Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91

Vol. XXXII No. 2, May 1-15, 2022

N. Sankar, Patron of Wordsmiths

-- by our Special Correspondent

Not for nothing do they say that the pen is mightier than the sword. Words are powerful drivers of new ideas, conversation and change, and N. Sankar – as avid a reader as he was a sports aficionado – had an astute insight into the transformative role of publishing. Besides enabling a clutch of key publications to stay afloat, he played an important part in empowering the team at Sanmar to bring out excellent in-house periodicals that both educate and entertain. The role that Sankar played in the histories of three journals in particular deserves to be told – Aside, Matrix and Sruti.

Aside was a Madras-focused features magazine launched in 1977 by historian and writer Abraham Eraly. Said to have drawn inspiration from foreign city magazines such as The New Yorker, Aside was hailed as the first city periodical of its kind in India. With contributions from well-known names such as Theodore Baskaran, Romulus Whitaker, S. Muthiah, Randor Guy and Janaki Venkatraman, the publication’s aim was to “observe Madras with a fresh perspective with features, essays and pictures to understand the small things that go to make a big city.” Excellent as its contents were, commercial success remained elusive and the magazine was put up for sale after a decade of operation. N. Sankar and his wife Chandra took Aside under their wings, acquiring not only the magazine’s staff but also Interpress, the printing press that owned and produced the publication. With Chandra taking the reins of the whole operation, an elegant solution was devised for the commercially-struggling magazine – Interpress would generate income by catering to the printing needs of corporate houses to fund Aside as a going concern. The printing business was a resounding success. There is little doubt that Sankar’s involvement lightened the burdensome duty of profitability, allowing Eraly to focus on his role as Editor. However, the arrangement did not last long. Within a couple of years of acquisition, Sanmar found that it had to let go of both Aside and Interpress, for the editorial aim of the magazine had shifted from publishing features to current affairs – a move that put its corporate owners in conflict with the political and administrative bodies in power. Aside was sold to the Daily Thanthi group and not too long after, the magazine was wound up once and for all.

The experience with Interpress inspired the creation of Kalamkriya, an in-house division at the Sanmar Group that was charged with producing the company’s corporate reports. Much like Interpress, Kalamkriya took on commissioned work from corporate houses until 2005, when it decided to focus on meeting the communication and stationery needs of the Group’s business units. It was in October 1998 that Kalamkriya published the first edition of Matrix, the Sanmar Group’s internal quarterly magazine. The periodical catered to a specific cross-section of readers, available only to “employees of a certain level of seniority, business associates, industry bodies, JV partners, opinion leaders in different fields and so on.” Matrix was Sankar’s pet project. He lent his full support to the fledgling venture, encouraging the team and closely working with them to bring the periodical to fruition. From S.R. Seshadri, M.N. Radhakrishnan and V. Ramesh to P.S. Jayaraman, Chakrapani and C.V. Subba Rao, the writers were afforded precious access to businesses and key dignitaries within the group to produce first-class, informative features. The team was also given the freedom to travel to various locations and younger colleagues of the Group such as N. Krishnamoorthy, S. Ravi and Ramkumar Shankar contributed articles of their own. Designed to cover every aspect of the Sanmar Group from a corporate giant to a peerless sports patron, Matrix is perhaps one of the finest internal publications produced by a corporate house, even today. Apart from Matrix, Kalamkriya also produces Scribbles, a bi-monthly internal newsletter.

Sankar was also instrumental in saving from oblivion Sruti, a publication dedicated to the performing arts and among the best of its kind. The brainchild of UN official N. Pattabhiraman, Sruti flourished as a cultural magazine until its founder passed away. Sanmar stepped in to revive the publication in 2006. The Group saw to the revamp of the magazine’s editorial board and helped it identify a new focus to drive engaging content. Sruti went on to celebrate its silver jubilee and brought out its 400th issue in 2018.

When it came to his role as the patron of wordsmiths, Sankar worked quietly behind the wings. The magazines he delivered from potential obscurity as well as the publication he built at Sanmar all have one thing in common: they aim to enrich their readers’ lives through excellent content, a worthy ideal shared and strengthened by N. Sankar. May his tribe increase.

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