'Kalnirnay is like a bible for any family.'
Shakti Salgaonkar, executive director, Sumangal Group in a freewheeling chat with Satish Bodas/Rediff.com, discusses 50 years of Kalnirnay, a calendar that has acquired cult status among the people of Maharashtra.
How did the Kalnirnay journey begin?
The beginning of Kalnirnay is like a film story. My grandfather was in the business of crosswords which had seen really bad times. Our family was going through a tough time. The debts he had incurred could never have been repaid by working for somebody. He knew very well that the way out of his debts lay hidden in entrepreneurial spirit.
50 years ago, as per the stories that I heard as a child, the seeds of our business were sown in the brainstorming that happened between my father Jairaj Salgaonkar and his father Jyotirbhaskar Salgaonkar, my grandfather. My grandfather's expertise lay in his total command over the Sanskrit language and his knowledge of astrology.
My father -- who was in college then -- and my grandfather decided to experiment with the fusion of the English calendar and the Hindu Panchang (the ancient Hindu calendar that lists auspicious days and times).
The idea sprung from the fact that before Kalnirnay was born if anybody had to find out about an auspicious time then people had no choice but to visit a temple and consult with the priest there.
Panchang, in a way, had democratised the knowledge present in Hindu texts and times.
That was the first baby step, but even then they had the wisdom that their product would not sell if they did not lace it with something unique.
My grandfather had worked in Loksatta (the Marathi daily newspaper by the Indian Express group) and he had been friends with some of the best litterateurs. His thought was to make the best use of the last few blank pages; he wanted to add value to his product by adding some useful literature in simple language for the laity.
Pu La Deshpande's (Purushottam Laxman Deshpande) was one of the most celebrated Marathi litterateurs, among many others, who had contributed to these pages. The treasure trove that these last pages of Kalnirnay produced is our real heritage and legacy, which has more than gold's worth.
That's how their journey began. The first Kalnirnay was was published in 1973. This year, in 2023, we finished 50 years of Kalnirnay's glorious journey. The journey that my grandfather and father started was later joined by my paternal uncle and in 2016 my uncle's son and I joined the business.
Who else contributed to Kalnirnay's success story?
This question is huge. There cannot be any one person responsible for Kalnirnay's huge success.
The writers who contributed to it, the people from our family, my grandfather and his three sons, but then my grandmother too had a lion's share in its success. She was the one who dreamt that the publication should be named Sumangal. She came up with the name; it is also one of the many names of Lord Ganesha.
When you start a new entrepreneurial journey you have to give your best; you need to let your business consume you entirely.
As a child, I would meet my father only on Sundays. He would be busy with his work when we would get up in the mornings for school and he wouldn't return home by the time we hit the bed.
My mother and my grandmother did play a big role in helping our business. In a similar way, all the writers who contributed to Kalnirnay played their role in our success; our employees, each and every one of them, who worked for us, played their role in our success.
Who were these writers?
I have already spoken about P L Deshpande. From equally eminent writers like Durgabai Bhagwat and Shantabai Shelke to Sachin Tendulkar, all these legends have shared their literary works with Kalnirnay.
Mangalatai Barve started writing recipes in Kalnirnay. Interestingly, there was no Google when Kalnirnay published these recipes. Those days, recipe cookbooks were imported and so were very costly.
Kalnirnay popularised the culture of recipe sharing and publishing by holding contests; a person like Durgabai Bhagwat presided as a judge of these contests. She told my father that it was not fair to publish just 12 of the winning recipes so we decided to publish a book of recipes that came out as Paknirnay 86 and Paknirnay 87 (published in 1986 and 1987).
As a mark of respect to all our winners who shared recipes with us, we published a book Nivadak Paknirnay (a book of select recipes) that was published in the last 50 years to celebrate 50 years of Kalnirnay. This book is edited by Dr Mohsina Mukadam.
Then there is Kamal Shetge who designed our typeface, and all our former and current employees.
Let me reiterate that there cannot be just one person who can be given credit for Kalnirnay's legendary success. Our success wouldn't be possible without the support of our readers and patrons.
Their love for Kalnirnay jumps at us even from social media.
Today, when someone says she or he is working for Kalnirnay, they feel they are working not just for the people of Maharashtra but for India. Kalnirnay no more belongs to us. It belongs to the people of this country.
That is one of the reasons why we kept innovating our product based on reader response and that's why we could move ahead with times. Hence, the biggest contributor to our success is our readers.
Could you tell us about your experiences? Good as well as not so good?
A 50-year-long journey obviously comes with its share of the good and not-so-good.
My grandfather and father always believed in focusing only on whatever good comes their way and ignore not so good things.
Let me tell you an interesting story.
One of our family friends was visiting England to meet his wife who was staying there. But when he reached England he realised his paperwork was not up to the mark. He was taken to the Indian high commission and though immigration formalities were not too rigorous he was asked to show the travel documents in his possession.
When they opened his bag they saw a few copies of Kalnirnay in it. They immediately stamped the papers for his stay, but in return, asked him to give copies of Kalnirnay to the embassy staff.
We get a lot of feedback from Facebook and Twitter where people say that the first recipe they ever tried was from Kalnirnay. Then you have people telling us that the year they were born their mothers and grandmothers had preserved the Kalnirnay of that year and they learnt recipes from it.
A paper calendar on the walls of one's home has become an outdated concept given that ours is a digital age. How have you fused modern technology and your rich legacy to make your product more people-friendly?
