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Print and Beyond 2017: A special seminar in Kochi - The Noel D'Cunha Sunday Column

31 March 2017

Mahesh Karthik, the next-gen at Kochi’s ST Reddiar, had to captain the ship of the seminar – Print and Beyond 2017. He says, “I knew I had a tough task on hand, from finding the right theme for the seminar to tapping the right personalities to share their insights.”

Mahesh realised that he had dug a pit for himself when he proposed the name of Ramesh Kejriwal of Parksons Packaging as the star speaker to the senior committee members at the Kerala Master Printers Association (KMPA). But he decided to grit his teeth and march on. How he got there is another matter.

For this Sunday Column, Mahesh gets nostalgic about Print Miracle and how is his friends and KMPA members helped him make the Print and Beyond seminar, a success.

untitled-1 Mahesh Karthik of ST Reddiar

Let me start at the very beginning with KMPA and Print Miracle.

I remember the sultry days in the mid-1990s when as a kid I used to go to office on Sundays with my dad, Suresh Rajendran, and fritter most of time at the press in Kochi.

Sitting in the ante room occupied by my father’s secretary, Thomas Sir, I would see Print Miracle (KMPA’s magazine), all over the place, one form here and another signature there, plus advertisements and photographs which needed to be scanned. I would watch the process of compiling and copy editing done by Thomas Sir and PS Rajan of St Francis Press.

I have seen Thomas scrutinise the content, cross-check the advertisements, proofread the pages and make a million phone calls. And only when all of the above was done, would he be satisfied. Thomas was the heart and soul of the magazine from its first edition in 1996 till 2009. In 2009, a new team at KMPA initiated the move of having a KMPA office.

Every time between 1996-2009, I saw Thomas’ cabin sans the material for the magazine, I knew that the latest edition has gone for print, and the process for the next issue would begin in a week’s time. There was another piece of history that remained till 2011 and it was the promotional poster of the first Print Miracle Expo in 1994.

That was then. This is now.

Cut to 2017. I am part of the KMPA office bearers for the last four years. A few months ago, KMPA’s secretary and a good friend Rajesh Gopalakrishnan, whom I call Rajesh-bhai, discussed the plan of hosting the Print and Beyond seminar, and I was told "Print and Beyond is now your responsibility".

And though the two events initiated by the KMPA, Print Miracle Expo and Print and Beyond were proud moments, I have to admit I was a bit reluctant since it was a herculean task. But I knew it was the need of the hour.

Two reasons: I had seen the mammoth efforts that my father, Suresh Rajendran, took in 1994 to launch an expo to Kerala. I think this was for the first time. And I know it was against all odds. But the industry benefitted from that experience. Secondly, hosting a seminar and an expo in our own backyard is the greatest way to celebrate being a print professional. I could see the sense of pride on the faces of all the printers who were present on the first day of the inaugural edition in 1994, of which I was a part.

I was also part of the first Print and Beyond seminar along with my contemporary, Anoop Venugopal of Anaswara and Raju Kutty of Purandara participated in a 30-minute Q&A session hosted by Dr Rajendrakumar Anayath.

Which is why, I knew I had a tough task on hand. During one of our regular Monday meetings, the president of KMPA, Saji S Nair told me to come up with some themes for the seminar. Thankfully, I was prepared for it. One of the things one gets to hear these days is – how to get into packaging. I proposed and my good friend, die-master and editor of Print Miracle, Raju Kutty stood up and said, if it's packaging, then we should have a stalwart from the packaging segment, like Ramesh Kejriwal of Parksons Packaging.

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Ramesh Kejriwal of Parksons Packaging at the Print and Beyond seminar

To be honest, I thought I had dug my own pit. I knew inviting someone like Kejriwal would be a Himalayan task. At the same time, I recalled an anecdote my brother shared about a session in Pune where Kejriwal ji had addressed the gathering. It seems, he was super duper.

The next day I called up the one person without whom no print event in Kerala can happen, and that was Dr Rajendrakumar Anayath. As always, Anayath sir's words were a huge boost. He said “You have to think of a seminar of this scale and incite stalwarts like Kejriwal ji. I will help you as much as I can in this regard."

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Dr Rajendrakumar Anayath

That evening after work as I was mulling what progress report should I submit to the KMPA committee during our Monday meeting, the confabulations I have had with my good friend Ramu Ramanathan of PrintWeek India, over the years flashed across my mind. He is, I thought, 'someone who knows everyone'.

It also reminded me of a special episode from our memorable Hisar road trip from Delhi. There is a Malayali saying that some relationships are forged in steel; and to that aphorism, I can add, some relationships can be forged on a trip from Delhi to Hisar.

