A vision beyond the ordinary

EYE-OPENER

A vision beyond the ordinary

Can you imagine life without your daily dose of celebrity gossip, fashion forecasts or restaurant reviews? What’s Shah Rukh Khan doing off-screen these days?

How is Priyanka Chopra doing up her new home? What’s the best way to cook a delicious biryani? For the masses, there are several lifestyle magazines and online options available in every Indian language to catch up on the latest news and trends.

Today, Mumbai-based Upasana Makati, all of 26, has done the same for the
visually-impaired by launching India’s first and only English lifestyle magazine in Braille. Through its 64 pages, White Print brings the colourful world of glamour, food and films every month to its subscribers.

How did Upasana come up with this unusual idea of creating a publication in Braille? “It just came to me out of nowhere really.

It was the day after a national holiday and I was frantically looking for a newspaper to read - for many of us, the day feels incomplete if we don’t read one. Right there I thought, if I can’t survive without a newspaper for one day what must the visually-challenged feel?” she recalls.

That’s when Upasana started to dig a little deeper. As she did her research on the kind of publications available for the visually-challenged, she discovered that apart from Reliance Drishti International’s fortnightly Hindi Braille newspaper and a few other smaller regional new magazines, there was nothing much on offer. And, of course, there was no English magazine being printed, current affairs or lifestyle.

After she investigated the domestic scene, Upasana explored the international arena as well. Once again, she found a huge vacuum. When she had decided to search for Braille publications being printed in India, Upasana was too young to have been able to do something with her findings. She completed her graduation in Mass Communication in Mumbai followed by an exchange programme that took her to Canada’s Ottawa University for a one-year course in corporate communications. Once she came back, Upasana, joined a public relations firm in her hometown.

“It was while I was working at the agency that I felt restless and wanted to do
something different than the usual work. So I got together with a couple of my college friends and decided to revisit my idea of a creating a Braille magazine,’’ says the young woman who struggled for nearly eight months and made three attempts before her title, White Print, was registered.

Inquire about her inspired title, and she reveals that in Braille, even pictures are coded in white. The pages of the magazine have a variety of reading material and can give any popular lifestyle glossy tough competition – it includes travel, fashion, music, food, columns, short stories, beauty tips and whatever else a youngster would enjoy reading in a magazine.

On her part, Upasana ensures that every article published has some fresh idea to share. “We have freelancers from South Korea and the US as our regular contributors, besides Indians, of course, who generously write for us,” shares the founder-editor of White Print, who herself writes on music and also transcribes all matter filed into Braille code using the special Buxbury software.

The National Association for the Blind (NAB) in Mumbai provides facilities such as proofreading and printing press. Upasana would have liked to have the freedom to reproduce articles translated in Braille, but as of now, there are copyright issues involved. White Print is available through a nominal subscription fee of Rs 300 per year and has built up a subscriber base of 300 till today.

People from Delhi, Chandigarh, Cochin, Chennai, Kolkata and Darjeeling have thoroughly enjoyed this read. ne obvious question that comes to mind regarding such a venture is financial ustainability. How does Upasana generate the funds to run White Print? Here, paying heed to the advice of Raman Shankar, the director of NAB, who told her not to restrict White Print by positioning it as a charitable project, she has followed the commercial publication model – ad space is sold at Rs 30,000 per page to generate revenue.

One of the first companies to come on board was Raymond, which sponsored five pages to publicise their Spring Summer collection. Tatas followed. But the ad that generated a lot of interest among her eaders was given by Coca Cola. They had inserted an audio clip in the centrespread, which played a catchy jingle every time the page was opened.
This is not to say that it’s been easy to convince advertisers to place ads in the Braille format that is quite text heavy.

Besides the fact Braille ads have not been created in India before, one basic problem she encounters is that people don’t even know what Braille is!

To overcome this, Upasana has made a very heart-rending and informative five-minute film, B for Braille, written and directed by Sharat Kumar with background score by Kanishk Seth. “The vocals have been penned by me, naturally,” she says with a smile. The video, which is available on You Tube, already has thousands of hits.

While progress is slow, the intention is certainly noble, as we see White Print
proving to be a positive trendsetter.

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