After an entire month of obsessing and panicking about ‘things to complete before leaving for Cal’, I landed in Kolkata on 28 May. By 2 June (the big day of the orientation), I had settled down effortlessly in the lovely, old-style house that I had taken on rent and the city already felt like home. I could not stop going on and on about how fascinating, not to mention cheap, the city is, to the extent that my friends and family started asking me if I was planning to settle here.
I had heard a lot about the Seagull School space and seen some photos on the blog, and was very excited (and impatient) about seeing it for real. I reached the school early on the day of the orientation and as I slowly walked up the stairs, admiring the eccentric mix of art on the walls, it finally sunk in that here I was and that this was the beginning of what would (hopefully) be three exciting months of learning. As I waited in what seemed like a library of sorts, I checked out the few others who landed early and just felt happy to be surrounded by lovely, beautifully produced books, Sunandini’s quirky and witty collages and K.G. Subramanyan paintings. As more students trickled in, I was a tad disappointed to realize that there were just about ten of us. However, before I could dwell on that, I was distracted by the colourful bags being handed out to us. Each had a nice folder and notepad (both designed by Sunandini), a schedule of classes for the first month, a profile of the faculty and a little pamphlet on dos and don’ts. As we introduced ourselves, the first thing that struck me was ‘Oh shit, I am the oldest here!’ (Though, reassuringly, not the oddest . . . many came from diverse and unrelated backgrounds ranging from computer science to hotel management and business, and were here just for their sheer love and passion for books.)
The orientation was one of the shortest I have attended . . . It set down certain ground rules for the classes (punctuality, not carrying coffee to the computer labs, etc.), gave vital information such as where the loos were situated and provided an overview of the classes scheduled for the month. The key highlights of the orientation were the yummy corn sandwiches and coffee and the announcement that students would be eligible for a 25 per cent discount at the Seagull bookshop (I could already picture myself lugging loads of books back to Delhi!).
The rest of the week was spent in getting familiar with the school space, getting to know each other better, figuring out cheap eating joints close by, making plans for exploring the city and struggling with the AC remote which had a mind of its own. The classes in the first week were common introductory lectures for the design and editing students. The topics covered included a history of Seagull, the challenges faced by independent publishing, common publishing terms, journey of a book from product to distribution, printing and binding. The week ended with a trip to a printing press, where Ronnie gave us a guided tour of all the stages from plate making to printing, binding and cutting, and very patiently answered our zillion questions.
For me, the first week was the beginning of a journey . . . of learning, discoveries, friendships and much more. It was also my first close encounter with the kind of publishing one had admired from a distance . . . fiercely independent, intimate, passionate, aesthetic. I was excited about what the weeks ahead had in store.