If you are a 90s kid, you must have spent at least a couple of years in your life using the notorious ‘fountain pen’ which promised to change your handwriting for the better! Today, even though it has practically become an artefact, it is still valued as an antique piece and a souvenir eliciting nostalgia. And here’s where the homegrown ink brand, ‘Sulekha’ comes into the foreground as the first indigenous ink brand in the country to have been established.
People from Kolkata would also be aware of the famous ‘Sulekha More’ near Jadavpur named after this brand.
The Story Behind Sulekha Ink
When Lord Curzon divided Bengal in 1905, the Swadesh Movement started off at full force by the stalwart of the Indian Independence Movement–Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. During the 1930s, at the zenith of the movement, Gandhi was desperately looking for a locally-made ink to write letters and petitions. He shared this concern with Satish Chandra Das Gupta, a freedom fighter from Bengal who is famous for having made the first indigenous ink, Krishnadhara. Later, Gupta shared his formulation with the Maitra brothers, Nanigopal and Sankaracharya who lived in Rajshahi (now in Bangladesh) and had just been released from jail. The duo jumped at the opportunity of being able to defy the British yet again. Nanigopal left his teaching job at Rajshahi University, moved to Calcutta and started selling the ink. Initially, it was called Professor Maitra’s ink, after which Rabindranath Tagore coined the term, ‘Sulekha’ for the brand.
From Gandhiji to Satyajit Ray, Morarji Desai to Bidhan Chandra Roy...
The stalwarts of Bengal, including Gandhi, former prime minister Morarji Desai, former West Bengal chief minister Dr Bidhan Chadra Roy, and legendary filmmaker Satyajit Ray wrote with pens infused with Sulekha’s ink. In fact, the bottle and ink were often shown in Satyajit Ray’s Feluda movies.
Shut Down in the 1980s
Due to disruptive trade unions in Bengal in the 1980s, Sulekha Ink had to shut down. However, it resumed business again in 2006, after having bounced back from several financial blows. This time, they diversified into various sectors and extended their services into stationery, homecare and solar-powered industries.
Launching the Collector’s Edition Swadeshi line
During the COVID-induced lockdown, fountain pen lovers from different parts of India contacted Kaushik Maitra, the Managing Director of Swadeshi Ink to help them organise a “group buy” of Sulekha Inks. Even though the initiative initially failed due to logistical troubles, Sulekha went on to launch the Collector’s Edition Swadeshi line for the ink fanatics.
Sulekha Ink relaunched its famous Swadeshi line of inks including Scarlet, Red, Executive Black and Royal Blue. It also gave final touches to the packaging of the Swaraj and the Swadhin lines at this time. By packing the ink in a khadi pouch made in Shantiniketan, it brought in another patriotic aspect to its brand packaging and ideology. Under the ‘Swadhin’ range, each of the four colours stood for environmental consciousness–black for carbon footprint, red for global warming, blue for clean energy, and green for sustainability. It will soon launch the ‘Samarpan’ series, dedicated to Mother Teresa which will include blue and black inks.
With orders pouring in from different countries including the U.K., U.S., Nepal, Bangladesh, Australia. Greece, and India, the brand eventually gained back its former glory and position.
Swadeshi Marketing Strategies
The company always dabbled in traditional marketing strategies such as advertising on buses, trams and newspapers, besides forming an emotional bond with its consumers by organising writing competitions, as well as inviting report writing from children. In one such print ad, the company connected mythology with the modern era. In the first half, the ad shares trivia about Mahabharata, in which Lord Ganesha agrees to write Maharshi Vedavyasa’s composition on the condition that his quill must not be allowed to stop. In the second half, Sulekha establishes that modern writers also want speed while writing, and thus, Sulekha offers unrestrained flow. In its latest marketing strategy its limited edition ‘Sehlab’ bottles were printed with the names of freedom fighters.
Loving Sulekha Ink for the right reasons/Trivia
The company hired several refugees of the 1971 war between Pakistan and Bangladesh, keeping their spirit intact.
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