An (Extra)ordinary Commencement

A report on the first day of the 3-month Professional Course in Publishing by one of the students from the Class of 2020.

An (Extra)ordinary Commencement

Shubhayan Chakrabarti

Hmm. Where to begin? So much is happening already that I’m completely flummoxed with everything we’re learning with each passing day. Anyway, they say that the beginning is always the best place to . . . well . . . for the lack of a better word . . . begin (although I personally I find the in medias res technique far more engaging)—and boy oh boy . . . has this first week been something.

Let’s begin with our first day itself (herein referred to as Day 0 or Inception Day as I like to call it). Day 0 dawned on an overcast horizon and I was completely lethargic about leaving the warm confines of my bed on a cold, foggy January morning. No sooner had I exited that it began pouring, which only dampened (ignore my bad puns) my mood further.

After an hour of travelling, I finally arrived at the venue of the Seagull School of Publishing, which was surprisingly easy to locate—two streets down from Bhowanipore thana. The lane was peaceful, and a large hoarding identifying the school was hard to miss.

As I stepped into the premises, I was taken aback by the warm and cosy environment that greeted me. The myriad colours that exploded in front of me was nothing short of bizarre! Don’t get me wrong—the walls themselves were unremarkable. But what drew my attention were the two towering columns of books on each side of the room. Even more intriguing were the covers of the books. As I took my seat, my eyes drifted over to random titles and my literary mind was already beginning to psychoanalyse the association of each cover with its respective title. I was so absorbed in my own world that I was startled when someone began speaking.

As my eyes shifted to the speaker, I noticed a man in his 60s who introduced himself as Naveen Kishore, who I recalled was the founder of the publishing house itself. He amusingly instructed us all to address him as Naveen, something which I found quite scandalous at the moment as he was basically my father’s age. A woman next to him (who appeared fairly intimidating, actually) introduced herself as Sunandini. I was struck by her affable nature which was in stark opposition to her rather strict appearance. She introduced herself as Seagull’s senior editor and graphic designer (I was already busy formulating my pitch to request her to take me under her wing as I had always had a penchant for drawing). The next person to introduce himself was Bishan, who introduced himself as an editor at Seagull. The last person to introduce herself was our point of contact with Seagull and editor, Sayoni.

We were then each asked to briefly introduce ourselves and I came to learn that our batch was really diverse. The person seated next to me already possessed 15 years of experience in the mobile gaming industry. Another was a graduate from Symbiosis Law School and had found her calling in publishing. Yet another was a marketing expert. In short, a rather strange motley.

Following the introductory session, we broke for refreshments, after which began our first class with Sunandini ma’am.

I had always found the world of publishing an enigmatic one. What went into writing a manuscript? How do editors choose from among a large number of manuscripts? What went into pricing a book? What legal technicalities had to be sorted out in a contract between an author/translator and the publishing house in question? How would one market and publicize a book? What happens after production? How do authors earn? And so on and so forth . . .

I was in fair trepidation, expecting a flood of information which would send me into frenzy. But nothing of the sort occurred. Sunandini ma’am patiently enunciated each and every sentence. Sometimes she shared amusing personal anecdotes, which while entertaining us also subtly taught us the don’ts of publishing. None of her classes were anything short of engaging and lively. Naveen sir frequently pitched in with useful snippets of information complementing each ongoing discussion. It was hard to believe that such an eminent figure would actually drop in and engage with us in spite of his truly busy schedule! As I’m writing this, I’m fervently looking forward to tomorrow’s masterclass with the man himself.

I was pleasantly taken aback at the smooth flow of operations here at Seagull. It was quite evident that this small yet highly competent team at Seagull had already won me over.

The first week was a brief introduction into the world of publishing. (And yes, this ‘brief’ introduction encompassed an entire working week’s worth of classes! That’s how vast the publishing world really is!) Although this is technically a school and thus an institution of learning, I never actually feel as if I’m in a classroom environment. Trust me, you wouldn’t either. The classroom paradigm is just that—a paradigm and nothing more. Each and every session here feels like a breath of fresh air and nothing akin to the rigorous process of education, which is really is.

But I’m still learning and as I’m writing this, I’m only into my second week here. Yet I feel so much at home. Not merely because I’m surrounded by like-minded people but also because I believe that it is Sunandini ma’am’s ingenious cover designs which have inspired me to come up with my own cover design for a short novel that I’m currently writing. It’s still in its infancy and I hope to see it come into it’s own some day in the near future.

PS: Halfway into our first class with Naveen sir, I’m determined to write my experience of his masterclass as well. So, stay tuned!