Why White Print matters

Note to readers: This post meanders.

Inclusion. It’s such an official sounding word, isn’t it? Derived from the verb ‘include’,
(early 15c.), one of the meanings of inclusion is “to have (something/someone) as a constituent part”. I love the idea of that. Of us being constituent parts of this world, with each one of us playing a role, to the best of our abilities, supported by and complemented by each other. No human is an island, it takes a village, and all that.

When I was a kid, I was a regular at our local library, it was close to my school, a nice walk from home, and my sister and I would set off at 5 pm, and reluctantly drag ourselves home when the library closed at 7 pm. By the time I was 14, the path was so familiar to me, I told my sister i could walk to the library with my eyes closed. It says a lot about my sister that she didn’t even try to dissuade me. Five years older than me, you can imagine she had put up with a lot of such nonsense from me for 14 years. So she held my elbow and i walked, eyes closed, telling her what we were passing by. This tree isn’t it, that’s the chakki we are passing by now, is that Stella Miss’s building now, help me cross the road now Akka! How mean! At the end of what must have been a nerve wracking walk for my sister, I jubilantly walked into the library straight to my favourite section, the mysteries. I remembered that walk today and that treasure of books awaiting me when I got there. This is what readers really want don’t they? The power of choice, the joy of knowing that when you are ready, there’s plenty to read.

We connected with Upasana Makati, the founder of White Print in 2018, when a reader looking for a book in Braille called us up and asked us to help him out. We didn’t stock books in Braille then and when he asked where can I find them, I was truly clueless.

The reader in me, the child made of books, the person who swears by the power of words and imagination, I made this a personal mission to figure out what we could do. Google led me to Upasana Makati’s precious venture White Print and a better spokesperson for inclusion, for championing the cause of Braille, would be hard to find.

Upasana is that inspiring mix of social entrepreneur, brave voyager, all heart and compassion, who pours all her soul in making a difference to the lives of Braille readers in our country. Before the damn C-19 pushed us indoors, Upasana would visit Trilogy often, on her way to the Braille press at the National Association for the Blind in Worli, with the latest issue of White Print neatly tucked in her bag, all ready to print. With articles about climate change, business, fashion, gardening and just about everything to keep a hungry reader satisfied.

Which brings me to her readers: engineers, homemakers, school kids, college kids, translators, scientists, linguists, retired teachers, lawyers, and many more people, proficient readers of Braille, their fingers dance over the page, their face lighting up as they take in the words. I’ve been to the press with Upasana, saw the proofreaders, and the unique tech they use to write in open or closed Braille (there’s so much to learn about this), typing words in Marathi or Hindi, or English and being as busy and buzzing with promise as people in any printing press are.

With its new and recent picture books, White Print has been spreading awareness of the importance and power of Inclusion, especially among kids. Kids are remarkably empathetic as we all know, and ensuring they read about kids with diverse abilities dealing with regular life helps them see a wider, more accepting world. Look Out, Look Within, Flowers for Sunaina and Run Saba, Run are leading conversations with kids, parents, teachers (and aunts and uncles like Meethil and I), about recognising, accepting, respecting every one’s diverse abilities and doing our little bit to share our world with every one.

I’ve lost count of how many people have been shocked to hear that visually impaired people want to read physical books, but publishers are least interested in making this available. It’s too difficult apparently to make this happen.

I wish they could learn a thing or two about making difficult things happen from Upasana. She is unfazed by things that would make a regular publisher hesitate. Tech issues, networking and finding resources to print and spreading news about the book… she just tackles all this with grace. Nothing is impossible. And magically, deadlines are met, enthusiastic printers help her find solutions, people come together and make it all possible. She never doubts this. It’s how much she believes in the message.

She perseveres, despite all odds, because she knows her work is making a difference. Corporates, educationists, and regular people like you and me easily find ways to support her work and I know White Print will always be that safe harbour for Braille readers looking to begin their journey. I love the passion with which her readers wait for the magazine. It reminds me of what it was like when we were kids and our magazines would be posted home, we’d be pacing around restlessly waiting for the postman or grumbling while the older sibling called dibs and got to read it first. And once we got our hands on the magazine, the world faded away while we exercised our growing imagination.

The thing is, those who read Braille, are readers like you and me, hungry for something to read. Me, I’m impatient if I’m sitting for breakfast with nothing to read, or stuck in traffic, with nothing to read. I get fidgety. I start reading whatever I have on hand or in my bag then, what’s written on the tube of lip balm, what’s the fine print on the bills and invoices in my wallet, can I find any spelling mistakes to satisfy the nitpicking editor in me?

And it’s exactly this kind of close reading that’s under rated. Readers read. It upset me a lot when people would casually say but what’s the point in Braille now that there’s all this tech. A lot of people think that printing in Braille is too cumbersome a process, and why don’t people with visual impairments use Text-to-Speech anyway. Well, like I read on the blog of a visually impaired food critic, spellings matter, punctuation matters, why should Braille readers be deprived of touching language and experiencing the full glory of spellings and pauses and poetry? Would you rather make do with reading only on devices never to hold a physical book ever? Have we all forgotten the pleasures of reading? I hope not.

Which brings me back to inclusion. All readers are equal. I imagine some day soon, when every reader is happily content reading in their cosy corners. And when that day comes, I know it will be because Upasana leads the way with making Braille more accessible, showing kids a more inclusive world, one our kids deserve.

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