Industry colleagues mourn Sujit Patwardhan

Sujit Patwardhan, a passionate printer, designer and environment and public transport expert, passed away in Pune after a period of long illness. He was 77. He is survived by his wife Vidya, an educationist, and daughters Lara and Amrita and four grandchildren.

Kant Dabholkar, Falguni Gohkale, Ashwini Deshpande and Rugwed Deshpande remember the print master with much fondness.

24 Oct 2022 | By Charmiane Alexander

Sujit Patwardhan: 1945 - 2022

Sujit Patwardhan was the owner of Mudra in Narayan Peth, a reputed printing press which was founded in 1976 and was very popular in Pune due to its high-quality process work. Pune-based Kant Dabholkar, a master printer with more than 55 years in the printing industry, has a diploma in printing from IHK Freiburg / Breisgau, West Germany, said Mudra acquired a reputation for quality, service excellence and innovation.

Dabholkar shared that Patwardhan had a print degree from the erstwhile London College of Printing in 1967.He joined Sangam the family-owned press on his return to India. He left Sangam a few years later and started Mudra. This was on a small scale but it was a beautiful boutique operation.

He added, "Mudra grew over the years to be a large unit". Recently the press was closed due to Patwardhan's health problems. But Puenkars say the brand is still recognised today and Patwardhan's legacy lives on. Kant Dabholkar said, Sujit was also actively involved from 1982 to about 1990 with the All India Federation of Master Printers (AIFMP), as a GC and GB member, as a representative of the Pune Lithographers Association of which he was a founder member.

Sujit Patwardhan's lineage could be traced to the Patwardhan family, his uncles Achyutrao and Rao Saheb Patwardhan were involved in India’s freedom movement and his father was an ICS officer. He was an amateur artist, loved to talk about typesets and calligraphy, was a member of the Pune Jazz club, an avid photographer, a tennis fan and enjoyed cinema and documentaries.

Falguni Gokhale, the co-founder at Design Directions recalled Sujit Patwardhan's first words to her. These were, “Ok then. Come over and let me look at what you have done”.

Gokhale reminisced about her "first-ever professional work for an international agency" She was "nervous if the artwork for the design was perfect because it was to be printed abroad. Those days all artworks were hand done and I wanted a printer to check it, and find out any mistakes so I could send a perfect artwork to my client. Someone had suggested I go to Sujit Patwardhan who owned Mudra, a well known printing press in Pune. Sujit scrutinised the design and artwork carefully for a full ten minutes without speaking. I nervously watched this man with unruly curly hair and a penetrating gaze till he finally looked up and said “It’s all fine. You can send it to whoever you have to send it to”.

When I asked him for his consultancy fee for checking the artwork, he first threw me his trademark ten-second withering gaze and then laughed his trademark hearty loud laugh and called for chai."

She added, "Many people know Sujit Patwardhan as an environmental activist, but Sujit was a great designer and aesthete too. His sense of type and typography was very sublime, very elegant."

"Sujit used to paint abstract watercolour too. Very intuitive and free flowing. When he came over to show off some of his lovely first works, I teased him..."but Sujit this one looks spilt mango milkshake. And the other one is like cappuccino remains in a large coffee mug."

He sure had a funny bone and would laugh heartily and then after a few days would call and say "I made a watery palak paneer. Come to see?"

She added, "Often when I visited him at the press, he would show me, with boyish enthusiasm, the report he had recently designed or some logo type he was working on. He could talk about type and type design for hours and we would pore over some of the magazines he subscribed to – especially the U&lc – and discuss design. He gave a free run of his design magazines and office space to go through them. He would send me links of various design articles and work and say “lets discuss”. I learnt so much from him"

Sujit Patwardhan was one of the earliest to bring the advertising community together in Pune through the Communication Circle and started the CEAD Awards in the 1980s along with the lecture series.

Falguni Gokhale said, "He was very happy to see that many from the design community were coming to Pune and setting up their studios and was instrumental in bringing the creative community in Pune together with his pioneering initiative of Communication Circle and CEAD Awards."

Dabholkar added, "In addition to print and design, Sujit was involved in social activities, like environment protection through Parisar of which he was an active member. Patwardhan founded Parisar in the 1980s after returning to India from the United Kingdom out of concern for the rapid changes happening in the city leading to environmental degradation. Dabholkar said, "Sujit also interacted with the traffic police to try to solve the traffic and road-related problems in Pune which had become a major headache for commuters."

Falguni Gokhale said, "He was a great mentor. I would complain to him about my office issues and clients and his advice was always the mirror-holding type – totally honest and totally true."

She said, "He was equally fussed about his printing work and would often reprint some work on his own initiative. “I think the yellow wasn’t right”. Or: No no! We will use a special colour for this. Don’t worry I wont charge you extra, because I know I have already given you the quotation and I should have looked at it more closely. But this has to look right!” I really really loved this about him"

Falguni Gokhale signed off, "Sujit will be missed. They don’t make people like him anymore." We concur!

Tributes to Sujit Patwardhan

Ashwini Deshpande, Elephant Design
When we started Elephant in Pune in 1989, Sujit Patwardhan was one of the first names recommended for any gyan on print. In the early days, fresh out of NID, we had very few acquaintances in the creative industry and there was no platform to network. There were some established agencies like Pratibha, Setu, Quiksel, Raviraj and Market Missionaries. Even Mudra had opened a Pune unit. Sujit made a mammoth effort in bringing all the agencies together through an award called CEAD. I think that is where we won our first award. I recall Sujit telling me in jest that he is going to ban us from next year after winning many CEAD trophies over theee-four years.

Sujit Patwardhan also led a pioneering mission to take a delegation of printers to Germany to visit Drupa. He believed we must know the latest and he wanted to carry the entire fraternity ahead together. Building communities became a habit for him as he moved on to initiating the movement for saving our environment through Parisar. His wit and wisdom will be sorely missed.

Rugwed Deshpande, Setu Advertising 
A design thinker. An environment activist. A public transport expert. A social crusader. A policy influencer. Sujit’s sir’s life cannot be summarised in words. No matter how many words we use.

The world knew him as the founder of Parisar, an organisation that championed the cause of responsible public utility systems that helped shape many public policies.

I knew him as a mindful designer who delved deep into any challenge for solutions that emerged from critical insights. I first met Sujit Sir in 1996 as a student of commercial art in Abhinav Kala Mahavidyalaya, Pune while volunteering for CEAD Awards, Pune’s oldest advertising and design awards he had co-founded as a member of the Communication Circle.

Sujit Patwardhan was one of the most senior members, but he was perhaps the youngest of us – ever passionate about print production, design, typography and calligraphy. His sense of curiosity was absolutely honest and child-like and reflected in his creative endeavours. We  kept touch and he treated us like friends, often sharing his many experiments in design and calligraphy over the years.

He started a design magazine called Motif way back in 1993-94 that all design students used to look up to. It showcased many experiments in typography, colour, and digital design, the principles of which are relevant even today.

I also recollect the well-designed wall calendars and set of pocket diaries that Mudra, his printing press used to produce.

The world will miss Sujit Sir for the value he brought in preserving the integrity of urban design and shaping policies.

He was a simple, outspoken and witty. He loved his city, its heritage and was highly active environmentalist.

Personally, I will always remember his gigantic signature laugh and his unabashed remarks and his multi-faceted personality that will live on through his work.