Of Mothers, Wailing Children and the Seagull Experience

All my life (if thirty-seven qualifies to be long enough) I have loved, lusted, loathed, bought, stolen, hidden and hoarded books. Also tried to (as I now realise) write one or two terrible ones.

Well, I was pushing in peroxide goo into white hair and cutting leathery bumpy faces into sharp angular ones for nine years. But there were no more levels or layers to it. My passion for writing wailed as I managed half a day from work or came in early to write in the salon. One of those days I did manage to flesh out a story worth being told. I began looking for training for my skills, my imagination needed grammar. If there would be just one story to tell this would be the one. The universe conspired. It pushed all my wish elements into a giant cauldron and manifested that diabolical love into The Seagull School of Publishing.

On the first day we sat in a ring. Half of it comprised stalwarts in their individual fields, the other half minds full of exclamation marks, question marks, hashes, stars, dots. On a common note, we were a ring of book maniacs. We heard about the evolution of Seagull Books from none other than Mr Naveen Kishore. And then how Sunandini, the sweet Sohinis, Bishan and Ayesha rolled under Seagull’s brilliant white wings by luck, providence, astrological stones, divine intervention. What caught my eye was the terrible terrible excitement of this team that was also going to teach us.

Schedules were handed out, catalogue, stationery—all tools of the trade. Fear of the Assignments! I grabbed my yellow bag. I seemed tiny, insignificant in comparison to the other eight book eaters arrived from Chennai, Mumbai, Switzerland and Kolkata too. It was going to be a journey.

On our first class, within the first ten seconds, my entire journey of a decade of writing and sending over book proposals to romantically await a response was erased. Aided by the knowledge I was able to conjure a scene of the unsolicited manuscript reaching the desk of a novice, poorly paid (probably anorexic) trainee to be flushed into the bin. Many other concepts became clear. Questions followed, discussions flared. Other classes followed helping us develop a grip over the red ink. More of grammar, house style and translation procedures, proofreading, copy editing—the whole difference between slashing a writer’s voice and caressing it.

The school is a mother with her arms (in this case imagine more than two) spread into the Design Room, the reading areas and the Editing Room. The wooden floor is warm and smooth. I walk on them in bare feet. Squat before the rows of books and whisper to myself what’s written on their blurb. Each book here is a handcrafted Seagull work of art.

My lopsided head screams and questions: Did you ever think as a Publisher, letting designs, art spread over your favourite pieces from literature or making something like a one and a half pages of Victor Halfwit turn into an epic saga? Did you (you whatever)?

We moved around the Press one day, smeared ink on each other’s palms. We watched books printed, bound and emerging like newborns. The classes have each been more of discussions, sharing ideas. Coffee smoke snakes through for a short break but then you are also allowed coffee questions. I haven’t asked about a sleeping arrangement there but as soon as I locate a kind of Hogwarts to bless my children into, I will.

Every morning my mother awaits my footsteps I know. Her and my appearances are different, our constitution, DNA, hair colour. But she is the mother nonetheless. She knows I needed to arrive. Well, here’s what the Seagull School of Publishing told me on the first day with sandwiches and lime (heavenly) juice and still does with chocolate biscuits and black coffee every time—Come, Learn, Be.

Haven’t I walked long enough with a really good story in my womb and wailed in all possible rubbish (UK), garbage (USA), brutally damaging (Suhrita Sengupta) places to be able to tell a really good one? Here are the rules, here’s the platform to begin with a thought. So I am going to gulp, gurgle, gobble every single class and find out what I can give my mother—the open theatre of world literature that she is.

Suhrita Sengupta 


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