Before White Print was launched in 2013, browsing through the arts and learning about modern trends wasn’t really an option for the visually impaired. As the only lifestyle magazine in India, White Print, started by Upasana Makati, 26, changed that.
“I was working with a PR company in Mumbai. It was one of those random nights, when I was feeling dissatisfied with my work. I was pondering over the various options that are available to the sighted in terms of reading material and the absence of those for the blind. It seemed impossible. I called a friend and we searched the internet for options beyond audio books; something more regular. I was more shocked than surprised to find that there was absolutely nothing. I mean, here we were talking about the digital age and empowering the populace with smart phones, and something as basic as a magazine wasn’t available for the unsighted. I was convinced I had to take this forward and give it a fair shot,” says Makati. It’s not as if a visually impaired family member or friend set her off on this path; it was just her inquisitiveness that led to the formation of the White Print magazine.
“Coca-Cola really loved the project. They gave us a musical ad, the ‘Ummeedon waali dhoop’ song, which was embedded in a small chip and placed in the centre spread. The moment someone opened the centre page, the song would play.”
Makati graduated in mass media from Mumbai and completed a course in Corporate Communication from Canada. She worked with a PR firm for a year, quitting three months after conceiving the project for this 64-page monthly magazine in her head. The obvious place to begin her research was the National Association for Blind (NAB). She only found audio books and a quarterly newsletter released by NAB in terms of reading material for the blind. “I was only 24 so I had age on my side to take this chance. I approached the NAB and asked them to support me with this project. Their apprehensions were apparent — it was difficult to believe in someone my age; also, I wasn’t backed by any governmental institution,” she says. She offered to pay for every service that she took from NAB, which was a deal they agreed to. It took her another eight months to get the name registered and to complete other tedious legal formalities. “White Print, the title, is a creative way of saying Braille, which is a series of white dots. I applied for registration and the title got rejected twice. I was worried and often questioned the decision to quit my job to get into this, but continued nevertheless,” she says.
She brainstormed with her friends to get the content together while the legal processes were underway. She also took this time to interact with her future readers to understand their expectations from a lifestyle magazine. “The response was overwhelming. They were happy that someone was thinking of doing this, and hoped this would materialise and not just remain an idea. This motivated me to go right ahead. Another thing I realised was that they were sick and tired of being sympathised with,” says Makati. This led White Print to be a revenue-driven enterprise as opposed to a charity. But this also increased her challenge — whereas donations could have earlier been used to meet costs, now she had to find alternate ways to raise the required funds, with advertisements being the most clear-cut choice. But who’d agree to advertise in Braille? “I had to contact the higher-ups in companies to get them interested. For instance, I got in touch directly with Ratan Tata to get them to advertise with us. Thankfully, I did not have to use contacts or pull strings. A straightforward conversation over email proved successful,” says Makati. Raymond was the first company to agree. They gave a five-page advertorial of their Spring/Summer Collection in White Print’s inaugural issue, which became the reference point for potential advertisers. Soon, they had the Tata group and Coca-Cola on board, followed by Aircel and Vodafone. “Coca-Cola really loved the project. They gave us a musical ad, the ‘Ummeedon waali dhoop’ song, which was embedded in a small chip and placed in the centre spread. The moment someone opened the centre page, the song would play. It was an interesting medium and made the readers feel special,” she says.
As for the content, they have an editorial tie-up with Caravan magazine where they can include any of their stories, as well as the rights to Sudha Murthy’s short stories. Other times, Makati gets freelancers to contribute fresh content on diverse topics including music, books, culture, technology, travelogues, fashion, movies as well as quizzes and puzzles. They also have a section where the readers can contribute their stories and poems, while a separate section lists job openings for readers. “Recently, one of our readers wrote a story about how he lost his eyesight and the challenges that followed, leaving his number there too. He was elated at receiving multiple calls from fellow readers who connected with him, facilitating some kind of a relationship,” says Makati.
Once the content is written, Makati proofreads it and converts it into Braille using Duxbury, a software used to translate a language to Braille. It is then sent to NAB, where another person proofreads the Braille version before sending the package to the press. The magazines are sent across by Indian post to individual subscribers and different associations for the blind across the country.
Makati mentions how she has grown as a person in the last two years. “I realise how we take newspapers and magazines for granted, barely spending 15 minutes with it. And then there are my readers, who keep these copies with them and read them over and over again. It humbles me how something as simple as a magazine can give them so much happiness. We are headed towards stability and are aiming to increase the subscription to 1,000. I am also interested in having the government publish policies that are relevant to our readers.”
Write to firstname.lastname@example.org to subscribe to White Print (Rs 300 a year).