When many of us think of print in our country, we don’t realize or even understand what it means at the various levels of the economy or the culture. This is partly because we are obsessed with the top of the pyramid in the industry, which means that we talk about 8-color perfectors with automation driven by artificial intelligence, or LED curing and remote maintenance. Or who will survive the pandemic or the uneven economy with paper prices skyrocketing? Or exports where several Indian book printers and exporters are in the top category of the pyramid – growing and seizing the opportunity without any hope of government help in any area where they may sometimes mistakenly hope for help.
Just to catalog or enumerate the areas where printers should not expect any help from the government any time soon, these are the export of paper by Indian manufacturers, resulting in high prices for local consumption. The area of ease of doing business is a very long-term project since it is not all in the interest of the multiple agencies, individuals, and administrators who thrive on making business difficult. This category of difficulties could include CAPEX and working capital finance at reasonable rates, continuous and standard quality electricity supply, roads, air quality, water supply, logistics, and numerous compliances.
Print for the rest of the pyramid
However, let us set aside the larger issues and look at what print continues to mean to the rest of the pyramid – the part that consists of ordinary businesses, organizations, and citizens. For the school teacher, the high school and college student, the autorickshaw wallah, the tea shop, the fast food shop or kiosk on the footpath selling momos or the sari and shoe shops in every market. For all of them (or us), printed banners, signs, and leaflets (parchas) are the way to make yourself visible to your customers and to show them your colors – your belief in what you do and sell and your character. It’s print that makes us who and what we are – it’s the bold headline or name coupled with a catchline that creates interest in what we have to sell or say.
In the past week, I was reminded of this firstly by one of our young correspondents who went to a couple of business high streets in the middle-class neighborhoods of our capital city. He went in search of digital printers. One visit was on the east side of the city across the Yamuna, and the other was to Rajendra Nagar – at one time the gateway to the western part of the city but now evolved or magically moved inward by urban growth to become a central Delhi neighborhood.
Most of the owners of the digital print shops were not there, they are generally absentee proprietors. Their employees and press operators were, understandably, reluctant to speak about either business or technology. Still, our intrepid correspondent got them to share a bit about what they print – a wide array of signage and posters, project reports, short-run books, case studies, answer booklets of past exams for job and higher education exams, menus, and leaflets and parchas for advertising sales of everything from saris to shoes and samosas and tea. The sign on one tea stall read, “Single ko liye ek chai muft.” (If you’re single – a free cup of tea.)
My second instance of what print means to the rest of the pyramid comes from my attendance at a program at the Stein auditorium at the India Habitat Centre in Lutyens’ Delhi. (Ironically, Joseph Stein, who lived in India for more than 50 years, was for a long time known as the best Indian architect – and I am still waiting for the name of the auditorium to be changed to something more suitable to our currently reigning inferiority complex.)
Nevertheless, the evening program organized by the Bhagyam Foundation to speak about Gandhiji’s humanity and gentleness near the 75th anniversary of his assassination on 30 January 1948 was multilingual in Hindi, Urdu, and English. The performance consisted of readings, recitations, songs, and classical dance based on shlokas and other poetry that included Gandhiji’s favorite hymn Tum mero pass raho.
The traditional music ensemble and instruments accompanied Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi dancers in their exposition of Gandhi’s return from Africa to his jailing, the salt march, and ultimately to his death. A complex mixture of thought, reading, melody, rhythm, and classical dance brought to earth. A performance presented simply with a clear message and explanation of Satyagraha.
The punch line is that the program notes were spectacularly designed and printed by a digital printer in Nehru place (a business center in South Delhi) on a beautifully textured off-white Italian stock. Entirely printed in only black and brown, the brilliant multilingual design and content move us and make this A5 8-page folder something to be taken home and preserved.
The enabler is the digital printer, who knows his paper and his digital press and provides the finish to an aesthetic artifact that matches the excellence of the concept and the performance of our talented citizens. A tribute to Gandhiji on the 75th anniversary of his assassination, right here in our capital city.
This is the editorial from February 2023 issue of Indian Printer and Publisher that is in the press and will be posted to subscribers on 25 January, 2023.