A new home for Kolkata’s Seagull Books

The address might be new, but the objects on the walls have stories that go back years

Updated - July 23, 2018 04:00 pm IST

Published - July 21, 2018 04:01 pm IST

The new Seagull Books space.

The new Seagull Books space.

Bursts of colour greet you as you walk into Seagull Books’ new bookstore and office on Shyama Prasad Mukherjee Road in Kolkata. Eclectic art pieces on the walls washed with bold colours fill visitors with an urge to immerse themselves in art, in books.

The address might be new, but the objects on the walls have stories that go back years. Seagull Books, which turned 36 this June, has had three homes since its inception in 1982. Its founder, Naveen Kishore, tells the tale.

Homeward bound

Kishore says he makes it a point to explore the rooms of the store every day. While his offices upstairs call him to resume his duty, he gives in to the pull of books once in a while. Seated amidst them, he talks of spaces of the mind, spaces long gone and those still present. However, there is no poetic reason behind Seagull’s move. “Frankly, the lease was up, and we aren’t ones to overstay our welcome,” says Kishore.

The hunt for a new home was a collaborative affair, with even the students of Seagull’s School of Publishing pitching in through social media to spread the word. A few of the students’ parents offered spaces. But nothing seemed to click.

It was on the advice of Megha Malhotra, who runs their Peace Works programme, that Kishore and his team decided to move to this new address. “We did it in 10 days — we carried all the ceramics and artworks ourselves,” Kishore tells me. The shift was made using a characteristically Kolkata contraption: the thela on wheels or the flat cycle rickshaw used by all.

Over the years, books published by Seagull have come to be identified with their beautiful covers. The person responsible for these is Senior Editor and Senior Graphic Designer Sunandini Banerjee. Not surprisingly, Banerjee was the brain behind the designing of the new space as well.

“These rooms are reflective of who we are — we like all forms of art, be it high, ‘low’, kitsch or graphic,” she says. Most of the eye-catching artworks have been picked up during their travels — this gives the workplace a feel of home for the employees. She says that the space “is very much like the inside of our heads. We never get bored, and so we never really want to go home.”

The idea of a mental space resonates with Kishore. Initially a lighting designer and theatre practitioner, Kishore started Seagull from a small three-room flat in Circus Avenue, which had chattais instead of furniture because the cost of furniture would have exceeded their budget at that point of time. “A friend gifted me a beautiful table-top for which I made legs to suit, and from there we slowly grew.”

That gut feeling

Accounts tables would become impromptu lunch tables when his family sent over home-cooked fare for the team. Shyam Benegal, Mrinal Sen, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Mahasweta Devi were some of the notable friends of Seagull in those days when “everything was freer, less insecure and paranoid,” as Kishore says.

“That place is now haunted by all their wonderful ghosts: but it also remains in the head, to be summoned whenever we want to. Maybe it is our personalities, but we’ve never been the kind to look back with sadness on the past,” he adds.

Seagull and its space cater to art from the heart: here works are selected on the basis of that “gut feel”. Sometimes they have incurred losses, sometimes their books have met with astronomical success, such as when they had Nobel Prize winner Mo Yan on their author list. “We don’t like to sit around thinking coldly, in tranquillity, over the work. It’s all about the gut,” smiles Kishore.

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