THE BOOK IN A CONCH SHELL
It is said that when you talk, you say what you already know. But when you listen, you may let in something you don’t know. Which is probably the reason why this Book of many Books is subtitled Conversations.
To most people like me, the Kumbh Mela is simply one of the largest gatherings of humanity where nobody is invited. But everyone lands up at the appointed time when the stars and the planets align themselves. What draws them here remains an enigma. It’s for people like me who are interested in knowing more about this mysterious meeting of minds that happens only once in many years that this Book of many Books is put together.
The beauty of this Book is that it is not written. So you are not seeing it from the writer’s viewfinder. It’s an anthology of words, voices and visuals documented diligently and honestly by the observer as he or she travels in a pathless land. That is why it is so beautifully titled Being in it and being of it. Because in the same breath you get the experience of the Insider as well as the Outsider. Leaving the reader to partake of the conversations without any superimposed bias.
To record the enormity of this massive event spread over two months covering a vast area which forms the flood plains of the Ganga as it flows through the city of Allahabad, where thousands of participants are constantly milling about, you needed one head and a thousand hands. And the team at Anugraha had precisely that. They captured the spirit of this Celebration of Life with a commonality of purpose, with each of the thousand hands knowing exactly what the other hand was doing.
The structure of this voluminous project is akin to the classification of a huge library. Firstly, you are lead to the eight volumes that add up to over 55,000 words. Each of them answering a specific question like: Why visit the Kumbh Mela? How did it all begin? What is the Sangam? What is the essence of the Kumbh? What does one do at the Kumbh? etc.
Within each book, there are headings like Place, Time, Astronomy etc. that throw light on the very context of the Kumbh. Then there are sections like Poetry, Insights, Reflections, Interviews, Photo Stories, Character Stories and a very subjective sub-section that is titled Diary Notes which are personal notations of the observer.
The way the Books have been structured is a marvelous design in itself. Apart from the meticulous art direction, layout, photography, typography and the internal design itself, the execution shows finely honed aesthetic sense and sensibility.
The special display font that has been created for this Book is symbolic of all that is there in the Book. It is reminiscent of a tapestry formed by the interweaving of the warp and the weft. Of Being in It and Being of It.
Gangadharan Menon gave up advertising after 28 years to take up his first and second love: teaching and travel. He has been teaching at Rachana Sansad College of Applied Art and doing travel photography and travel writing for the last seven years. Many of his writings have appeared in The Hindu, The Times of India, DNA, Hindustan Times, Mid-day and thebetterindia.com. His first book titled Evergreen Leaves has just been published by Partridge, a joint venture between Penguin and Random House.
A SMALL NOTE FOR A BIG PROJECT
To consider design as an occupation of the present does not do it justice. It is at the very least—a document of existence—mapping the past, present and a possible future. In this manner of thinking, Being in it and Being of it is an artefact that bridges a story across time, of one of the largest living congregations in human history.
India is many countries, times and people at once. The intersections and overlaps present a fascinating view of the ever-changing kaleidoscope to residents and visitors alike. However isolated narratives that put blinders on, to segregate a layer of culture, create products of narrow vision. The Kumbh Mela and its popular depictions are an interesting example of this, wherein repeated, exotic and polarised telling of its continued presence has only sought to drive apart those who have faith in it, and those who do not. Being in it and Being of it is a bridge, deconstructing the event into layers that are free from polarisation. These layers are seen through vantage points, not in disparate parts, but with an almost invisible strand of inquiry binding them. It is query of epic proportions through a language both visual and textual, and is inclusive and open. The timing for a query such as this is opportune, as the many India-s struggle and clash in pursuit of their beliefs.
In the manner that Being in it and Being of it is constructed, it might as well be a museum in print. The fascinating thing for me about museums, is their ability to let you wander and build meaning. As a reader, Being in it and Being of it does not let you be a passive receiver. It encourages you to wander and participate in order to build ‘your’ sense of the Kumbh. It invites you to ask questions, and revisit meanings. While editorial design is often concerned with the delivery of content, Being in it and Being of it embraces content as a complete experience. From intention to inquiry and from distillation to execution, a new wave of the designer as the orchestrator, results in a fascinating engagement in print. The making of the artefact, is the making of meaning. What a wonderful idea to celebrate and imbibe in the practice of design.
Mohor Ray is a designer and co-founder of brand & communication design practice Codesign. Alongside professional practice, she edited an anthology of design in India called Dekho, and has cofounded Rising to explore visual communication for social impact. She makes sense of the world with design, and writes occasionally about her discoveries in the process.