Though the story of that trip is a subject for another write-up, I have to say, it gifted me two new friends: Ankit Tanna from Mumbai and Manu Choudhury from Kolkata. Also, it gave us an insight into the mind of perhaps 'the' editor of print news in India. That is Ramu who was also part of our journey. Later he was the moderator of a panel discussion for the students of Guru Jambheshwar University of Science and Technology, (an event organised by the All India Federation of Master Printers). That session with the students was a good one.

That's when I thought such a panel discussion could be moderated by Ramu along with the members from KMPA and the students from two major printing colleges in Kerala.

The phone call to Ramu was straightforward. I highlighted the two agendas. He agreed, immediately. I was quite pleased with the progress we were making. It was one of those rare days I enjoyed a good night's sleep.

As it happened, a few days later on a weekend, I was at a coffee shop with Raju Kutty and we were discussing this subject. We weren’t sure about the future of the seminar. As we were downing our cuppas in despondent mood, I got a call from Ramu Ramanathan and as calmly as ever (like he always is) he said, “Mr Kejriwal has agreed. He would be calling you the next week”.

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(c) Saji S Nair of KMPA with (r) G Venugopal of Sterling Printers

I was stunned and did not know what to say. Picking myself up, I asked “What about you, you would be coming right? The panel discussion for me would be the highlight of the show”. In his typical style, Ramu replied, “Yes, the Kochi-Muziris Biennale is very important. I will attend your seminar and the Biennale.” I shared the good news with Raju Kutty. We congratulated each other, and spent the whole evening discussing the nitty-gritty of the seminar.

The next Monday evening I shared this news with the KMPA committee. I could see the jubilation. I had to calm the nerves saying Kejriwal has not yet "confirmed". I also told everyone about my idea of the panel discussion which was also welcomed. Next thing I was asked about the third and forth speaker. Many names were floated and ideas were discussed. But due to one reason or the other we could not narrow down on speaker three and speaker four.

The next day by noon I saw a missed call and an SMS. On cue, I searched for the number on my phone-app and it showed up as Mr Ramesh Kejriwal. The first thought was, oh my god I might have jeopardised the whole seminar. How am I going to get hold of Mr Kejriwal again. Completely distraught, I checked my SMS and saw the message which read “Hi Mahesh this is Ramesh Kejriwal from Parksons please call me back when you are free”.

In a short conversation from Mr Kejriwal over the phone he confirmed his availability. He requested what specific inputs that we would need from him? I said we (printers in Kerala) are aspiring to become packaging convertors. Therefore we need to know how it all started with you and Parksons. Mr Kejriwal concluded by asking me to send me a formal eMail with a specific brief so that he could prepare accordingly. He ended the conversation by saying, “I am also a fellow printer like anyone in the industry”. He added, he knew my father. I must say I was overwhelmed.

It was one of those moments that I consider a life lesson.

The same week I got an invitation from PrintWeek India as a nominee for their annual award function in Mumbai. Now Ramu was kind enough to offer me a seat next to Kejriwal ji who would be attending the show. I informed them I would have a discussion with them in Mumbai. As always I called my go-to-buddy Mr R (Raju). I requested him to accompany me to Mumbai so that we can have a discussion with Kejriwal and Ramu as representatives of the KMPA. He agreed immediately.

During the course of the function at the Grand Hyatt attended by more than 350 VIPs, Parksons Packaging was awarded the PrintWeek India Printing Company of the Year. We thought it would be best to leave Mr Kejriwal to celebrate with his team. So, we congratulated him. However Ramu, Raju Kutty and I stayed on till 1:30 am at the same venue. We discussed how to go about the seminar. It was then, Ramu came up with options for speaker three and speaker four. He asked us to consider Venugopal Menon of Bobst India and “our” good friend Ankit Tanna of Printmann. I did not think twice and seconded his decision. Later he and Raju Kutty devised a plan about the interactive session.

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Team Parksons Packaging at the PrintWeek India Awards 2016

Upon my return to Cochin I contacted both Menon and Ankit. Within a few days, they were kind enough to participate in spite of their busy schedule. In fact Ankit also was blessed with a baby boy at that time; and yet, he said, yes.

At this point I had a major setback: a disk rupture in the spinal cord near the neck. I was completely out of sorts and was advised a month's rest by the physician. But this time at home helped me co-ordinate with the speakers with long chain of emails about relevance of what has to be spoken during their respective sessions. Both Kejriwal ji and Ankit wanted to add something of value to the audience so I spoke to many printers in Kerala who are aspiring to take up packaging as well as industry experts and suppliers. All this was plugged back into both the R's Ramu and Raju. Both shared their valuable inputs.

This 2-3 week exercise proved to be one of the major reasons why the seminar was so well appreciated by our audience and why it proved it most relevant. We were fast racing towards 14 January; the d-day for Print and Beyond.

