(Magazine Compilation – Fiction/Non-Fiction – 695 INR)
There are books that are read best sitting by tabletops, and there are books that are best kept to a long flight. But then there are some that can be taken to bed. Well, literally. “The Best of Quest” is one such. When the multi-coloured, paper-back-ish cover is flipped, what lies beyond is a copter ride to a bygone era. Put together in its present form by people closely associated with ‘Quest’ over the decades, this is a compilation of some of the starkest works featured in this erstwhile (1954-1970s) magazine.
The book kick starts with essays, dealing with all and sundry. For the reader who liked (newspaper) compilations on similar lines (Single in the City, Delhi Toh Pagal Hai), The Best of Quest can be demanding but rewarding. Though the whiff of affairs is more serious – keeping in mind the air of new-found democracy and err, ignited minds at the time – there are invaluable gems lurking in the long pieces of political, economic and social opinion. Many of these are credited to one elusive “D” (later introduced to us as Dilip Chitre, a had-been editor of Quest). Sample his “From Sex to Samadhi”, which questions tongue-in-cheek the spiritual side of the act of copulation or the sarcastic “What has Dimple got that Satyajit hasn’t?” which discusses, without fear of a Censor Board, how Bobby’s undercurrents of eroticism can easily put to dust some of Ray’s quasi-literary concepts. Well, well. There are many more delights out there, contributed by some surprising names (Khushwant Singh anyone?), and some very relevant arguments at contention.
Moving onto the poetry and fiction section does not take away anything from the riveting beauty of the forty-five odd essays. For here too, the themes are diverse, the writing styles intriguing. While “The Departure” (Yashwant Chittal) takes you through the preparations of a seemingly routine, early morning departure, it takes a while after the tale is done, to recover from the proceedings. There are more tales that add to the flavour – that feeling of belonging to an age that can now only be read about – and these tantalize. “Kalyani” (Kamala Das) and “Aunt Matilda is Ninety Years Old” (Neela D Souza) for instance, talk about issues that are discussed over high tea even in today’s society circles: an inter-religion marriage, a woman who weaves her life around her husband/demi-God. All that jazz and so convincing that you nod when a windowed old woman says “The Moon Had to be Mended” (Kiran Nagarkar).
Ah, the poetry. This part has handpicked verses from the most illustrious of Quest’s contributors. The founder man himself – Nissim Ezekiel (on whom is featured a collection of genuinely nostalgic in-memoriam notes, right at the beginning of the book) – delights with his take on “the rarer birds”, to observe which, says he, one needs to tread deserted lanes. The verses flow free, so to say, but keep themselves restricted to familiar terrain: maidens, love and longing. This is not an immensely alluring section per se, especially if chosen as a last course, but makes for some good reading nonetheless.
The Best of Quest experience, in its entirety, lives up to its name. It manages to satisfy the mental need to mull over some err, clandestine home truths – a need that many individuals (and Indians) can today relate to – and also raises several thoughts to proceed in the quest for. If prepared to invest some time and energy in reading this rather thick treasury of ideas, a reader can be a complete school of thought richer. Thumbs up!