My earliest companions.
I still remember the stories of pigeons and farmers in my textbooks. I still remember the eccentric Kutchu and his family. Those books breathed life into these characters and made me fall in love with them.
I still remember the adventure and fantasy that Enid Blyton’s books treated my young mind to. My brother’s friends would lend me fat comics of Laurel and Hardy, Richie Rich, Archies, Phantom, and many other characters that no longer exist.
I loved long journeys because dad would buy me books. I often had trouble disconnecting from a book. Once I started reading a book, it was important for me to read it at a stretch. I would read books late into the night and have trouble waking up the next day. I would sometimes hide books between the pages of my textbook and read.
To me, books were people. Each, with its own personality and its own story.
While the taste for books changed as time went by and the experience of life percolated into me, my deepest attachment has always been to children’s books. Perhaps because they connect me to the child within- the child that I haven’t lost to the ways of the world.
Despite this deep engagement with books, I never really thought about what it took for that book to find its way out into the world. Not once did I think about that journey- from an abstract thought in a writer’s mind to a visible form. The appeal of the cover, the appeal of the author, the binding of the book, the texture, the layout and organization of the content, the fonts, the pictures, the captions, and a million other things that made me pick a book, were somehow taken for granted.
It is only today as I publish my first book that I awaken to this realization-
The realization that a good book is as much the outcome of its content (that forms the soul of the book) as its aesthetic appeal and its literary quality.
When I finished writing my book, I was overjoyed and excited. For years, I have been talking about cinema in the context of mental health. It was first an overwhelming perception, and then an abstract thought. It would seep into my conversations with people. It would seep into my thoughts when I tried to analyze human behaviour in the context of the diversity of circumstances that encompasses human life. Probably, the first time it took some form was when I wrote for a blog on ‘Cinema and mental illness’. The final trigger was the seminar I attended on Film Studies. It took me three months to write the book. I wrote randomly, as and when I found the time.
Once the raw manuscript was ready, I stepped into publishing. Publishing has left me more battered than has the writing. The initial part was enjoyable, because I had to write the blurb, synopsis and defend this book in terms of what made it unique. Writing these made me think critically about my book from different perspectives and increased my clarity with respect to why I had written this book, who my target audience would be, and what message I was trying to bring out through this book.
Publishing, I had hoped, would be a literary experience. But it was far from it. One expects publishing to be a process wherein the manuscript is revised from a literary and aesthetic point of view to make the final outcome worthwhile. But instead, the manuscript steadily moved through book design apps, publishing guidelines and regulations-
A mechanical process that seemed to have abolished human creativity, common sense and intellect.
In fact, there were segments where the aesthetic appeal was so poor that it almost appeared as if they were accidents. The process of revision exhausted me. The words of the manuscript now play even in my sleep for I have read these words innumerable times in the course of these revisions. The only wisdom I have acquired is in terms of what I must not do the next time I publish a book.
And that brings me back to the question of what brings out a really good book. I think one must submit one’s manuscript to a publisher who has a real love for books-
Someone who recognizes the fact that a book is a work of art and not a commercial venture…
Someone who recognizes the fact that market-driven aesthetics have very little to do with the true aesthetic appeal of a book.
So is the case with editing. One must get one’s manuscript edited by someone who has a love for language, and is unwilling to compromise on the literary standards.
As the taste of this publishing experience lingered in my mouth, I was tempted to have a look at the books that I have collected over time. For the first time, I looked at their cover, their interiors, and many other aspects that I had always overlooked. And for the first time today, I see the journey that these books have taken to be here on my shelf!