Whoa! Montblanc Inks…Beware!

Happy New Year, everybody!

Sorry for the long absence. December and early 2022 have been quite the rollercoaster. Happily, all is well now, and we hope to be back to rockin’ and rollin’ the ink-o-sphere.

Wow! Three months in the sun fades the pigment right out of modern Montblanc inks. Mont Blanc ink burns worse than I do in sunlight.

The biggest shock to me in Dawn’s and my ink tests comes from Montblanc! At $26 retail for a 60ml bottle of ink, you’d think you’d get something close to perfection…especially with the company’s luxury marketing! It is worth it to do a little math here. A 60ml bottle of ink at $26 per bottle means the price of a single milliliter of ink is 43¢. A U.S. gallon is a shade over 3,785 milliliters. Ergo, a gallon of Montblanc ink costs $1,627.55! A gallon of gasoline here in Norwich is $3.39, and a gallon of milk can be found for $4.29. It will seem as though gas and milk are a better bargain, especially after these results.

Now before you start thinking I’m being completely unfair to Montblanc, I’ve always liked its ink. At pen shows I use it as my test ink for anyone wanting to dip a nib to try out a pen. When people asked me what was one of the safest brands of ink…based on no research but word of mouth around pen shows…I’d usually tell them they could trust Montblanc best.

I hereby rescind that proclamation of safety. I got my first wind that trouble was in the air when a customer returned a pen to me after only 3 or 4 months of use with Montblanc Mystery Black ink. Its rubber ink sac had melted. At the time, I thought that was weird and worried the customer had used something far more toxic and then tried to cover it up with Montblanc Mystery Black. Nope. I doubt that now.

Back in July, 2021, I stuck a sample of 8 new bottles of modern Montblanc ink swatches in my sunniest window. These inks included: Oyster Grey, Midnight Blue, Irish Green, Toffee Brown, Royal Blue, Lavender Purple, Burgundy Red and Mystery Black.

After only 3 months in the sun, nearly all faded out! Royal blue turned a faded green. Irish Green and  Lavender Purple almost went invisible.

When Dawn and I tested the fresh ink’s pH, we were equally surprised. For a quick chemistry refresher. Everything is measured in pH on a scale from 0 (extremely acidic) to 14 (a base that is extremely alkali). 7 (distilled water) is perfectly neutral. We calibrated our pH tester at 24.6ºC.

Here are our results from the Montblanc ink pH Test:

Mystery Black          4.3
Royal Blue                3.8
Burgundy Red         4.8
Midnight Blue         4.2
Irish Green               3.9
Oyster Grey              3.9
Toffee Brown           5.6
Lavender Purple     3.8

All of these inks are quite acidic. Blue and black inks are supposed to be the safest inks. They are very acidic in Montblanc! Now, we aren’t chemists. We do not know how the chemistry between the ink sacs, pistons and converters interacts with the ink. Yet, this raw data casts doubt on the safety of Montblanc ink. Perhaps it is the special “cleaner” Montblanc uses to keep inkfeeds clear that is to blame for the acidity. The company recommends only using MB ink in MB pens. Perhaps there is more to that than just their greed of simply wanting to sell more ink.

As we still have a few of the old bottles of Montblanc ink from the 1990s, we didn’t do a UV test on them, but we did a pH test and it was even worse.

Black          2.2
Turquoise 2.8
Red            6.5
Green        3.0

Maybe you’ve had great results. I certainly don’t want to ruin your faith in Montblanc ink, if it has always worked for you. However, it might not be the gold standard I once thought it was. The information here is simply raw data, but it seems striking.

Holiday Slowdown

Due to forces outside our control, we will not be able to ship any packages from orders made between December 2 and December 12. There is a family emergency that is forcing this situation. The good news is that everyone will be okay, but we aren’t going to be able ship during this period.

You can continue ordering pens, and we will ship them just as soon as we are able.

I am terribly sorry for this inconvenience. We still wish you the happiest of holidays, and hope to fulfill your inky desires as soon as we can.

Levenger’s Ink Kicks Ass!

Mathematical and computer genius Alan Turing famously said, “Sometimes it is the people who no one imagines anything of who do the things no one can imagine.” In addition to being one of my all-time favorite quotes about people, it seems to apply to the world of fountain pen inks, too.

