A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies
George R. R. Martin
In early-fifteenth century, Johannes Gutenberg, a German blacksmith residing in Mainz was involved in a series of misadventures—the most prominent being his fateful invention of printing and typefaces, a groundbreaking discovery for Europe and the rest of the world. From the age of hieroglyphs and cave paintings and papyrus and paper, humans had finally (finally, as Dwayne Johnson yells) traversed a long, rough patch to publish the now-famous Gutenberg Bible. The press was to the future the key to ‘tomorrowland’, the precursor to mass media.
Lunacy is the word that echoes in my mind whenever I think of Gutenberg, for only a lunatic would have dreamt of creating something so unique and awe-inspiring. Technology has witnessed exponential advancements since then, and printing a book is much easier than it has ever been. And this phenomenal escapade begins inside the magical walls of a printing press. The story of Seagull’s flight to the West is a curious case study and Ronnie Gupta, the adorable ‘Guptenberg’, is the pilot-cum-production manager supporting their lunacy of publishing strangely spell-binding books on world art, literature and aesthetics. He first visited the School to give us an insight into the silkscreen method of printing at the workshop last week. Then he bestowed his generosity upon us in the form of a visit to his sacred space, his press, the CDC Printers.
An impressively maintained four-storey building, CDC Printers has a floor dedicated to every cycle of the printing process. As soon as we entered the premises, my nose was assailed by the heady smell of ink. Krishna was manifesting on the sheets spewed out of a Heidelberg, Hanuman on the adjacent Mitsubishi while in a corner a herd of dedicated men, manually yet precisely, shrink-wrapped paperback editions of an Odia–English children’s book.
We entered an air-conditioned room on the fourth floor (for controlling the machines) where Ronnie briefed about the various stages of a book’s journey—from screen to bound objects waiting to fall into a reader’s hands. He unwrapped thick silver sheets, or plates, which may be used as many as 15 times and on which the imprints of the pages are formed. Fitted to the rollers, they offset the ink onto the sheets of paper passing through the gigantic mutant-like press.
The machines were huge, almost the size of monster trucks, and had four segments, each for a colour in the CYMK scheme—Cyan, Yellow, Magenta and Kaalo (Bengali for ‘black’, or K for ‘Key colour’, the colour against which the others are adjusted).
Two storeys below, the large sheets of printed paper were folded and cut, then bound and passed through a green-glue-eater for pasting. Then manually stacked inside a hard casing or paperback cover, passed through an extreme pressure-exerting pressing machine and—ta da!—the book is ready to go out into the world.
‘Which one out of Heidelberg and Mitsubishi is better?’
‘Heidelberg is the Mercedes, while the Mitsubishi is . . . well . . . a Mitsubishi. You just don’t compare them. However, if you buy a Heidelberg, one day your grandson will be very happy.’
Printing is a ‘task’ and an art—one needs patience and dedication to carry it out. A much negated and undervalued industry, it is the foundation of our intellectual existence. Imagining a world without print would give any sane man nightmares. Every book is lot more than the story its author has to tell—it is, rather, a story of its own.