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  • Shivani Pathak

The making of 'People Called Shillong'

The journey of ‘People Called Shillong’ began in August, 2016 when Nishiggandha Kerure, a young graduate at IIM Shillong brought in the curatorial proposal of the book, thereby introducing us to the city and kick-starting the process of our third book in the series. Three months later in November, we decided to hold a ‘writers conclave’ in Shillong with 10 writers who were selected through an open ‘call for applications’. Throughout the five days of the conclave, the writers- five writers from different parts of India and five native to Shillong, explored the city- meeting people, talking to them, unearthing interesting experiences that opened portals to the varied, rich stories that people have. We also met a few experts- Mr. Sanjeeb Kakoty- Professor at IIM – Shillong, Shweta Raj Kanwar from The NorthEast Today and Father Manoj- a curator at the Don Bosco Museum. All of them gave us insights into the history of the city, the culture, the traditions, their views, their opinions and their stories.

We also conducted a few short writing workshops at IIM- Shillong and Lady Keane College to get in touch with more writers and I must say, we did discover some amazing writers who gave us some really interesting stories. At the end of our week in Shillong, we knew the conclave had paid off since we had 30-40 stories that we knew were surely going to be a part of the book along with some beautiful memories and a new found love for this city in the Khasi hills.

A few months later, (Because we came back and got busy with our book launch of People Called Ahmedabad) began the second phase - the pre-production of the book, where, after the stories were mailed to us by the writers, the first round of editing and curation began. We received around 78 stories till February. Of these, 50 stories had to be carefully selected making sure they covered the spectrum of storytelling about Shillong. We consciously encourage many writers to be a part of the book; it gets various perspectives, styles, plurality and so on to this anthology. However it also gets on the table inconsistencies and format differences that will hinder the reading experience. Thus many stories, from these 50, have to undego the knife of our first edit, where these issues are ironed out trying to stay to true to the writers style and intent. We thank our writers for being such a great sport and allowing us to play with their text often. Of course there are arguments and differences, but then somehow peace is achieved!!

After the writers review the first edit, the next task is to obtain consent form the interviewees. After all it is their story that will soon be a part of the public domain. Over the last three books we have seen how often many interviewees do not envision their chat with the writer to take this form of text and what follows are compliments for the writers, the true heroes of this kind of a project, and excitement to see the final form of the book. But that’s the rosy bit. Often there are also factual cross checking, difference in perception and sometimes blatant different views on the story. Of course all those facts and the corrections get incorporated, but sometimes we have to let go of some beautiful stories because of the clash between the writer’s vision and that of the interviewee.

Once these two rounds of reviews are done, begins the final editing and the proof reading, along with the creation of a glossary. This is the third book we are associating with the amazing AuthorsUPfront team. Our mentors and editors- Manish Purohit and Jyotirmoy Chaudhuri!! We thank our stars that we met them in 2014. They make the process of bookmaking a cakewalk.

Once the first edit was complete, the stories were sent back to the authors for improvisations. After the authors improvised their respective stories, the second round of edit was done and the stories were sent to the protagonists of the story who added their own revisions. Once the stories were back to the studio, another round of editing was done post which the stories are now sent for typesetting and creation of a manuscript is underway.

The editing process is quite an overwhelming and exhausting process; reading the stories thoroughly, multiple times and by not one but two to three people so that the stories can be eyed through different perspectives.

Nowadays at the studio, you will find the interns- Me (Shivani Pathak), Yogini Diwan and the Founder Nisha Nair Gupta neck deep in the compilation, cataloguing, proofreading, talking to the writers, getting their details, consents of their protagonists; once more proofing after the third round of edit. If you ever hack into our mails, then you will find the to and fro emails between the studio and the editors, with the various versions of the stories, numerous sets, queries, solutions and not a single email without an attached file! So don’t dream of leaking our book PDFs!

As interns and observers of this exhaustive process of pre-production, the important thing we learn is to employ a critical eye! While reading, not to get absorbed in the story but objectively analyse the stories.

Every story that we read was unique and beautiful in its own way and it was hard to not flow with the emotion attached to every single story. Yet, it’s done and the book is in its final stages and will be out soon for all of you to read!! 15 authors have contributed to the book – Alethea Kynta, Shriti Das, Priyanka Shimpi, Nishiggandha Kerure, Auswyn Winter Japang , Sriram Natarajan, Shweta Raj Kanwar, Eudora Khonglah, Mayborn Lyngdoh, Arjun Chaki, Prem Sarit Acharya, Vancouver Shullai, Rajiv Laloo, Jagriti Jhunjhunwala and Suchita Mundhra. You can meet them in another post!

People Called Shillong- another city, another book and new narratives weaved together, representing the spirit of The NorthEast is coming to you soon and we cannot wait for it to reach you all. So stay tuned and keep reading the space for more updates!!

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