Visit to the Printing Press

Some people find time to read a book in between the many chores of routine lives. Others live their routine lives in between reading one book or another. I would certainly fall in the latter category. Ever since my parents handed me my first comic book in my early years, I have never looked back. It is the best gift they could’ve ever given me—the gift of reading. As a reader, I may be alone at times, but I am never lonely. Coming to Kolkata to do the Book Editing course at the Seagull School of Publishing was just another way of being closer to books. The process of making a book has always intrigued me. How an idea in the author’s head transforms into a story, gets printed as a book and is finally published to reach us is a long, winding process. So when we were told about the upcoming printing press visit, I was sufficiently excited to give any kid going to Disneyland a run for his/her money!

When the day finally dawned, we were introduced to our Pied Piper (guide) for the day—Ronnie Gupta. Ronnie happens to be the printer and production manager for Seagull Books. We were first given some insights into the basic terms related to printing; what goes into deciding the book size, paper quality, binding and colour schemes and so on. Before we could bury him under all the questions, he laughingly told us to hold our questions till we actually get to the printing press. Wise man!

So off we went to the printing facility—a big cavernous building—of CDC Printers in Kolkata. The first thing that hits you when you enter the press is the smell of paper, the one that you sniff between the pages of your favourite book. It’s the sweetest fragrance for a bookworm. If only someone could bottle this smell, I reckon they’ll be selling millions! Ronnie led us through a labyrinth of stacks after stacks of papers to the plate developing room. It’s a climate controlled room where they keep the humongous machines that develop the imprints and etch them on aluminium sheets. It was an abracadabra kind of moment for us as we watched wide-eyed. The machine guzzles up plain sheets, chews on them (figuratively speaking) and throws out the etched plate in minutes. These plates are forwarded to the printing room where they wrap around cylinders and print paper at the speed of light it seems.

 Ronnie then herded us to another level where we saw the cutting/trimming process. As we watched, a worker aligned thousands of stacked sheets under the blade and at the press of a button the blade went through them like knife in butter. It’s almost brutally beautiful to watch and each and every one of us shuddered! Next we saw the lamination, binding, folding, glueing, stitching and packaging processes. Finally we were led into the room where this beast of a machine waited for us. It was a mammoth, four-colour printing machine and could print thousands of pages before you can finish your cup of cappuccino. We were allowed to climb on this machine as we watched the four rollers, drenched in the colours—cyan, magenta, yellow and black—the CMYK colours that can give you almost any colour under the spectrum. There was also an amazing console that lets you adjust the colour saturation to achieve the desired result. For some reason, I kept on thinking that once I pass on to the afterlife, this would be a nice place to haunt; this or the Amazon warehouse!

Having gone through most of the processes that make a book, we all regrouped outside. Ronnie gave us some amazing words of wisdom, stemming from his experience in this business for more than three decades. It’s a tenuous task, the printing business. No amount of digital innovation can take away the human touch that is still required to print books. It’s largely a labour of love. Never again will I look at a book, no matter how good or bad, and treat it dismissively.

When I asked Ronnie what his takeaway was after more than 35 years in the printing business, his answer was simple, ‘You have to love publishing to do it for as long as I have.’ You know you’re in the right profession when what you do is not a choice, but a need; when earning is irrelevant and glory is inconsequential, when what you do is just an extension of who you are as a person.

This course is showing me a new way of looking at things that usually go unnoticed and I cannot wait for what unfolds in the coming months.

Pic 6

Anumeha Gokhale

An experience of a lifetime

What we learn with pleasure, we never forget.

~Alfred Mercier

Mercier’s quotation aptly explains my experience at the Seagull School of Publishing.

Technically speaking, there’s a difference between dream and reality. Right now, for me at least, not really. I am living the dream for real!

On the first day, I was filled with nervousness—but also eagerness to learn and curiosity to find out about the whole course in detail for which I flew in from Chandigarh. Here, I was finally able to give a face to the person I have been coordinating with for weeks, Smita Abraham. Afterwards, an orientation session was held and I met the faculty members and people (who were to be my classmates) from other parts of the subcontinent. It felt great to get familiar with people, who, like me, are also eager to learn and grow; not just study for the sake of it.

I am here for the Editing course and during the initial classes, which were for participants of both Editing and Book Design class, I admit I was tempted to join the Design class as well—but couldn’t. To be a designer, one needs creativity and imagination; I am unmistakably impaired in that segment. Editing is more my thing. So, I had to let it go and stick to the plan!

By now, you must have gathered that these people are so good that after attending only four classes, I wanted to do both the courses. The faculty here not only wants to teach but they also make every effort to ensure that you understand and learn in a way that every single thing they teach stays with you for the rest of your life.

There’s our lecturer Sunandini Banerjee, and you can’t help but simply adore her. She makes you feel at ease and instills the sense of confidence that anybody with decent English language skills can do this. It is not until later, when Bishan Samaddar gets into the technicality of grammar usage and punctuations, that you realize what you’re (not your) actually in for!

Sunandini taught us about the entire process of publishing and the jargons associated. With her in the class, one surely can’t get bored because her life experiences leave us laughing, surprised and sometimes shocked. Her classes are not only knowledgeable but truly enlightening. It felt good to be part of her class and I made it a point that I don’t miss any of her classes, for I would miss all the second-hand experiences and the great laughs. She also taught us the editing terms from A–Z. She taught us all about the book—from cover-to-cover.

Bishan taught us about punctuation marks and its correct usage (in both UK and US styles). ‘English is a complicated language,’ he asserts, and I couldn’t agree more. I think that it is in the complexity of this language that its beauty lies.

It takes much more than just usage of correct grammar to become an editor. Slowly it unfolded that an editor has to take the responsibility for good and bad, hits and misses, profits and losses for both sides—of the author and the publisher.

In my school days, the red pen always scared me; more red ink on paper, less the marks. Here at Seagull School, I think I’m finally going to get over my fear!

I am glad that I am part of this institute as they have filled my life with CMYK colours. And, hopefully, I will be back for the Book Design course, if this GREYSCALE world allows me to.

Gunjan Rastogi