Weathers . . .

A storm : Outside

Dust trampled all day—


Dust: thrown and shifted


And pebbles

Now rises
With vengeance accuracy

Dust: now covers

Atop the tallest skyscrapers

The crows

Now teary-eyed
look down dazed.

Dust: now punctures through eyes

All eyes-seeing and unseeing

Dust: bleeds dust

Dust: clings

Onto well-gelled hair
Onto confident beautiful faces.
Everyone who walks under the sun

Must now walk
Under a sun, screened with dust.

The dust: now rises

And there’s a storm outside

And her window
Is smothered with dust
Pale. Cold. Burning brown
And grey . . .
With a slight thread of red somewhere.

Her window shakes
And throbs and sings
And shivers and shudders.

There’s a storm outside.

He comes in soaked
Orders tea
She refuses.

The dust now rises
There’s a storm outside.

p.s. This poem was written after an ‘interaction’ with Urvashi Butalia. And then, there was a storm that evening. And then this happened. Also, feminism, still doesn’t make any sense to me.


Somewhere between the sheets of cream-wove parchment she lay

Waiting for thought to take shape. Ripe. Full-blown. Secure.

Comfortable in the knowledge that before too long the waters

Would break.

The first wail. Strong and full-throated.

Later. You held her in the crook of your arm. Ginger. Warm.

Even later. You took upon yourself the loving task of nurturing her.

Watched her grow.

Now. Strong and independent it is time for her to take her place in the world.

It isnt easy, is it? To let go? To abandon your musechild, your poem?

Naveen Kishore

Glimpses at the Craft of Catalogues and the Tale of Victor Halfwit

Naveen Kishore: The Craft of Catalogues

Week Two Day Four was a green room tour into the world of publishing, mentored by Naveen. Our initiation into the not-so-breezy aspects of publishing. For instance, recognizing first a list, or the collection of books one will publish. Often the list classifies a publisher but as we later learnt, there’s really no iron rule about it. You might as well have an open list for that matter.

Becoming a publisher, no matter how idealistic, utopian or fairy-tale-ish it might sound, is actually quite a task. Authors need to be roped in, contracts negotiated with them, rights need to be bought, books printed and often on a lot of credit. Naveen took us through this Bildungsroman-esque route by propping up exciting examples from Seagull—of how a few books and obligations to bulk credits in hauling up a list, translated into the now Hall No. 8 at the Frankfurt Book Fair.

Seagull also pioneered the concept of the ‘catalogue’, which soon became a rage. The catalogue or a glossary of books is what a publisher proposes to bring out annually. Seagull Books’ catalogues are major head-turners at all key book festivals and fairs the world round.

The road has been tortuous in every way, but Naveen’s spur-of-the-moment decisions and impulsive choices have all materialized into what we now know as this posh, suave and glamorous publisher of poignant and drool-worthy books. A statement well made but genuinely laboured for, aided, of course, by the fact that Seagull had its heart in the right place, all along. ‘I have no sense of scale,’ quips Naveen often, when detailing his decisions, but with his spur of the moments paying off richly, we really don’t mind, do we? There’s a long way ahead still, says Naveen, but trusting his charming defiance of proportions, one can safely say, that too shall be conquered. Amen.

Sunandini Banerjee: The Tale of Victor Halfwit

‘The world would also be so much duller

If we were all one such colour

There can be no one fixed perspective. No one rule for design. No rigid boundaries for creativity—a sentiment clearly evident in the above lines from Sunandini’s poem, ‘I Wonder’. Sunandini’s passionate rule for design therefore states that there can be no one rule, nothing rigid, nothing limiting to contain or hold art down. The second half of day four was thus devoted to a session of letting us know how to let go.

Sunandini, speaking from her own flavourful experiences, of her accidental detour into publishing and her greater head dive into design, was not trained to do what she so beautifully does. Often discomfited by questions of the previous kind, she only has her instinct and her years of reading to blame, which instantly pollutes her head with images, images of living, throbbing words.