We already have our own app with over two crore (20 million) downloads and a presence on Twitter and Facebook where we publish the auspicious tithis (days and timings) and other things that are important for our readers.
Even when you have seen that a particular day is Sankashti (an auspicious day, that comes soon after a new moon or full moon day when many Hindus fast) you tend to forget it while on the move.
But when you see it early in the morning on Twitter and Facebook you tend to remember it throughout the day. Then they know that they shouldn't be eating non-veg on that day.
We just don't tend to our readers on social media, but it also acts as a window of feedback from readers. We find interacting with our readers on social media a very important part of our overall growth strategy.
But even if our app has 20 million downloads it can never replace bhintivarcha Kalnirnay (a copy of Kalnirnay hung on the walls of homes).
When our family bought its first microwave, Sharda Sathe (yet another eminent Marathi litterateur) visited our home. In our excitement, we kept ranting about how that microwave could cook chicken in ten minutes; potatoes in two minutes, etc.
She just asked us one question: How are you going to cook phulkas in it and how will you give tadka to make aamti (a kind of spicy vegetarian curry made from cereals and widely cooked in Maharashtrian households)?
Modernism can never overtake certain fundamentals of living or existence. The Kalnirnay on the wall fits in there. With the blessings of Ganesha, people have a genuine love for Kalnirnay in their hearts.
How do you feel when you see a demand for the hard copy of Kalnirnay in the digital age?
The day 2023 Kalnirnay hit the stands, our team began working on the content for 2024 Kalnirnay.
When the lockdown started in March 2020 due to COVID-19 -- our main work started between April and August; we start printing copies in August -- every single employee took it upon themselves that Kalnirnay just did not belong to the Sumangal Group but was their own company and ensured with grit that the 2021 calendar could hit the stands just on the eve of Navratri in 2020, which has been a traditional ritual with us.
Despite there being not much change in Kalnirnay's design over the years -- you have been selling the same product from days your grandfather and father were active and now even when the younger generation has taken over its reins. What's the secret recipe for Kalnirnay's success?
That's our brand identity; our brand's legacy scores hugely over every other aspect that draws our consumers to Kalnirnay
A mother can't make her kids like her just by undergoing cosmetic surgery. That is just one part of why we haven't changed our product much.
The second part is about its utility. There are lots of insights offered on every page and day in fine print.
Some printing and publishing companies have copied your content and product design, but they haven't succeeded.
Shah Rukh Khan too has so many lookalikes. But there's just one Shah Rukh, right?
The fact that all and sundry are imitating Kalnirnay's design and content goes to say so much about Kalnirnay's legacy. Let them copy as they do.
Let me tell you an interesting story about why we use different colour shades for different days on this calendar (turns around and shows it for the camera).
While visiting the home of one of our family friends, we saw that some dates were coloured using different shades of crayons. When asked, the elder woman of the household said that every member should know -- even when seen from some distance -- when Ekadashi falls and when Sankashti falls. We immediately adapted it for our product design.
Then you will wonder why we have left blank spaces on some dates. It is for the household to make notes about when the flower man did not deliver flowers, or when the coconut vendor did not deliver coconuts. People also write down the names of people whose birthdays fall on a particular date.
Kalnirnay is like a bible for any family. While each member of the household may watch her/his favourite programme or serial on their mobiles, TVs or laptops, each and every member of the family would want to know at a quick glance about the birthday of their favourite aunt or wedding anniversary of so and so uncle.
The traditions and events that binds families together are found on these pages -- pointing towards Kalnirnay hung on the wall behind her.
My grandmother bolstered the strength of the hook on which she hangs Kalnirnay because she wanted to hang the last ten years' calendar on that hook as an easy reference for all she wanted to know about the last ten years.
That would help her know what day and tithi (auspicious time) her granddaughter was born three years ago.
So, we ensured that Kalnirnay's user interface has to be consumer-friendly.
All our editions keep this simple mantra in mind. Many people use Kalnirnay as their annual planner or as a diary. That is the reason why we don't pack the entire calendar with only shastras, etc. We want to give space to our readers that she/he could utilise based on their likes.
Let's talk about Kalnirnay's ads on TV. What's the idea behind keeping your ads today almost like they were aired in earlier times?
While we have ensured that the fundamentals of our brand identity remain like they were 20 or 30 or 40 years ago, we did change as technology evolved, as media evolved.
Like Kalnirnay's columns, Kalnirnay's creatives are also a part of our tradition.
Whenever we come out with new creatives every two-three years, people tell us they still remember our old jingles and creatives. That made us think about what has fundamentally changed and what has not changed at all at Kalnirnay in the last 50 years.
My father Jairaj Salgaonkar would roam a lot before to find out about Kalnirnay's sale and circulation when he wrote this jingle. While he was browsing through Dadar market (north central Mumbai) he heard a small boy shouting 'Kalnirnay ghya na, Kalnirnay ghya na (buy a copy of Kalnirnay).'
He told himself that the most important aim of his creatives would be to support the effort of that little boy. That boy should speak out of our ads, creatives and jingles. So, he came up with these memorable lines: 'Kalnirnay dhya na, Kalnirnay ghya na'.
It was decided that Vinay Apteji -- who is, unfortunately, no more with us -- should direct this creative and it was shot at Dadar TT circle.
The ad went on to achieve cult status. So, when we thought of making the same ad to suit the contemporary audience, we knew that even though Kalnirnay was today 50 years old, it still remained the same product, it did evolve over the last five decades.
We wanted this essence of Kalnirnay to reflect in our creative.
Translated from the Marathi by Prasanna D Zore.