Ideas Aplenty: Masterclasses with Ravi Singh

Recalling the Masterclasses we’ve had so far made me realize this little but rather ironic thing—we have embarked on a backward journey across the life of a book. Sessions taught by Jennie Dorny of Éditions du Seuil on rights and contracts; classes discussing iconic French book covers and the publishing industry in France with Laure Leroy of Zulma, Devalina Mookerjee‏’s extensive classes on technical editing—the formative phase and eventually all that serves a book’s purpose—one stage after another, in reverse! What we were looking for next was the foundation of it all. The driving force. The idea that gives birth to a book. It was a surprising coincidence that our Masterclasses with Ravi Singh had exactly that to offer: the idea, and the clarity of it.

Having Ravi Singh over to interact with us was initially a bit intimidating for us, we had already come to know of his experience as a publisher who had worked at Penguin, Aleph and was now with Speaking Tiger. What we didn’t know, apart from his stature, was how calm and serene he was as a person. On the first of two days, poised before a bunch of aspiring editors, he took his time to talk with each of us, trying to know us and the ideas we have, finally zeroing in on an assignment for the following day.

A Fetish for Clarity

Every book is the fruit of an idea: an idea that is clear in terms of research, cost, scope, and the effort it demands. And that is precisely what is required of an editor. The session on the first day with him, for the most part, began with and went about the responsibilities of an editor. An editor, according to him, is ‘an interested, intelligent reader’, who does all that it takes to keep alive the author’s idea, style and voice, as well as the coherence of the content.

Piracy: The Biggest Threat

Ravi holds piracy as the biggest threat to publishing. Books, music, movies and other similar media available on the internet ‘for free’, however accessible, he says, are what kill the efforts of all the people who work to bring them forth. The fact that he had never accessed or used pirated media was a bit of a surprise in the beginning, yet his sound arguments against the concept and his reasons left us with no room for second thoughts.

Calcutta Rains, and Ideas over Coffee

The roads had clogged after a night of ceaseless rain. But we had hardly any idea that it would, very serendipitously, take us to a world book-bugs like us call ‘paradise’. The Seagull Books office. With cookies and coffee to begin with, the second day of our Masterclass with Ravi Singh had a definite purpose. It was aimed at the kind of book we would like to publish, if given a chance. One by one, he listened to our ideas, made notes and made suggestions to help shape and thus transform our coarse ideas into potential plans of action. His experience as a publisher was evident in his patience, in his curiosity to know the driving force behind our ideas, and in his generous guidance to help gain more clarity on the abstract, in this case the idea, which is far more difficult to deal with than the tangible.

An encouraging mentor in a field where experience plays a major role, Ravi’s approach towards publishing, and towards rookies like us, places him a notch higher than many of the present-day publishers.

Muralidar S. Ram

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