Here is a side-by-side comparison of Levenger’s ink left in the sun for 3 months and the proof sample saved in the dark.

Ink collectors today understandably go ga-ga for Iroshizuku, Diamine, ColorVerse, J. Herbin, Noodlers and many other brands. Yet, often overlooked, is Levenger’s Ink. In many respects, Levenger’s kicked off the ink-color craze a decade or two before our current manufacturers and spectrum was readily available. Levenger’s has had scores of inks of every hue available since some time in the 1990s. Better yet, they are far more affordable than the competition.

Nevertheless, I kinda blew them off…until I stumbled into a large collection for sale. When Dawn and I started testing them for UV light fastness and pH balance, we were blown away.

We started testing 17 colors in March. From March 7, 2021, through June 7, 2021, we hung these samples in the sunniest window of our house. Afterward, we tested the ink still in the bottles with a pH meter calibrated to 21ºC.

Here is a side-by-side image of Levenger’s inks left in the sun for 3 months and the sample proof left in the dark.

Without a doubt, these are the most consistently light-fast inks we have tested to date. Even the worst-hit inks were still very close to their original colors. Blue Bahama likely lost the most vibrancy, but it is still easily read and distinguished. Cardinal Red faded to a rich pink, but it is still quite legible. Raven Black, Gemstone Green and Greystoke got DARKER in the sun!

Given the great results from the light-fast testing, we feared the worst with the pH tests. BUT! We were only further dazzled. Many of the inks were very close to neutral, and none of the inks veered off the spectrum of acidic or alkali.

As a basic chemistry refresher, 7 in a pH test is neutral. Distilled water is 7. The closer to 0 you go, the more acidic something is. In the opposite direction going up to 14 is more base or alkali. In theory, you don’t want an acid or a base sitting in your ink sac for too long. Yet, one thing we always like to remind people is that regardless of what the pH result is, we do not know the chemistry of the ink nor how it interacts with your rubber ink sacs, celluloids or converters and the like. Depending on the chemical reaction between the ink and what it is resting in, a neutral ink can do damage and an acidic ink might be safe. The pH measurement is simply a data point we find fascinating, but it doesn’t necessarily indicate which inks are safest for your pens. With that in mind, here are our Levenger pH results:

Ink Color              pH Measurement
True Teal                        7.1
Empyrean                      6.8
Blue Bahama                 6.6
Skies of Blue                 7.3
Cobalt Blue                   8.0
Regal                             7.2
Amethyst                      8.4
Raven Black                 8.3
Claret                            8.7
Pomegranate               8.3
Shiraz                           8.7
Cardinal Red               6.8
Blazing Sunset            6.7
Cocoa                           7.3
Forest                           7.1
Gemstone Green        7.2
Greystoke                    7.4

As always, I hope you find this information to be interesting and enjoyable.

Another Fine Story in ‘Pen World’

October has another sizzling story by your’s truly in Pen World. In it, I delve into the undersung history of the humble inkfeed. Click on the images to see larger versions and enjoy a free sneak peek courtesy of editor in chief Nicky Pessaroff and Pen World Magazine. To read the whole incredible issue, be sure to pick up a subscription!

Click this image to read my latest story in Pen World Magazine. It is all about inkfeeds.

Here’s the cover of the October 2021 issue of Pen World Magazine.

 

 

 

Page 2

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Decameron 2020: Mr. Hobbs Revisited (Finalé)

Preston, Connecticut, is home to several abandoned asylums for the mentally deranged. They make Arkham look like a pleasure zone. This story has nothing to do with asylums but it is an awesome photo for Halloween.

Editor’s Note: Unfortunately, this shall be Art Cerf’s last “Decameron 2020” story. Perhaps he will come up with some more great stories for us in the future. For now, he’s hoping to take a break. Better known to me as Dad, it is wonderful to write with and entertain with him on this blog. Thanks, Dad, for all of the wonderful fun.

Mr. Hobbs Revisited (Finalé)
By Art Cerf

We end this series of stories by flashing back to the very first, the tale of Mr. Hobbs. In that one, he was a ghost in real life and a ghost when life was over.  It seems Mr. Hobbs needs a bit of an update.

