Iconic Indian calendar Panchang goes modern

Apr 09, 2017, 13:36 IST | Aastha Atray Banan

2 crore subscribers notwithstanding, legendary almanac Kalnirnay is shedding its button-down image to cast the net wider

Jayraj and Shakti Salgaokar at their Dadar East office. Pics/Bipin Kokate
Jayraj and Shakti Salgaokar at their Dadar East office. Pics/Bipin Kokate

This year, for the first time in 44 years, the almanac that Indian mothers swear by, Kalnirnay, introduced non-vegetarian recipes. Ever since, feedback has been pouring in on their Facebook page and Twitter handle. Not all of it is flattering. "How could you do this? We hang the calendar near our temple," read one comment.

Together with going 'carnivorous', the team made one more change. They did away with the section that carried the outstation train schedule. "We pride ourselves in being relevant. Everyone now books railway tickets online. And who doesn't want to try a new recipe in their kitchen?" says Shakti Salgaokar-Yezdani, 32, executive director with the firm.

The first edition of Kalnirnay dated 1973
The first edition of Kalnirnay dated 1973

She sits beside Jayraj Salgaokar, managing editor and her father, at their Dadar East office. It's here that the iconic calendar was born in 1972, originally in Marathi. Shakti's grandfather Jayant Salgaokar envisioned it as more than a calendar. Published in nine languages, it performs a multi-pronged role. It serves most crucially as a panchang, an astrological diary that informs you about the position of planets and hence, is consulted before selecting appropriate and auspicious times for important occasions. It lists festivals, carries a horoscope, recipes, medical advice, and articles written by experts in their fields, by stalwarts like Durga Bhagwat and PL Deshpande. It also serves as a reminder for the woman of the house. "It allows you to jot notes on the number of clthes given to the dhobi or items that have to be procured for the kitchen. So, essentially, everyone in the home would use it," says Shakti, who was a journalist before she joined the family legacy.

Today, as Kalnirnay enters its 45th year, the thrust is on conquering the digital space. "We were the first in Mumbai to have an online retail website, much like Amazon is doing today. This was way back in 1995. We shut it down eventually when competition arrived. We launched an app in 2010, when apps were a new thing. So, we have always been ahead of the times," says Jayraj, who judges this writer by the authors she reads (Agatha Christie, Haruki Murakami and Enid Blyton) before opening up. Shakti, whose main job includes marketing and social media development of the legendary brand, says, right now, they are using the Facebook and Twitter platforms to figure what their customers want. "We are in a testing phase. Though our core business will always be the printed almanac, we want to widen our social media imprint to reach our existing customer more effectively while attracting a new audience, too." Kalnirnay currently prints 20 million copies of the calendar and the app has 5 million subscribers.

The latter offers all the information the almanac does but in a language of your choice.

Interestingly, none of the modernisation Shakti speaks of has met any opposition from Jayraj, 62. Bob Dylan's The Times, They Are A Changin is after all, his favourite song. In a new advertisement released on their YouTube channel, the almanac is no longer the gift given to a daughter when she is married. Now, it goes with her to Harvard. "Kalnirnay is a tradition that's passed down over generations. But now, we don't just rely on the institution of marriage. People from all over the world order it every year. Patel Stores in New York displays it proudly when it gets there at the start of the year," Shakti smiles. She and her young social media team ensure that it's not just the almanac that reaches out to their audience but even the writings of literary greats. "We go through back issues and pick interesting archival reads for the new reader. It's about giving them everything the almanac offers and more."

As if on cue, Jayraj offers his visiting card. It carries a QR code that directs you to his bio. As if you had any doubt about Kalnirnay's reach, he leaves us with a story. "Recently, the office of the Prime Minister called me and asked, Does Kalnirnay have a Gujarati version?' I said, yes. 'Is it available on iPad?' I said, no. 'Do you know Mr Modi reads on the iPad? He won't be happy if he can't read it in Gujarati on his iPad'. I called my contact in Silicon Valley and got the app designed in Gujarati!"

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