Over the past 2 years I have had the pleasure of early & sneak previews of a remarkable editorial design & publishing effort by Anugraha, through my conversations with friend & peer Deshna Mehta. Being in it and being of it is a contemporary visual handbook, documenting experiences and conversations from one of the largest faith gatherings on earth, the Kumbh Mela of Allahabad in 2013. The short note below is my reading of this mammoth telling, published as part of the introduction to the set of 8 books that make up the Kumbh story.
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 & 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 & 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 & 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 & 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 & 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.