Her first brush with designing was while participating in a workshop conducted by the Alliance Francais that brought together French illustrators and writers of children’s books. On the theme of ‘Colour’, Sunandini composed a delightful 12-line poem, which she accentuated with simple geometric shapes and picture fonts from, believe it or not, MS Word. This was the first great coming together of words and pictures, not strictly displaying a tutored skill for drawing but rather the much more important skill of imagining and setting words to their physical form. Thus, when her poem starts with lines like

‘Will tomorrow

The sun be pink

Or yellow

I wonder

 If tonight

The stars will take flight’

 they appear as lines in any children’s book, prettily illustrated with pink suns and fluffy clouds and confettied with stenciled stars, all procured from the picture font harbour in MS Word. Clever, right?

 Not knowing how to draw never posed any roadblocks for Sunandini. For her, the computer, a rarity when she was starting out, was a great enabler. Now, of course, with softwares like Photoshop and Quark Express, her art has notched up galactically. Not knowing to draw was thus compensated by her skill to imagine, to give words their pictorial due, constructed nonetheless as any work of art. 

Designing, like creativity, can have no single, decided perspective, observes Sunandini. It’s an all-accommodating art, a macrocosmic assortment of perspectives, and that is where it thrives. That is where the art of creativity in designing thrives. You come with an imagination of your own, but then, you must create something which resonates with all. Thus, it was only natural that the collage would be her medium of choice, as in her recent Victor Halfwit: A Winter’s Tale, a page-and-a-half story by Thomas Bernhard, which she blew up to a massive 220 page worth of gorgeous illustrations. By all means a collector’s item, it is a ready reckoner for the kind of work she presently does. Though she admits to beginning to get weary of the collage, her admirers needn’t be disappointed, for a futuristic new phase in her design oeuvre is very much on the cards.

 Further on, she mentions how the book cover, being the prime interface between an individual and the world of the book, must ideally contain multiple perspectives and accomodate heterogeneous voices. In short, all readers should find something to relate to in the book cover itself, which will in turn trigger their hopes for the content inside. Thus a collage, ‘which captures many voices, multiple perspectives . . . simply put, shades of everything’, greatly complements her vision as an artist and her motive as a designer, to incorporate varying perspectives, and of collecting the world into a single dashing book cover.

An artist’s vision, ideally, must strongly be anchored in imagination but also communicate with the world outside. It wouldn’t harm, thus, to invest in risks sometimes. To use her words, it’s like bungee jumping, when you have a belt fastened tightly around your waist but you’re also free-falling. She stresses on the being of an individual, an artist, a designer, but maintains that art cannot be pursued in isolation. It must interact with the world and the views stemming from it. Just like her collages invested heavily with layers.

Her design mantra is to own an imagination and also to enrich it with the world outside, with images, visuals—everything that kindles any association must live its life on the page.

The drive then is not to fret about designing a good-looking American or Chinese book. No. But simply, ‘a damn good book cover!’

For, at the end of the day, it’s all about the mind which creates, and it cannot create in an ivory tower, in a bubble cut off from the universe. One must learn to liberate art, to sustain it. Glean inspiration from the world which breathes around us, and not ‘die with the mind you were born with . . . but to grow it’.

Shahwar Kibria Sufi

Entrepreneurship Project 1: How to ride the Publishing-Brand Motorbike?

Sumit Roy’s question has my imagination running away with me in a million directions. I look at the Ducati motorbike staring at me from the PowerPoint presentation and I wonder if that’s really his motorbike. One look at him and I say to myself that he just needs to trade his black shirt, black trousers and formal black shoes for a studded leather jacket, leather pants, boots, a pair of cool glares and he’s set, ready to ride into the sunset on that fancy motorbike.

So, if biker Sumit Roy says he’s going to teach us how to ride the publishing motorbike, we better sit up and take notice.

Steppenwolf’s song ‘Born to be Wild’ from the 1969 Hollywood film Easy Rider is playing on the repeat mode in my head. A scene from the film comes alive: a group of seasoned bikers are heading my way, in what looks like Harley Davidsons, Hayabusas and Royal Enfield Bullets. As they come closer, familiar faces appear—Naveen Kishore, Sunandini Banerjee, Samik Bandyopadhyay, Urvashi Butalia, S. Anand, Chiki Sarkar and V. K. Karthika.

The roaring sound of the motorbikes makes my heart race faster. The ease with which they ride their bikes is admirable and I can’t get over their magnificent motorbikes, nothing like I had seen before, each one a unique masterpiece.

