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Founder of Pragati Offset passes away at 89Hanumantha Rao 1925–2015 – a long journeyBest known as the founder and chairman of Pragati Offset, Paruchuri Hanumantha Rao passed away peacefully at his home in Hyderabad on 2 March 2015 at the age of 89. Active and on his feet till the last few days of his life, Paruchuri Hanumantha Rao was born in Chitturpu in the Krishna District of Andhra Pradesh around 1925 to an agricultural family. The coastal Krishna district is about 550 kilometres southeast of Hyderabad.
Hanumantha Rao was a journalist and film studio manager and an actor as well – and joined the Telegu daily Visalandhra in 1962Hanumantha Rao attended Challapalli High School and Hindu College in Machilipatnam in Krishna district. Growing up in the cauldron of the anti-Nizam and Telengana movements, the young political activist with an interest in the arts and the theatre, joined the communist party and the Praja Natya Mandali. The Praja Natya Mandali was the regional branch of the Indian People’s Theatre Association or IPTA in what ultimately became the state of Andhra Pradesh. In the progressive theatre movement, Rao was associated with theatre activists Garikapati Rajarao, Koduri Atchaiah and the leading progressive anti-fascist playwrights Sunkara Satyanarayana and Vasireddi Bhaskar Rao as well as the nationally known IPTA poets and writers Balraj Sahni, Kaifi Azmi, KA Abbas and Shailender.

As India attained independence in August 1947, P Hanumantha Rao was arrested for supporting the Telangana Raithanga Sayudha Poratam – initially a movement against feudalism and bonded labour but with the coming of independence and the Nizam’s resistance to merger with the Indian Union the movement opposed him as well. Sent to Rajahmundry jail in 1947-48 and transferred to Cuddalore jail in Tamil Nadu, Rao was imprisoned with communist leaders AK Gopalan, Kadiyala Gopala Rao, Moturu Hanumantha Rao, Koratala Satyanarayana, and MR Venkataraman.

Released after three years, Hanumantha Rao attended and graduated from Pachaiyappa College in Madras (now known as Chennai). In 1952 in Madras, he married his childhood schoolmate Sita Lakshmi. At this juncture and in order to earn a living, Rao and his friend Vasireddy Narayana Rao became book publishers. Narayana Rao was the detective fiction author of the books that Hanumantha Rao got typeset and printed – which he then sold at 50 paise a copy. However, he soon became a journalist – a correspondent for the Telugu daily Visalandhra.

When the state of Andhra Pradesh was ultimately formed in 1956, much of the film industry shifted to Hyderabad and in 1957 Hanumantha Rao was hired as the manager of Sarathi Studios. Instrumental in the setting up of Sarathi’s studios in Hyderabad, Rao worked with many of the erstwhile leading actors of the Telugu cinema such as Akkineni Nageswara Rao and Nandamuri Taraka Ramarao (NTR). In later years, Rao spoke fondly of his friendship with the famous comedian Relangi. In 1962, due to the poor availability of film stock, production at Sarathi stalled and the studios had to be closed.

Having a bit of experience with printing as a publisher and film studio manager, Rao along with his friend, the writer Vasireddy Narayana Rao, started Pragati Art Printers on Vinayaka Chaturthi in 1962 – a letterpress printing business that ultimately grew and became the leading brand in the Indian offset print industry – Pragati Offset. Hanumantha Rao acknowledged that in its early years, Sita Lakshmi, by then a teacher at the city’s Holy Mary High School, kept the kitchen warm with her earnings.

In 1975 Pragati acquired its first offset machine – a used Russian press from a failed printing business in Nizamabad – through the AP State Finance Corporation. The business grew and Rao’s sons Narendra and Mahendra joined the business in 1978 and 1981 respectively.  Narendra and Mahendra Paruchuri always went deep into the nuts and bolts of every new technology and Pragati often pioneered the latest advancement in printing from phototypesetting to computer to plate to 7-color process printing. In recent years, Pragati has seen the entry of its next generation – Hanumantha Rao’s grandsons and granddaughters.

Along the way, Pragati became the winningest and most well-known printer in India – both because of its awards and the humility and knowledge sharing of its owner family. Hanumantha Rao received the National Award for Excellence in Printing for 1992-93 from President Sri Shankar Dayal Sharma. In 2001 Pragati was recognized as the SAPPI Asian Printer of the Year. In 2006, Pragati became the SAPPI International Printer of the Year – awarded to the best printer in the world, a feat that it repeated in 2008 and 2010.

Pragati Offset has won the most Sappi Elephant awards for excellence in printing and is the only company in the world that has won the International Printer of the Year Award three times. In 2010, the Sappi International Printer of the Year 2010 Award was given to Pragati at an award ceremony moved to the city of the winning printer for the first and only time. When Hanumantha Rao was presented the Sappi Elephant in Hyderabad, Narendra Paruchuri said, “My father who started this company has received the Elephant. This is a moment of great pride. He started with a small machine, 48 years ago, and today he has received the award as the best printer in the world. It has been a long journey.”

Hanumantha Rao was the president of the All-India Federation of Master Printers in 1997-98, where he instituted the National Awards for Excellence in Printing for showcasing print and encouraging quality. These awards continue to be held till today. A philanthropist all his life, Hanumantha Rao helped the needy and especially students. The Pragati Public Charitable Trust was formed in 1996 and a weekly free clinic was established under the guidance of Rao’s daughter-in-law Dr. Sasikala. Started in Narsingi village on the outskirsts of Hyderabad, where the Paruchuri family farm is located, the clinic later shifted to Mokila village. Focusing on the health of women and children, the trust has nearly 20,000 registered patients with medical examinations, blood tests and medicines entirely free of cost. Rao also worked hard to set up and endow the Chandra Rajeswara Rao Old Age Home, completed in 1999 which currently houses 112 residents above 70 years of age.

A patron-member of the Vignana Jyothi Educational Society rated as one of the finest institutes in the state, Hanumantha Rao maintained a lifelong interest in art, music and theatre and attended all the cultural events that took place in Hyderabad. Nevertheless, one of his grandsons says, “He was an agriculturist at heart, and he took keen interest in the activities at the family farms in Narsingi and Mokila. Whenever he brought home the produce, be it vegetables or mangoes, he beamed with great pride.”

This is a time to rejoice at Hanumantha Rao’s long life of accomplishments and the recognition that he received from the industry for his own work in building Pragati and the added recognitions that came from how Mahendra and Narendra grew the business to where the entire industry and country looks at it with pride. Pragati embodies teamwork and produces print artifacts of excellence. However, the greatest legacy of Hanumantha Rao and Pragati is how it treats people and helps them – in a down to earth way all are equal and treated fairly – be it employees, customers, suppliers, friends, wives, sons and daughters – everyone is given the chance to excel – to be decent and good and hard working. This is the legacy of Hanumantha Rao’s long journey as Pragati’s next generation and in deed we, its friends and colleagues, take on the future.

Last updated on 16 March 2015