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

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