The Story of BluePencil

BluePencil was an idea born in our hearts. To us, it represented freedom and an expression of our passion for our work. BluePencil is now part of our family…pretty much like it is with several craftspeople in India. Today, it also happens to be our vocation.

The beginning: We set up BluePencil Infodesign in 1993, when Sadhana decided to quit her full-time job as an editor at ICRISAT, an international agricultural research institution based in Hyderabad, India. She started with editing mostly scientific manuscripts that came her way. Simultaneously, both Vijay and Sadhana started learning typesetting and graphics software, in order to have greater control over the meaningfulness of the page layout.

Our first turnkey job: BluePencil’s big break came in 1998, when Dr. Kanayo Nwanze, the then Director General of the West Africa Rice Development Organization (WARDA), gave us our first turnkey job — we had to edit, design, and print a slim report, and deliver the books in Côte d’Ivoire. This was the beginning of our association with Pragati Offset, internationally acclaimed printers.

One assignment followed another, and before long, we built up a team of dedicated editors, artists, and designers, all working towards crafting publications of international quality. It was around this time that Vijay quit his job and joined Sadhana. Then, C Venu Gopal began to provide us typesetting and graphics support, and became a quintessential part of the BluePencil team, our veritable Man Friday.

The busy years: We rarely advertised, and news of BluePencil’s existence and competence travelled only by word of mouth. New clients began coming to us slowly, mostly from West Africa—FARA, ASARECA and CORAF/WECARD, followed by Africa Harvest, Access Agriculture, and the FAO.

In 1999, one scientist visiting BluePencil commented: “I suspect that one of your problems in the future will be trying to keep up with all the possible projects that come your way.” He was right! In the first decade of the new millennium, excess work indeed became a ‘problem’, and so was the temptation to expand and have a larger office and employees. We then made a conscious decision to keep BluePencil small and personalized.

Creative work: In 2003, Sadhana wrote a set of humorous poems “Autorickshaw Blues and Other Colours”, which was published by Katha, New Delhi. Around the same time, Vijay worked on a set of illustrated geography books for middle-school children, which compelled him to visualize and design educational graphics.

BluePencil in Mozambique: It was a proud moment in December 2008 when Sadhana travelled to Maputo, Mozambique, to showcase BluePencil’s books at the Annual General Meeting of the CGIAR. It was also an opportunity to meet some of the clients we had been working with ‘virtually’ for more than a decade.

Within India: From about 2008, we have seen an increase in assignments from research institutions based in India (such as Azim Premji University in Bengaluru; Public Health Foundation of India and National Institute of Nutrition, Hyderabad). The last decade also brought us some incredibly out-of-the-ordinary assignments: a 600-page tome on philosophy took us on a trip of existentialist enquiry; an exciting nostalgia-filled book about our children’s 50-year-old school made even us parents a permanent part of the institution; a retrospective of a 66-year old women’s college left us in awe of the pioneers who introduced women’s education in [the then] remote corner of South India.

BluePencil Creative
By 2011, Sadhana’s interest in nature motivated her to write a book on trees, “Just look up…to see the magic in the trees around you”, which we self-published. This is when we adopted a new label: “BluePencil Creative”.

Our next creative offering, “HydandSeek: A visual tribute to Hyderabad”, happened in 2015. It was a collection of street photographs, taken by photographer Lakshmi Prabhala. This book marked an interesting milestone — our daughter Ragini joined our team and did the entire design and layout for this book.

In 2019, the photographer-editor-designer team came up with another book — “Orugallu to Warangal: Journeys across time”. This time, our daughter Malini joined the team and wrote a chapter on a folk performance for this book.