He lost his father when he was four and so became very close to his mother. Throughout his life, he had no love affairs, not even a girlfriend. But don’t blame Mom. She was always encouraging him to meet new people, find friends, date a girl. But Hobbs was an introvert and very shy and he felt he needed no one but his mother.

Looking back upon his life, he remembered one young woman in particular.  Her name was Sarah Montgomery and she was a teller at his bank when he was a young man. She wasn’t fat or thin, tall or short, not a beauty but not ugly either…just an ordinary-looking lady.  Except for her eyes…how they sparkled with interest about everything around her, including Hobbs.

Sometimes, they’d lunch out back together and she would prattle on about anything and everything and he would answer “Yes” or “No” or offered a three-to-four word reply.

How she loved swing music…Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller and the like, even if their moment had been 30 years earlier.

Anyway, she would have been more than willing to go out with Hobbs but he never could muster the courage to ask her. And within a year, she moved onto another job.

Decades passed, and then one day he ran into her at the grocery. Her hair now was grey but her eyes still sparkled with enthusiasm. She recognized him immediately and they spoke for several moments as the cashier’s line dwindled. No, she never married and the young man with her was her sister’s grandson.

Finally, they exchanged numbers and Hobbs never felt better…and never would.

That night he suffered a stroke and would be dead within a month. Sarah saw his obit in the paper and shed a genuine tear.

Diamine Versus the Sun & a pH Test

People often ask what my favorite ink brand is, and, more-and-more it is Diamine. Just like the Beatles, Diamine is based out of Liverpool in the United Kingdom. However, they beat the Beatles to the scene by 100 years in 1864.

In all of my experience with the ink, so far, it has been very fountain pen friendly. I’ve had great success with it in modern and vintage pens, plus, it has a zillion different colors for sale. The only things I don’t mess with are their shimmer inks because shimmer inks clog the daylights out of pens.

Diamine blue inks generally hold up pretty well to the sun’s harsh rays. It is a rare feat among blue inks.

When I stumbled into 14 different ink bottles from a collection I knew it was time to do one of our famous inkfast tests and pH tests.

The results are interesting. Although they lose a bit of their luster, most of the blues are pretty tough and don’t let the sun and UV light bully them. Silver Fox barely fades at all. When still fresh looking, three of my favorite blues in production are Diamine’s “Majestic Blue,” “Blue/Black” and “Blue Velvet.” The only blue to really fade much was “Presidential Blue.”

 

Ancient Copper holds its beauty better than most colors, and it is almost pH neutral!

Breaking into some of the more colorful Diamine inks, the sun proves more aggressive. “Ancient Copper” holds up amazingly well, but  “Red Dragon” takes a hit. “Amazing Amethyst” really takes it  hard and almost completely fades out. The very popular “Oxblood” fairs well, but it still fades a bit.

The pH testing surprised us. As a quick reminder, in the world of pH testing a 0 is extremely acidic, 7 is neutral and 14 is extremely alkali or base. We calibrated the testing device and tested the inks at 24ºC.

Diamine Ink Name              pH  Test  Result
Ancient Copper                                   6.7
Red Dragon                                        2.5
Oxblood                                              2.5
Amazing Amethyst                             6.1
Sherwood Green                                4.4
Blue/Black                                          4.1
Oxford Blue                                        3.8
Presidential Blue                                3.2
Majestic Blue                                     4.2
1864 Blue/Black                                4.5
Silver Fox                                          4.0

Before you throw out any ink you might love, please keep in mind that the pH is only a data point. We don’t know what chemicals are in each ink, and we don’t know how their chemical properties will react to your ink sacs or converters. We’ve seen acidic inks used safely in ink sacs for years and neutral inks destroy ink sacs in a matter of months.

That said, we’ve always had great success with Ancient Copper, which is one of our personal favorite ink colors.

We hope this information is interesting to you…and maybe even help you.

Changes at The United States Postal Service

We love the United States Postal Service. It is cheaper and faster at sending pens across the country and around the world than any of its rivals. After the early pandemic problem with international mail, everything is going great! (It also is one of the only governmental services mentioned and mandated by the U.S. Constitution.)

BUT!

Fight the huge postal rate hike and intentionally slowed service of USPS by its own Postmaster General Louis DeJoy by writing him and President Joe Biden to stop this shameful mismanagement of USPS resources to enrich DeJoy who is heavily invested in the USPS’ biggest delivery rivals.

