Though an avid reader and someone who love books, I wouldn’t put my money into something that isn’t entirely worth it’s salt.
But, The Best Book of Quest steals the show and possibly no price tag can be put on a book as special as this because it is priceless — in the literal sense.
This book is a treasure trove of a bygone era and it wouldn’t be wrong to say that a book like this might never be written again.
This book is not just one story/poem or a series of them, but it is like revisiting the magical period which was gifted with some incredible writers and poets when independent thoughts reigned above everything.
For starters, there was a magazine called Quest which appeared in 1954, with the highly gifted Indian poet, playwright, art critic and editor, Nissim Ezeleil (there is a section dedicated to him at the beginning of the book by people closely associated to him) at the helm of its affairs.
The magazine went on for a good 20 years until its collapse, thanks to the Indian Emergency.
It compiles history by people closely associated with the Quest for decades.
The beauty of this book can be best summed up in the introductory note (foreword) by Bangalorebased writer Achal Prabhala, who also edited this book and said during the recent book reading at the British Council, “The issue I picked up was Quest 65 reading from April 1970, and the essay I encountered was The Coffee-brown Boy Looks at the Black Boy by JS Saxena.
The planets were aligned.
I was hooked.
Here was a man writing four decades ago about Browns and Blacks, jazz and World War II, smoky bars in Lucknow and James Baldwin in Paris-in such verve that I was afraid to go on.
After the first sentence, I wanted to hug him; by the end of essay, I wanted to be him.” The book welcomes you with some serious political, economic and social opinion pieces which can be demanding, but at the same time extremely rewarding.
Of course, the book has its share of funny essays oozing with satire.
For example, in the essay titled Charisma of Rajesh Khanna by the mysterious writer who addresses himself as ‘D’ (who is later introduced as Dilip Chitre, a former editor of Quest), he writes, “His worst role was the one in Haathi Mere Saathi in which he plays a sort of elephant-boy and in which one of the three corners of the conventional love triangle is occupied, of all the animals, by elephants.” There is bold writing in the form of Marriage and Morals: Updating the Pavitra Prostitute where the thoughts of the writer might be considered a taboo even today! There is From Sex to Samadhi which humorously questions the spiritual side of the act of intercourse.
Though the forty-five odd essays fills your appetite, it leaves you wanting for more.
The poetry section is equally riveting and diverse, if not less with the collection of 17 handpicked verses, by some of the magazine’s most glorified contributors.
The fiction section starts with The Departure by Yashwant Chittal which blows you away with its simplicity and makes your thoughts wander in a irregular pace where the writer talks about a seemingly routine chore like ‘shaving’ before an early morning departure.
This book will not only let you peep into the minds and hearts of the intellectuals and boldface names of those times, but will also let you ruminate about their thoughts.
So, I can safely say that if you have not read this book, you have missed a lot.
It’s like one of the speakers who said on the day of the book reading, “Quest has been resurrected after so many years of oblivion.” True that.
The book reading was held recently by Toto Funds at the British Council Library in the presence of some eminent personalities including the editors of the book.