25 years old in 2018!
“HOW did we do it?” We always wonder! As we look back, apart from the work, it is the people we met and the special moments on every assignment that made it all worth it. The ecstasy at getting our first editing job, our first turnkey job, our first self-published book; and the first glance at the very first printed publication and many more thereafter. Memories of the time a team of clients came back to our office because they had forgotten to take a selfie with us; the time one of our editors walked in to help us with an annual report, and walked out a month later, engaged to a writer friend she had met through us! The time when a client told us the book looked so good she wanted to eat it; the hug from an 83-year-old writer whose biography we worked on; and the tears of another who brought out a book in memory of her son…

As we cross the 25-year milestone, and as we ‘look back into the future’, these moments — truly — have been the essence of this labour of love called BluePencil Infodesign.

(If interested, please read the more detailed version of the story of BluePencil here)

BluePencil's journey

October 1999: Sadhana and Vijay inaugurating BluePencil’s first office space at 209, Mithila Apartments

October 1999: Our family at the inauguration of BluePencil’s office space

April 2001: Dr Kanayo Nwanze, DG of WARDA, during his visit to BluePencil.

December 2008: Sadhana with Dr Monty Jones, Executive Director, FARA, and Myra-Wopereis-Pura at the CGIAR AGM in Maputo, Mozambique.

December 2008: Sadhana and Tara Jayarao at the BluePencil stall in Maputo, Mozambique.

December 2008: The ICRISAT group in Maputo, Mozambique. From left to right, Dr Rodomiro Ortiz, R V Raman, Sadhana, Eric McGaw, former Director General Dr James G Ryan, Dr Kwame Akuffo-Akoto, Dr Tim Kelley and Savitri Mohapatra.

July 2009: Vijay with other guests at the launch of “Basic Bonsai – The Indian Way” by Mangala Rao-Nilambekar (holding a bonsai), in Pune.

June 2011: Launch of “Just look up…to see the magic of in the trees around you” at Saptaparni, Banjara Hills. Left: A section of the audience; Centre: Kobita Dass Kolli speaking, while Vijay Ram and Sadhana listen in; Right: Sadhana with nephews Anand and Raghav, who launched the book, while Ragini looks on.

November 2011: Our books “Autorickshaw blues…” and “Just look up…” at the the children’s book festival Bookaroo. We did two sessions based on these books at this festival

November 2011: A session in progress at Bookaroo. They did not send us photos of our sessions!

January 2015: Dr Sajjad Shahid launches our book, “HydandSeek: A Visual Tribute to Hyderabad” at the Hyderabad Literary Festival 2015.

January 2015: The BluePencil team after the launch of “HydandSeek…”. Left to right: Mohan Prabhala, Lakshmi Prabhala, Malini Siruguri, Sadhana and Vijay Ramchander

February 2015: BluePencil associates at an after-party following the launch of “HydandSeek: A visual tribute to Hyderabad”. Top row, left to right: Lakshmi M Chowdhari, H Kanchana, C Jhansi, C Venugopal and Anand Vishwanadha; Bottom row, left to right: Lakshmi Prabhala, Tara Jayarao, Kobita Dass Kolli, Sadhana Ramchander, Vijay Ramchander, Mohan Prabhala and Raghavendra Chowdhari.

January 2016: BluePencil worked on the branding of the Hyderabad Literary Festival 2016. The motif (right) was designed by Ragini, who had just graduated in Visual Communication Design. As a thank you gesture, the HLF Committee named the Art Room after BluePencil!

November 2017: Making a presentation to a group of French tourists on two books we worked on – “HydandSeek…” and “Why shouldn’t girls laugh?” at Saptaparni, Hyderabad.

January 2019: Vijay with the alumni of Sri Padmavathi College, Tirupati, for whom he put together a volume of memorabilia. The book titled, “Decisive Decades: A Retrospective of Sri Padmavathi Women’s College” was a collection of articles by students and teachers of the college with 700 photographs.

November 2018: District Collector Sri Prashanth J Patil speaks at the launch of the BluePencil publication “Orugallu to Warangal: Journeys Across Time” at the Warangal Club.

February 2019: Sri Burra Venkatesham, Secretary Tourism and Culture, Government of Telangana, launches “Orugallu to Warangal: Journeys Across Time” at Vidyaranya High School, Hyderabad.

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