The USPS just announced it will be — just for the holidays! — RAISING its RATES annnnnnd SLOWING SERVICE! This new policy goes in effect October 3.

We are sorry, but we likely will have to raise our shipping charges to keep from losing money.

Why is the USPS spiking rates and slowing service for the holidays? As a former journalist, I can tell you the old rule of “Follow the money” is never more true than now.

Look no further than Postmaster General Louis DeJoy. Prior to becoming Postmaster General, DeJoy had a political axe to grind against the USPS and wanted it privatized. Why? U.S.A. Today points out that he has between $30 million and $70 million dollars invested in 3 delivery corporations in direct competition with the United States Postal Service. Those corporations are United Parcel Service (UPS), XPO Logistics and J.B. Hunt (Freight).

I don’t think it matters what your politics are, that looks a lot like hiring the fox to watch the hen house.

No. Maybe it doesn’t matter if a pen takes 2 or 3 days longer to get to you. BUT, what about critical medication to the elderly and sick? What about vital real estate, tax and business records where a lot of money is changing hands or peoples’ lives are put on hold as these items, for legal reasons, must be sent via the mail?

And why raise rates and slow service just before the holidays? Could it have anything to do with bringing the USPS down to the overpriced, slow service levels of UPS and DeJoy’s other corporate interests to help bolster their sales at the expense of the USPS? He’ll say no, but I’m not convinced when he has $30M to $70M at stake to make his investments do better.

I have already written DeJoy and President Joe Biden, demanding the service disruption be stopped and preferably to have DeJoy sacked. Yet, my two lonely letters won’t get much attention. Please write to both men and demand better of the United States Postal Service. The more letters they get, the more results we might get.

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy
United States Postal Service
475 L’Enfant Plaza, S.W.
Room 4012
Washington, D.C. 20260

President Joe Biden
1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Washington, DC
20500

Strong Enough for a Man; pH Balanced for a Fountain Pen?

One of the many great aspects of marrying a scientist is the gadgetry. Intrigued by my ink-fast tests  with UV light, Dawn decided to get a professional pH meter to test our ink for corrosiveness. If you remember basic chemistry from high school…which I barely do…you will remember that we have acid on one side of a scale and base/alkali on the other. The scale ranges from 0 to 14. 7 is neutral like distilled water. The further you move away from 7 in either direction is more corrosive. The 0 side is acid and the 14 side is base/alkali.

You would think that all inks are hovering around a 7 to be safe in your pen and on paper. We certainly did.

Holy cats! We were wrong.

First you saw these Pelikan Edelstein inks in our UV ink fast test. Now we’re going back and checking their pH balance!

For years I told people…as I was told by many pen collectors and dealers before me…that you can always trust simple blue and black inks from the major pen manufacturers. However, just our initial testing indicates that might not be the best advice any longer.

Before I go on, let me preface the following by saying that we are not chemists. We feel confident in our results from our testing. However, we do not know the chemistry of the ink interacting with ink sacs, celluloid, gaskets, seals and other assemblies inside your pens. Our pH testing is simply raw data we gather from bottles of ink we have collected. Yet, it might help shed some light if you are experiencing trouble with certain inks interacting poorly with your vintage or modern pens over time.

Having recently written about Pelikan Edelstein inks in an ink-fast test, I thought I would revisit these inks for our pH testing. For those keeping score at home our meter and inks were tested and calibrated at 24ºC.

Pelikan Edelstein Amethyst               5.6
Pelikan Edelstein Aquamarine          3.3
Pelikan Edelstein Aventurine             6.4
Pelikan Edelstein Garnet                   6.5
Pelikan Edelstein Jade                       5.3
Pelikan Edelstein Olivine                    6.0
Pelikan Edelstein Ruby                       7.9
Pelikan Edelstein Sapphire                 3.7
Pelikan Edelstein Smokey Quartz       6.5
Pelikan Edelstein Tanzanite                7.3
Pelikan Edelstein Topaz                      6.4
Pelikan Old Version Violet                   2.7
Pelikan Modern Violet                         3.4
Pelikan Brilliant Red                           6.9

Again, I’m not a chemist, and I have not studied how these inks interact chemically with ink sacs and other pen parts.