It was at this juncture there was a bit of a concern about the finance for the seminar. That was when another good friend and fellow member, G Venugopal (Sterling Printers); all of us address him affectionately as Venu G (ji) - stepped in. From this point onward the money matters for Print and Beyond was handled by Venu ji. Not only did he speak on my behalf during the Monday meetings, he shouldered the responsibility, especially as I was mentally and physically low (due to a serious spinal injury). Venu was the only one who related to my condition and supported me. Also, I cannot forget our Hon secretary Mr Rajesh's contributions. He along with Venu stood up and took on the responsibility like a true leader. The dynamic duo of Venu Ji and Rajesh Bhai conjured up a record sum as sponsorship for the event. Plus we attracted a record number of people to attend the seminar as well. In fact they travelled all across Kerala and up to Manipal to invite faculty and students for this event.

During the last few days leading up to the event every single member of the executive committee contributed towards the success of the event. Among them I cannot miss out the contribution of our very own Nazer Ikka (Nazer of Nazer Binding) he came up with a brilliant idea of a take away gift-box for all participants of the seminar and Biju chettan (Mr Biju Jose of Printers Castle) for the excellent work on the design of the brochure for Print and Beyond.

Finally one day before the seminar, Kejriwal ji and Ramu Ramanathan landed at Cochin airport at more or less the same time. I offered to pick them up from the airport. Accompanying me was Raju Kutty. He said “here we go”. A journey, according to him, was overwhelming. That evening there was a small get-together for all our guests (except Ankit Tanna).

During a dinner tete a tete, Kejriwal ji spoke about his experiences during his career for more than a hour. All of us were spellbound and heard Kejriwal ji in rapt attention. Just listening to him, we felt motivated, that 'we must also dare to achieve'.

On a personal note I felt that it was very inspiring and stirring. I consider that evening as a lucky opportunity. I got to know much more about the man who already inspired me through his work. Most members felt that they had already attended next day's keynote session.

The next morning first thing I went and met Ankit who had just arrived. Then quickly went about the highlights of the session. Subsequently at the start of the seminar our president Mr Saji through a huge surprise by asking me to light the auspicious lamp and I had to say 'Thank you very much and it's a great honour'.

ankit-tanna
Ankit Tanna of Printmann Group

What happened, next, during the sessions by Mr Kejriwal, Venugopal, Ankit Tanna and Dr Rajendrakumar Anayath are known to all the KMPA members (exhaustively reported by PrintWeek India online and in the March print edition). The feedback on the day had put a big Cheshire cat smile on my face. All the efforts of more than 3-4 months finally paid off. During the send-off every one of the guests thanked me and KMPA for the way this seminar was hosted. It was a great feeling to hear it from them.

Let me conclude by saying what my father (Suresh Rajendran) always have told me, 'the greatest thing you can have in life is good relationships'. I have seen him prove this credo in his life. The statement rang true in my case with this event. Let me take this opportunity to highlight a few special relationships.

Raju N Kutty for hand-holding, conceptualising the theme, plus accompanying me to Mumbai in spite of his busy work schedule. He motivated me throughout the past few months. At times, when I was low and finally on the day before the seminar coming to the airport to pick up the VIP guests. Our friendship goes back more than a decade and during every juncture in life he has been one of the shining lights in my life. Thank you very much Raju Sir.

Had I not known Ramu, I can say with absolute certainty that Print and Beyond 2017 would not have happened the way it did. Not only did he play 'the' role in getting together our guests. PrintWeek India covered our event extensively including live coverage (online and print). It's been a great pleasure Ramu ji and hope to do this, again, soon. For the record, Ramu called me a few days after the event and said “your next seminar's potential speakers list is ready because of the success of Print and Beyond 2017”.

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(l) Ramu Ramanathan of PrintWeek India conducting the panel discussion at the event

Ankit Tanna: This is a guy with whom I share a drink and hang out, so I am going to make this informal. Ankit took a round trip on a very special day in his newborn's life. By doing so, he made it a special day for all of us. Ankit: I can't thank you enough, but for now like I said the next round of drinks are on me on a canoe in the backwaters of Alleppey.

G Venugopal Nair: Venu ji simply went all out with all his guns loaded and blazing for Print and Beyond this year. Last year, too, he did the same when he was the president of KMPA. I know that getting things into place especially with the sponsors is an arduous task and he had done his best. In a sentence if I have to describe it then it would “pinnacle of team work”. Thank you, so much, Venu ji.

This experience made me think brotherhood is more than blood relationship.

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Print and Beyond 2017 attendees

I have to also thank every single member who contributed towards the success for Print and Beyond 2017 which was truly a team effort. I am sure the next event will be bigger and better.

Looking forward to the next edition of Print and Beyond.

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