The ‘Printed Book’ is indeed a ‘Revolution’

A fairly good exposure to academia turned out to be a major inspiration for venturing into the realm of publishing. Books had always been there, only to become more and more engaging with passing time. From a curious undergraduate student absorbed into the epistemology of history to a research scholar hopping from one library to another in frantic search for books had somewhere made me hope that books, after all, would remain with me and I so much wished to see that true.

An ardent fervour emerging out of such ‘hope’ brought me to Seagull School to learn and discover more about books. I joined the Editing course to satiate my preoccupation with texts but on attending the first few classes, I realized to my surprise that there is more to a book than just the written word. With wonderful teachers enlightening us on its myriad aspects that previously didn’t exist in my discourse, I literally began to feel like a microbe in the sea of wisdom.

When the alarm clock rings in the chilly winter morning suddenly shaking me up from slumber, all I can think of is to rush to the school and eagerly wait for the class to begin. On one such provocative session on a Friday morning, we got introduced to Ronnie Gupta who was about to share with us the mechanics behind the production of a physical book. While he was explaining how several pages are made out of a ‘plate’ and the processes that eventually follow like stitching of the book to embossing the cover, I was not only awestruck by the immense knowhow and incredible hard work that go into manufacturing a book but was also astounded by my uninformed predicament that never made me think of any of these despite my avowed liaisons with books. So when we were leaving for our much-anticipated trip to the printing press, I was already in a daze, wondering what more lay ahead!

The trip to the printers suddenly appeared like a fascinating excursion given the fact that I had never seen a printing press in my life. The car headed towards the destination and as it passed through the lanes and by-lanes, I felt like a tourist in my own city marvelling at its quintessence all over again. On entering the press which obviously seemed like a giant manoeuvre, we saw the multiple sequential processes involved printing a book. We took off our shoes while going inside a few of the chambers and glanced around to see the gigantic machines at work. The overwhelming exposure was further enriched when Ronnie would explicitly elucidate the massive modus operandi. These days, books are stitched and glued by machines, as we all saw but there used to be time, when these were done manually, making the process all the more difficult and tedious. Astonishingly, the press revealed that books too, are guillotined; definitely not to obliterate them but to trim their edges. I, on the other hand, all this while, could only identify the guillotine with the tumultuous turn of history in late 18th century France, amidst the gory massacre of the Reign of Terror!

We spent about an hour at the press witnessing the ultimate stage of transformation of a manuscript into a book. In fact, it is amusing to recall how we all were taken by awe to see sheets getting cut into pages in an instant. We instinctively took out our cell phones to capture the moment which appeared no less than a wonder!

While on my way back, it felt as if I have had a revelation. The exposure to the phenomenon of printing aroused a nostalgic wave, taking me back to my undergraduate days when numerous classes were spent in knowing Johann Gutenberg, a man coming up with the first printed word from the Bible in the 15th century. The event that would become history, took place in a far-away city called Mainz, located in a place that was yet to become Germany. I was not prescient enough to realize that while standing in a 21st-century modern press, the thought of Gutenberg’s Bible would actually give goosebumps!

Sunanda Chatterjee

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