Tributes pour in for Chockalingam, one-of-a-kind leader

R Chockalingam of Srinivas Fine Art, one of the industry’s leading lights in high-end book production and the person who put print from Sivakasi on the world map, died on 9 December at 6.30 pm. Since then, tributes have poured in. A PrintWeek report

18 Jan 2022 | By PrintWeek Team

In his tribute, print technologist Kiran Prayagi said, “R Chockalingam, chairman of Srinivas Fine Arts, Sivakasi, is a self-made man. He started with outsourcing printing services and slowly building up his own identity with ultramodern printing and publishing facilities with one of the finest binderies in South Asia.

His attention to the details in business as well as personal relationships (coconut water was compulsory) is astounding.” The founder of Srinivas Fine Arts, R Chockalingam had a humble beginning. He was an assistant manager in Hind Matches in 1955, after which he worked in Bell Pins (India’s largest producer of wire-based stationery goods). Among Chockalingam’s contributions to the Indian print industry has been his vision for building a printing institute in Sivakasi and establishing a natural cluster for the print community. “I am pleased to say that my vision of a print institute in Sivakasi has come true.

Now, hundreds of students are studying in the institute and have successfully achieved 100% placement,” Chockalingam had shared with PrintWeek. In the business of print for over six decades now, Chockalingam and his company – Srinivas Fine Arts – have received a slew of awards and citations for producing highest quality products for its clients and undertaking social causes. Besides being an ISO 9001:2000, the company has full-fledged, in-house facilities for producing printed products. Rest in peace, Saar.

"He was the face of the print industry"
I had known R Chockalingam ever since I was a kid and since he and my father were good friends. He was always thinking ahead and was one step ahead of fellow printers. His innovative ideas helped him to grow as one of the top and most respected printers in India. During the 1990s, when the Sivakasi printing industry was heading southward, he was the one who inspired us and made us believe that we could still run a successful printing press in Sivakasi.

When we wanted to set up a pre-press outfit in our Lovely factory, he gave us confidence and whole-hearted guidance. The pre-press division transformed our press from a job working unit to what we are today. During our initial stages of our wedding card business, he always used to push me towards value addition, which helped us to differentiate our products from our competitors.

He will be fondly remembered by the Lovely family with gratitude for all that he had done for us. He was the face of the printing industry in Sivakasi; boldly investing in new ideas and technology. He leaves behind a glorious legacy and he will be missed by the Indian printing industry! My salutations to him!!

K Selvakumar, Director, Lovely Offset

"Truly a titan"
R Chockalingam was truly a titan who shaped the book, commercial and package print industry in India. Starting from humble means, he founded Srinivas Fine Arts in Sivakasi, which was a trailblazer. His association with erstwhile ITC Bhadrachalam and now ITC PSPD, began in the early eighties as a distributor for our white duplex boards.

This transformed the packaging of the match and carton industry in South India and soon expanded to cover Chennai and Bengaluru markets. However, it was through the creation and marketing of Nightingale stationery products that SFA made a huge mark. It was, I think, the first print product, which became a brand in the domestic and global markets. Chockalingam was a true entrepreneur, who combined a nose for the market and appreciation of efficient operations, based on contemporary print and finishing technologies. He paved the path for others - and put Sivakasi and SFA on the global map for print products.

Nothing escaped his eye and a walkthrough the SFA operations with him was always an experience ... of being in the presence of a lion surveying his territory and denizens. He was also spiritual in a way, which reflected in his business including the retail stall during the Ayyappa season. More recently the Bhagavad Gita and other books, which were crafted with intricate detail.

At ITC PSPD, we have lost a longstanding partner and friend. His memory lives on through our annual diary, which was a SFA print creation and through our continued association with SFA and Roseflower Company. I will miss him.

SN Venkataraman, EVP marketing and commercial, ITC PSPD

"An industry legend"
We have lost a legend in the industry. R Chockalingam was a very senior person in the book and diary business and also a mentor for many print CEOs. We have lost a visionary. Srinivas Fine Arts is a very important customer of Kolbus. I am the son of Pillai who was associated with the Kolbus business in India; and as a result there were many conversations about books and binding over the years.

Raaseevam International in Chennai along with Kolbus, Rahden- Germany mourns the loss of Chockalingam of Srinivasa Fine Arts, Sivakasi.

Naren Pillai, Director and publisher, Raaseevam International

"Prescient indeed"
When I had met Chockalingam for the first time, Srinivas Fine Art was worth Rs 259 crores. It boasted of the Nightingale brand name in its roster, which notched up 50% exports. Shortly after, the book print behemoth installed a brand new Kolbus hard-cover line in India to produce premium stationery and diaries.

This resulted in India’s most expensive Silver Oak Diary at Rs 57,000. Later, they produced the Bhagavad Gita Signature Edition for Rs 38750. I used to enjoy listening to him during our tours of his Sivakasi factory. For me it was a book-making workshop. Always use a high capacity melter while producing thick books, he would say.

Also simple tips about how an inline binder can reduce the space requirement as well as man-power requirement. Two other tips: How every book print owner should know the per book cost. He felt too many investors focused “only on capital investment cost” instead of understanding how to reduce in-process wastage as well as deliver quality output at increased speeds.

The first time I visited the plant located on the 65-acre plot, I was dumbstruck. He said it is “work in progress”. The new unit - the size of a football pitch - had an array of Kolbus, Aster and Sigloch equipment. A fleet of post-press kit was expected to be added on the one-lakh sqft pillarless shopfloor. All this is important, he said, but what is most important is this.

He picked up a set of books and showed me. “Look at the quality of pressed and stacked signatures.” During one of our last conversations, he said, “In spite of playing an important role on the global arena, and the dependence of packaging and book publishing on printing, our industry is still considered as a service sector. Printing needs to be recognised as an industry if it has to compete with the tech-giants and internet companies. We must act quickly. Otherwise, public opinion will shift, and government policy will not favour printed books.” Prescient words indeed.

Ramu Ramanathan, Editor, PrintWeek/WhatPackaging?

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