Upasana Makati uses Braille to help her readers see the world.
It was in the middle of the night, in the dark, that Upasana Makati hit upon the idea of creating a newspaper for the visually impaired. “I woke up and wondered,” she tells me, “What is it that blind people read every morning?” It was a thought as random as that that made Makati pay a visit to the National Association for the Blind (NAB). The director at NAB seemed confused, she says. “He wanted to know if I represented an organisation.” Makati, then 23, didn’t have any corporate backing, she still doesn’t, but was rather driven by the singular idea that visually impaired people need something to read every morning.
White Print may not come out every morning but it does reach a little over 150 homes every month. India’s first lifestyle magazine in Braille, White Print has been in circulation since May 2013. But at that meeting, the first one she’d had with the NAB director, Makati had to convince him to agree to print the magazine. At the time even Makati didn’t know how things would fall into place; she did however know she wanted to do this. And so, in what may seem like a whim, White Print was born.
Following her meeting with the NAB director, Makati dedicated her time researching the idea. Was there a magazine for the visually impaired? Was there a demand for a magazine of this nature? And, importantly, how does one start a magazine like this in the first place? After eight months of going through the legal process and three rejections of the title from the Press Registry, Makati was finally granted the permission to go with White Print. And as per publishing rules in India, she had to bring out her first edition in three months or forfeit the title. Then there was the matter of printing in Braille, a process that’s fairly expensive.
Before she took on this first-of-its-kind project, Makati worked in public relations, a job that she’d landed after completing her graduation in journalism from India and a post-grad from Canada. She continued with her PR job, even though her heart lay elsewhere, while she researched and started setting up the magazine. It included not just getting content for it but also advertising so she wouldn’t have to ask for charity.
“When everyone talks about an initiative like this, they automatically assume it’s for charity. That’s the one thing I didn’t want it to be. For White Print to be successful, it had to generate its own revenue,” she says. This is easier said than done because even though she launched with a four-page advertorial from Raymond and continues to land big clients including Coca Cola, Tata and Mahindra, she has to occasionally cross-subsidise from her other project—Tactabet, a braille-tactile-text version of ABC books for children (available in English and Hindi).
Makati continues to remain the only full-time employee of White Print, but uses the services of interns and freelancers to generate content for the magazine. Of course, there are friends too, who write, but the very idea of White Print is so unique it automatically attracts big names. “Barkha Dutt contributed a column on politics to White Print for a year without a fee,” says Makati. “And Sudha Murthy gave us permission to publish 12 of her short stories. We also have a collab with Caravan which supplies us with content,” adds Makati who recently selected by the Ministry of Women and Child Development to receive the First Ladies Award from the President at Rashtrapati Bhavan.
One of the most important feedback Makati’s received is that the visually impaired are more curious about what happens outside of their community than within it. And this could very well include content around movies. “Contrary to popular perception the visually impaired also ‘watch’ films,” she says. Which also prompts production houses such as YRF to reach out to Makati to place an advertisement before a movie, like say Fan, or an actor like Hrithik Roshan to collaborate with them to promote one of his movies.At a time when fewer people are reading books, Makati’s reasoning for running a Braille magazine is the same as that of any book lover—nothing can ever replace the touch of a book. It is also an endeavour that takes up all of Makati’s time, but the results are heartening because every once in a while there’s a person who’ll tell her that, for a change, they weren’t just silent listeners at the dinner table. White Print is giving voice to the visually impaired, one Braille embossing at a time.