Seagull Books at 40; Celebrating the alchemists of publishing - Hindustan Times
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Seagull Books at 40; Celebrating the alchemists of publishing

ByIpshita Mitra
Jul 11, 2023 08:17 PM IST

Of Books and Other Stories, a documentary on Seagull’s journey, reminds us to embrace empathy and kindness by recognising the strength in social connections

“It is very simple to be happy, but it is very difficult to be simple.” ~ Rabindranath Tagore

Seagull Books in Kolkata (Courtesy Seagull Books) PREMIUM
Seagull Books in Kolkata (Courtesy Seagull Books)

Seeking, finding, and practising simplicity is indeed a difficult proposition. More often, what might sound simple is actually difficult to execute. Humans are a complex species and the complexity stems from the fact that, unlike the natural kingdom, we have the gift of language. We speak. We read. We write. That is how we make sense of the world.

However, language can also lead to conflicts, confusion, clashes, and even wars. So, how do we situate our being,  and our consciousness in a world, especially today’s world, where the dominant response to any event is instinctively informed by hatred (Bibhatsya), jealousy, fear (Bhayanka), and anger (Raudra)? Without descending into nihilism, the question that bothers this reader is: What about the rest of the emotions in the Navarasas, which are perhaps more benign and welcoming – Shringara (love/beauty), Hasya (humour/joy), Karuna (compassion), Veera (courage/valour), Adbhuta (wonder/fascination), and Shanta (peace/tranquillity/contentment)?

LIGHTS, CAMERA… EMOTION!

(From Left) Namita Gokhale, Sanjoy Roy, Ravish Kumar, Romila Thapar and Siddhartha Basu are among the personalities featured in this montage. (Courtesy Seagull Books)
(From Left) Namita Gokhale, Sanjoy Roy, Ravish Kumar, Romila Thapar and Siddhartha Basu are among the personalities featured in this montage. (Courtesy Seagull Books)

Of the Book and Other Stories, a documentary on Seagull Books, directed by Pushan Kripalani presents a world view we desperately need to adopt in today’s times. As they complete 40 glorious years in the publishing world, this documentary pays homage to an institution that stands for something beyond the business of book production. The director is not documenting for the sake of it, he is actually invested in organising, arranging, and showcasing the remembrances of the past. He is playing the role of a memory keeper. And, the intent is entirely driven by the spirit of simplicity – of thought and emotion. It serves as a masterclass on sustaining human relationships in a post-truth world and puts the spotlight on the emotions that are slipping away from our grasp. Vulnerabilities and subjectivities are given their due.

AUDIO OVER VISUAL

Interspersed with immersive conversations exchanged between Kripalani and the people who have been impacted by Seagull and its workings, this film is an exercise in catharsis. It can be heard more than be seen. Its soundscape is remarkable. The musicality of silences, the pauses, sips of coffee, tapping fingers, measured giggles or roars of laughter, and occasional sighs lend density to the visual storytelling. Even if you close your eyes and concentrate on the entries and exits of the many different voices, the story that unravels from various fragments is a single entity. The stories have been deftly interwoven in a way that if Person A is recalling a particular incident, Person B’s inputs and perspectives on the same incident (shot in a different space, location, and time) are seamlessly intertwined to make one united narrative. The film’s editor, Pradip Patil, has beautifully bypassed the constraints of geography and time.

THE ACTORS

The community of editors, authors, artists, activists, historians, journalists, poets, booksellers and academics featured in this beautiful montage essentially drives home one simple point, ie, the human condition evokes similar emotions across borders and languages. Experiences can be diverse but emotions are universal. Consciously or unconsciously, Of the Book and Other Stories functions as a reminder for us to embrace empathy and kindness by recognising the strength in social connections. Of course, the lure of money and financial stability cannot be ignored because survival and sustenance cannot depend solely on goodwill gestures. However, finance is not the only fuel needed to keep the machine well-oiled and running. Social capital, which rests on the shared values of trust, faith, confidence, loyalty, cannot be dismissed as a lesser resource.

Sunandini Banerjee, Senior Editor, Graphic Designer, Seagull Books (Courtesy Seagull Books)
Sunandini Banerjee, Senior Editor, Graphic Designer, Seagull Books (Courtesy Seagull Books)

In one of the film’s segments, while discussing translations and the philosophy of accepting, acknowledging, and appreciating varied literatures emerging from all parts of the world, Sunandini Banerjee, Senior Editor, Graphic Designer, Seagull Books, points out the futility of “perpetuating and creating a caste system of languages”. It is true that this spirit of segregation that upholds unnecessary gradations and hierarchical equations can be done away with. But difference does not automatically translate to discrimination. It means quite the opposite. Instead, it gives us the opportunity to practise tolerance, coexistence, and harmony. That is the only way to be human.

SEAGULL SIGHTING

Naveen Kishore, publisher, Seagull Books (Courtesy Seagull Books)
Naveen Kishore, publisher, Seagull Books (Courtesy Seagull Books)

While watching this visual narrative unfold, I was struck by the symbolism around the seagull. In the film, though Naveen Kishore, the publisher, shares the story behind the birth of Seagull Books and how the name came into being, my discovery of the historical and cultural significance of the plain-looking white-and-grey seagull led to another kind of revelation. I was amazed at how the symbolic meanings and interpretations around this rather unassuming bird miraculously complemented the sensibility with which Seagull, the publishing firm, operates and thrives away from rhetoric and sensationalism. A harbinger of everything fortuitous, the seagull signifies persistence, freedom, positivity, loyalty, intelligence, and resourcefulness. There is more. Interestingly, a flock of seagulls represents togetherness, decisive action, flexibility, and the ability to coexist and adapt fiercely and fearlessly. A seagull sighting means, happy news awaits!

HOME, NOT A WAREHOUSE

Journalist Ravish Kumar (Courtesy Seagull Books)
Journalist Ravish Kumar (Courtesy Seagull Books)

As journalist and author Ravish Kumar sums it up perfectly, Seagull is not a warehouse where books are stored and shipped; it is a home where books live and are nurtured. This 110-minute audio-visual journey promises to engage the viewer, pulling them out of the world of speed and leading them into a healing haven, where they can listen to their own heartbeat. The Seagull family is, in a sense, a team of alchemists blessed with healing powers. They guide us to a door behind which lies paradise – a hidden spa for the troubled mind, tired body, and distressed soul.

The inaugural screening of the documentary was held at the Bangalore International Centre (BIC) on 7 July 2023. The subsequent screenings are scheduled to take place in Delhi, Mumbai, Cuttack, and Bhubaneswar. Later in the year, the documentary will travel to Seattle and Texas.

The curtain raiser can be watched on YouTube.

Credits: Of the Book and Other Stories Director and Cinematographer: Pushan KripalaniProducer(s): Kirti Chopra, Pushan KripalaniEditor: Pradip PatilOriginal music: Kenneth Basumatari

Ipshita Mitra is an independent writer and researcher based in Delhi.

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