The Encyclopaedia of Good Reasons

Let’s imagine this: voices ricocheting, dripping in words, questions, concerns and possibilities of the perfect answers. The dome of St John’s Church, Kolkata, witnesses the partial unfolding of a book—The Encyclopaedia of Good Reasons. I can see Monica Cantieni, the author, in the distance; something about her face suggests that one can talk to her easily. There are no airs, just a hint of familiarity, an unfamiliar feeling. She reads out a passage from the book, goes and sits beside the first woman who asks her a question, answers with a quiet passion. You can say that she has been there, she knows. I cannot forget her modesty that resounds perfectly, even now.

The next day we see her again at the Seagull School of Publishing for a more intimate conversation, in a room laden with books, books and more books, paintings and collages. I feel an immediate connection with her—I look around and realize that it is a collective feeling. We were all already half in love with her adorable accent, the smile that lit her face more often than not, and the sweetest humility.

She tells us how a novel begins for her; that it begins with only an image, a scrap of conversation. How she started this novel after the death of a dear friend—from sadness emerged the happiness of this story. She says she waits for the characters to take over, to impel her to direct the movement of the story and often she complies, stops and starts over—re-hashes the characters, kills one (she laughs at that), introduces another, blends for the perfect mix and even if this process is tedious, this is how she would like to go always. No wonder it took her ten years to write two books, she says. The laughter continues as she tells us how she considered the ‘stork’ an unfriendly looking bird when the designer of the original German edition presented her with the stork cover design. That was before she realized that it represented the bird’s image in popular imagination—remember the image of the stork carrying its baby bundle?

The other thing that I remember vividly about her is that she was not rushed to give an immediate answer—she took her time, mulled over the question for a few seconds—she intended to understand first. Something to learn.

When she says that as an author it was imperative for her to have blind faith in her translator and editor, I finally understand that it is her inherent faith in the goodness of the world, people, that propels her.

So, I believe her completely when I read:

‘The scientists go to some trouble with the names,’ he said, ‘they’ve some imagination, they call half-stars that don’t make it to more than a cloud of gas, that fail to form properly, that don’t have the strength, that can never become a whole star and shine down as far as us—they call these half-stars “brown dwarfs”, that’s their name. They’re the failures of the universe, they say, and they’re so far away, we can’t know whether we’re right about what we say about them. But not even a fly can live on them.’

The readers should share that faith too.

Sheenginee Bhattacharjee

Playing with Possibilities

Possibilities. A word that in essence encapsulates the realm of creativity. It is a word that struck me on crossing the threshold of the Seagull School of Publishing, and is reinforced in me everyday while I soak in the experience of aestheticism, among other things here.

I enrolled for the Book Design module of this course because of my interest in graphics and my fascination for the illustrative representation of something that exists in the written form—an idea, theme or story. However, within the first couple of weeks of the Design classes under the tutelage of Sunandini Banerjee, my interest and fascination have given way to a sense of wonder at the creative possibilities that are present in the everyday. Though I must also confess that working on the Macs for the very first time has contributed to the excitement. These classes have rekindled certain sensibilities, made me look at the mundane in a new light and initiated the process of exploring art in and at every possibility.

After the overview classes (for students of both the Editing and the Designing module) on the processes and roles in publishing and book production, a visit to the CDC press and the Apeejay Kolkata Literary festival at St John’s church, we were divided into our respective batches. In the first couple of the Design classes, we learnt the fundamentals of designing a book cover or page in terms of page size, measurements, margins and image format, while being guided around the usage of design software—QuarkXpress and Adobe Photoshop. The design classes have been interspersed with master classes that combine the Book Designing and Book Editing students in order for us to interact with authors, translators, book-buyers and literary agents. Each of these joint sessions has directly or indirectly provided me with new perspectives on the aesthetics of the book and the importance of the designer in the book-production process has been reinforced time and again.

Our very first assignment was to redesign a given Tintin book cover. Each of us had a different book cover to redesign. On completion, each of us got important insights from Sunandini on the book cover from perspectives of aesthetics as well as marketing, and got our doubts cleared concerning the software or the design. Text, images, shapes, colours, typeface gain free rein, to the point of being chaotic as they yield themselves to a variety of possibilities while ideas are generated, negated and reinvented using the design software. Yet, there is a significant lesson that I learnt amid the rush of possibilities that I have been confronted with. It is important that the frenzied rush be controlled and channelized to the formation of a work of art.

Free of jargon, the uniqueness of these classes has been that they bring to light the often unnoticed aesthetic in routine everyday activities. Attending and being a part of these classes has opened my mind and helped me embark on a journey that is rejuvenating and enriching to the point that I am left with wonder at the immensity of the untapped. I look forward to the remaining classes filled with anticipation and excitement, as I am constantly reminded of that word—possibilities.

 Darshana Ghose

The First Glimpse

Galleries are often solemn places. You have a sense of wonder and awe—a feeling that you should take your shoes off and kneel. Each piece is given its unencroached upon space so that the vibrations from its neighbour do not interfere with its unique music.

The Seagull gallery, however, is a more lush rainforest than a Moghul garden. You need to actively engage, senses swimming, rather than sit in rapt contemplation.

We’ve entered the premises, into the main gallery, to see Sunandini’s collages, been swept by their rich abundance, wondered how someone so young could have accumulated so much nostalgia.

We are climbing the stairs to the school, where our eyes flicker from one madly familiar image to the next terribly interesting one.

In the book-laden, picture-heavy room, the students chatter brightly, every one of them so very young and hopeful.

Many of the faculty are indistinguishable from the students but subsequently we discover how good they are at what they do. Witness the exquisitely produced books that they have edited or designed or provided photographs for. More to the point, we find how excellent their teaching skills are.

Naveen and Sunandini conduct us through introductions: there are two lawyers who want to change streams, there’s Sheenjinee whose first novel has just been published (it’s a novella actually, she says), there’s Deepali, a newspaper journalist, who wants to expand on what she already knows, there’s Manaswita with an engineering degree, come from Orissa, who has just published a story and wants to plunge into an entirely new one.

The common factor, Sunandini agrees, is that we all love books.

We’re given an overview of the course and of the next month in particular when we can look forward to a series of master classes. Authors Monica Cantieni, Thomas Lehr and Ivan Vladislavic, literary translator Mike Mitchell, legendary book buyers Rick Simonson and Paul Yamazaki, literary agent David Godwin of DGA would all be talking to us about their various processes and separate journeys.

Coffee and biscuits are served in a welcoming room, one wall of which is stacked with records with battered sleeves—well listened to, worn comic books—well read through.

For our first lesson, Sunandini takes us on a swift journey, where we begin with the manuscript and end with a finished book. We receive a textbook about publishing which is a thing of beauty but we all need to google this unusual word, ‘salmagundi’ that it has on its title. It means, we discover, a mixed salad or potpourri.

Sunandini gives us an idea of what it means to be an editor while Naveen talks to us about publishing. He explains what exactly the Seagull model is and how it differs from others. About independent publishing houses, the last hope for readers with non-run-of-the-mill tastes, and the culture of corporatization.

From their joint and separate talks we form an acquaintance with the Seagull school of thought and I find it good.

Anita Agarwal