That said, what really strikes me as fascinating is that the “traditionally safe” blues such as Sapphire and Aquamarine are really acidic. I love Edelstein Sapphire and use it more than any of these other colors, and I would never have guessed it was as acidic at it is.

Also fascinating, I’ve been told for years never to put red ink in an ink sac, but Garnet, Ruby and Brilliant Red are among the closest inks to test near pH neutral.

Again, the chemicals in the ink might interact differently with the chemical compositions of our pens, but we find this to be a really fun look into our favorite inks. Many more UV and pH tests to come!

Decameron 2020: God of Carnage

Peanut

Scurrying into the town of Mouseville, a little grey traveler named Erasmus visited in hopes of seeking shelter from the rain.

Yet, on the streets Mouseville, between the basement and first floor of a century-old Sears Craftsman home, all was not well. Oh sure, there were the happy signs of chewed on wood debris and droppings everywhere, but the residents of Mouseville were in a nervous panic.

“What is wrong?” asked Erasmus, when he encountered a larger brown-and-white field mouse named Esther. “Why is everyone so upset.”

“It is the God of Carnage,” the trembling mouse replied. “He killed Aloysius early this morning.”

“Forgive me,” Erasmus said. “I just came to town. I have never heard of a God of Carnage before.”

“What?! How can that be?” asked Esther. “His savagery is epic. He is huge and vicious. He has large white fangs and razor-sharp claws. He is so terrifying that he doesn’t even camouflage. He wears a coat of tan fur, and his pale green eyes look right through you as he tears you to pieces.”

“Does this God of Carnage have a furry tail?” Erasmus asked.

“Yes,” replied Esther.

“Does your God of Carnage make an ear-shattering cry of death that sounds like this, ‘Meow’?” Erasmus asked.

“Yes,” Esther said. “You do know our God of Carnage.”

“I think it is just a cat,” Erasmus explained, confident his big city mouse experiences were more than these simple country mice were used to. “It is not a god, though they do think highly of themselves. Cats are just predators who happen to feed on mice and birds. They are pretty predictable, really.”

God of Carnage

“Mark my words, Stranger,” stated Atticus, who was a sleek black mouse that overheard their conversation. “The God of Carnage is no mere cat. He has never eaten a mouse. He is fed by his gargantuan servants, whom he himself has trained, something called Fancy Feast. It is a vile meat purée whose sickening stench alerts us to when he is near.”

“BUT,” nervously squeaked Wilhelmina, “Once he has consumed the Fancy Feast, he is sleepy and less apt to torment us.”

“Guys,” Erasmus laughed. “I’m even more convinced now that this is just a cat and not a god at all. They are pretty common. Trust me, I’ve encountered many in my travels.”

“Would a cat hold you down by the tail and slowly stick his claws in you, just to listen to you squeal before you die?” asked Esther, trying to trip up Erasmus.

“Yes,” he replied.

“But then he wouldn’t eat you…just leave your corpse in the shoe of one of his servants who must have displeased him,” Esther probed further.

“Yep. That’s pretty catlike,” Erasmus said, rolling his eyes at their simplistic nature.

“Would a cat play catch with your limp body?” Wilhelmina asked. “Tossing you into the air with his mouth only to catch you and grind you with his teeth until you ceased to try escaping and withered away in his jaws, only to leave you on his servants’ bed to reprimand them?”

“Uh-huh,” Erasmus nonchalantly affirmed.

“What about drowning?” inquired Atticus. “Aloysius did nothing to disturb or offend the God of Carnage. He simply saw a sunflower seed on the floor and raced to get it and return to Mouseville to eat it. Yet, the God of Carnage pounced from thin air and captured Aloysius. As Aloysius begged for his life, the God of Carnage didn’t even bite him. He held Aloysius down in a bowl of water until he ceased to struggle and fight for air. Then he plopped poor bloated Aloysius into the bowl usually left for Fancy Feast and walked away.”

“That does sound unnecessarily cruel,” Erasmus said, “But, I wouldn’t put such behavior beyond a mortal cat.”

“Have you slain such a creature, as you call, a cat?” Atticus asked.

“Oh, God, no,” Erasmus said, losing his patience with these country mice. “They are too big and deadly. I just try to steer clear of them. Haven’t you simpletons ever been taught to practice S.L.R.?”