The front wheel of Naveen Kishore’s papyrus-seat-cover motorbike is a spool of rolled film and the rear wheel the lens of a camera. Sunandini Banerjee’s digitally printed motorbike has an exquisite pair of wooden legs for wheels. Samik Bandyopadhyay’s motorbike runs on ink. Urvashi Butalia’s bike has microphones for handles and amplifiers for wheels. S. Anand’s Gond-art motorbike has bull’s horns for handles and for wheels have a spindle and a potter’s wheel. Chiki Sarkar’s bike’s wheels are happy feet. V. K. Karthika’s motorbike’s body is a harp and has white tiger paws for wheels.

Once I am quite done admiring the motorbikes, my attention is drawn to the number plates, needless to say they are exclusive. I can’t recall the numbers but the rest is worth talking about. Sumit’s motorbike has ‘Products have Rationales, Brands have Emotionales’ on it.

As the bikers ride past me, I catch a glimpse of a few number plates. Naveen’s reads ‘Leap of Faith’, Sunandini’s reads, ‘From the Smple Often Comes the Profound’, S. Anand’s reads, ‘Taking Sides: Not the Right Side but the Just Side’, Urvashi Butalia’s reads, ‘Voices of and from the Womb’.

As I watch the bikers disappear into the horizon, not racing against one another but just enjoying their biking adventures, Sumit reminds us that it’s our turn to head out. ‘What? Already?’ I ask.

I’m suddenly plagued by more questions. What kind of bike do I want to ride? What should my number plate read? Do I have the license to head out into the busy roads? Do I understand all the traffic rules? What If I fall? Is my helmet good enough? How many wrong turns and U-turns will I come across? What if I reach a dead end? What will people say?

Not letting my fears and inhibitions get the better of me, I borrow Sumit’s Ducati and venture into the unknown. He lends me his helmet that has ‘Obvious Emotional Truths’ inscribed on it. I struggle a bit to keep balance but I keep going. Steppenwolf’s ‘Born to be Wild’ starts playing again.

On the journey the sights, sounds, smells and encounters sometimes confuse and sometimes overwhelm. More often than not my reactions were, ‘Aha! I didn’t know that, I didn’t realize that.’

Though the Ducati is fantastic, I’m not entirely comfortable on it. I need to assemble and customize my motorbike to make it my own.

My personalized motorbike and its number plate are waiting to be collected.

All I’m looking for now is a pillion rider, so, come, hop on and enjoy the ride.

Ruby Hembrom

The First Week at the Seagull School of Publishing: 2–7 April 2012

2 April 2012

Another month of another year, another venture towards another chapter in my life.

Added to my (read: wish) list of ‘must reads’ I have, Tomas Espedal’s Tramp and Against Art. Only this time, it jumps out of the shelf right at me. The Seagull core team embraces us with tender generosity. Of the many firsts in my life, today I possess a-never-before catalogue of Seagull Books’ Fall 2011–Spring 2012 titles so artistically introduced. Such skill and taste!

A chalking-out of the journey ahead of us into the world of publishing. Structured guidelines and directions are now mine to follow from this day forth.

The list of the names of my acquaintances and friends just got extended by another 25 new faces. Who is an acquaintance and who a friend remains to be ascertained with time. Yet, as of now, each has found a place in my treasure trove of memory, reinforced by the first glimpses through the broken ice.


3 April 2012

The Seagull story—intriguing, enthralling. Enraptured, I am transported back to my childhood when every story told, or read, captured my little heart. Today I felt just so. There was atumult in my heart with this super abundance of enriching experiences shared of the making of this kingdom. The Seagull soars and lifts on its wings, fledglings aiming to take flight.

Lesson learnt: Hurdles along the path get us closer to reaching our goals.

Face to Face 1:  Mahasweta Devi. Admirable. She holds fast to her right to dream. Against all odds she treads.

4 April / 5 April / 7 April 2012

Publishing Lives: Urvashi Butalia—Writer and Publisher, Zubaan; S. Anand—Founder and Editor, Navayana; Chiki Sarkar—Publisher, Penguin India.

Faces of such personas, each telling a story.

As each story unfurls, I am drawn. The connections between each life tell of the gravelled trail every traveller encounters en route to his divine destiny.

Pristine, clean and empty that my slate was, has now etchings taking form. The intention, I hope, is just what its implementation is. To me, an unravelling of novel revelations.

The picture couldn’t appear any clearer than the way we are seeing it unfold through the stories being narrated to us firsthand.

Zeena Singh