We had the honor to sit down with him for an exclusive interview; unraveling the history of the iconic pen which serves as an inspiration to future generations. Here’s how he came to have the custody of this pen.
The pen initially belonged to the late former President Ibrahim Nasir, who habitually used it to sign documents. Nasir, as Abdul Sattar told us, carried the pen in his shirt pocket wherever he went. On that fateful day in Colombo, Nasir had the pen with him when he went to sign the declaration of independence. Negotiations over, he signed Maldivians their freedom with his fountain pen which he later that day gave to Abdul Sattar at the Maldivian High Commission in Sri Lanka. “He never said why he gave me the pen, he never asked for it back. I have always considered it a token of appreciation for my part in bringing independence to the Maldives” Abdul Sattar narrated.
Fifty years since that day, the whereabouts of the declaration of independence is clouded with uncertainty. However, the pen has remained safe with Abdul Sattar. In fact, over the years, the pen has gone on display at various Independence Day celebrations. “I remember going to an exhibition at the museum about four years ago. They requested I bring the pen with me. I saw that the declaration of independence was not on display and inquired about it. They told me they could not find it. So I decided to stay with the pen instead of leaving it at display”.
After Nasir gifted him the pen, Abdul Sattar used it on several occasions until the late 1970’s. “I misplaced one of the pens I used and that made me realized that I might leave this pen somewhere and forget about it”. Since then, Abdul Sattar has taken great precautions to keep the pen safe; but not before it made history on several other occasions.
As such, one of the most famous tales related to the pen was Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s visit to the Maldives on 13th March 1972. During her visit to Mulee’aage’, the Queen asked if anyone had a fountain pen with them. Abdul Sattar who was present there at the moment offered her his pen saying ‘Yes, your Majesty”. Coincidentally, the pen Queen Elizabeth used to sign the guest book at Mulee’aage’ was the very same pen Nasir used to sign the declaration of independence, freeing Maldives from the British Protectorate.
Apart from the Queen, the pen exchanged hands with yet another powerful female leader. Two years to the Queen’s visit to the Maldives, the world’s first ever elected female Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike visited the country. She too, used the very same pen during her official visit to the Maldives; owing to the fateful presence of Abdul Sattar.
While it is unanimously agreed upon that the pen, given its historical significance, should remain as state property, Abdul Sattar’s views are quite different. “I believe it’s a personal gift from Nasir. Whether it stays with me or the state, it represents historical significance to those that pay heed”. When asked what would become of the pen after he passes away, Abdul Sattar replied that his family would decide what to do with it.
To those of us who know little to nothing about this pen and the colossal significance it holds, we may not understand the fuss about it. But coming from a man who actively took part in negotiating the independence agreement, the pen not only holds historical prominence but sentimental value as well. Abdul Sattar has lived to see Maldives as a British Protectorate, an independent nation and a country thriving on newly found independence to a state celebrating fifty years of liberation. So has the pen that wrote us our tale of independence.