“We have not heard of your magic,” answered Wilhelmina. “All we can do is pray to the great God of Carnage not to sacrifice us for his amusement.”

“Sniff. Look. Run,” Erasmus explained. “It isn’t magic. I’ll show you. Is that sunflower seed still out there?”

“No, Stranger,” Esther said. “Do not throw away your life. Do not tempt the Great God of Carnage.”

“Look,” Erasmus said. “Cats aren’t that bright. Let me show you how it is done.”

The mice led Erasmus to the hole under the oven in the kitchen. “There lie the bowls of this morning’s tragedy,” said one of the mice.

Erasmus crawled to the edge of the stove’s protection. “First you sniff the air for any sign of cat. Then you look to the left and the right for any sign of cats. When it is all clear, you run as fast as you can.”

Erasmus scurried quickly for the seed he saw on the floor.

Then…BAM!

He felt the weight of the cat flatten him to the floor.

Recovering from his leap off the counters, which his owners would have been angry about if they knew he was on the counters, the cat briefly let the mouse go.

Yet, Erasmus was too stunned to move. The other mice under the stove shrieked and began praying fervently for Erasmus’ release.

The cat held the recovering mouse with one of his back paws, as he used a front paw to lick and groom himself. He didn’t want to appear slovenly for his new playmate.

“Would you like to play with me?” the wheat-colored mini panther asked.

“Play?” Erasmus questioned.

“I’m bored,” the God of Carnage said. “My humans go to this thing called ‘work’ and leave me with nothing to do.”

“I thought you were the merciless great God of Carnage,” Erasmus said, then looked to the other mice as if to say, “Ya see, I told you so.”

“My name is Peanut. What is your’s?”

Erasmus began laughing as he’d never laughed before. It was a deep, uncontrolled laughter.

“What is so funny, new playmate?” the cat asked.

“P. P. Pea-nut!” The little mouse couldn’t stop laughing. “Ya-ya you are.”

The mouse laughed some more.

“Why am I so funny?” Peanut asked, perturbed by this mouse’s laughter.

“Don’t you know what a peanut is, you idiot,” the haughty mouse kept laughing. “It is a diminutive little legume that people eat at baseball games.”

More gales of mouse laughter.

“Why, you nincompoop!” Erasmus kept laughing. “You’re no God of Carnage. You’re a peanut.”

With that, Peanut bit off the impudent little mouse’s head and tossed it toward the cowering rodents under the stove.

The mice began to pray, “Oh, Great God of Carnage, be merciful!”

“That’s better,” Peanut said, strutting toward the sunny couch in the next room. “I’m going to take a nap. Try not to disturb me, or you’ll suffer a worse fate.”

Once Peanut had left the room, Esther said, “Is it just me, or do you think that Erasmus character talked way too much.”

“I thought he’d never shut-up,” Wilhelmina agreed.

“Good riddance,” Esther said. “Two newcomers in one day ought to keep Peanut satisfied for some time. I’m tired of this Kabuki theater. We’ve got some real work to do without him meddling.”

Decameron 2020: Bad Blood

Bad Blood
by Art Cerf

Spring Peepers have nothing to do with this story, but we just like this photo.

Stories about him have been around as long as people have told stories…the undead, Nosferstu, Dracula. Perhaps the origin of the name came from Vlad Dracul…Vlad the Impaler, a man with so much blood on his hands that the Devil himself was impressed and offered Vlad life everlasting…but only by night and only to feast on human blood.

Dracula came to the United States after the Second World War, a refugee from Romania. And things went well in this land of milk and…uh, blood. Until 2020.

In late March of that year, he fed on another human only the blood tasted bad…like spoiled milk. And as the months proceeded, he tasted more and more of these poisoned vessels. He never cared about the news so he knew nothing of the pandemic. And when he finally learned of the plague, people were starting to get their vaccine shots.  And when he happened to bite on the them, it was even worse, rancid butter, rotting fish.

As the days went on, he became weaker and weaker, so few people either without Covid or without the vaccine.

In fear of starvation, he decided he must leave the States and even Western Europe where vaccinations also were ramping up.

Finally, he decided he’d go to a third-world country, poor and overpopulated with plenty to feed on. He narrowed his choice down to either Brazil or India.