The Best of Quest: Book Review

Self, writing

When you are reading a book and you are aware that you are reading a book then the book has failed you. That’s my logic of deciding whether or not those printed pages receive special heart space or not. Boring preface aside, excited doesn’t begin to describe how I felt when I laid my hands on this book. It’s no secret that I am a geek but a peek into history turns me into a super geek. To say the least, I LOVED it.

Now onto serious matters. The Best of Quest is an anthology of essays, fiction and poetry published in the quarterly magazine Quest which was in circulation in India during the 60s and 70s. Quest was an offspring of the Cultural Congress movement that took birth in Europe and the rest of the world post the cold war with many siblings in US, Africa and Europe. A Jewish Bombayite Nissim Ezekiel being at the helm with editorial responsibilities, the magazine gave the first opportunity to many well known Indian authors of today. With the emergency being declared, Mrs. Gandhi wanted control over what was being printed in the magazine and the stalwarts who wrote for it preferred going out of publication rather than accepting to lose their freedom to write. This tidbit about Quest’s history sets the tone of the book.

The book is an ice-cream sundae experience. It is the optimistic philosophy of a teenager along with the acerbic wittiness of a 30 year old just realizing the realities of life. And no wonder. The Indian democracy was barely in her twenties during the 60s. The entire world was going through a change (That particular decade holds endless fascination for me. From the ideologies to the movies and music and even fashion. If I have a time machine that’s the time I would choose to visit) and the future of a new country lay ahead.

And not every essay may be something you would be interested in. But considered as an entity its a treasure trove. Some of the memorable essays for me were those which dealt with contemporary issues of the time but are as relevant today as then. The dichotomy of Hindu life talks about how Hindus through their ancient history have developed antithetic personality traits like megalomania and insecurity at the same time. Throughout I found myself nodding at the accurately made observations. Use of personality assessment of some of the great political leaders to determine their impact on policies and politics is an immensely interesting read even though the name sounds boring. Comparing popular leaders like Nehru and FDR with the likes of Shastri and Nixon and describing their personalities against the political environment they created was unexpected. And yet educational. Not everything is heavy duty though. Dilip Chitre’s ‘D’ is a tongue-in-cheek brat who has lots to say on Bollywood movies. He discusses the charisma of one Rajesh Khanna and mass hysteria when it comes to good looking movie stars. D makes you laugh by saying things like ‘Dilip Kumar’s screen deaths brought no shock to the audience since he moved and spoke, from the start, as if he were his own pall bearer’. And he is equally nonchalant in discussing sex, equating it to ‘samadhi’. I can only imagine how my grand parents’ faces would have been had they read this at the time. That is the appeal of the writing. Even though written some 40 odd years ago, it’s still relevant and yet not. Plus the English is impeccable. And if you are a sucker for the language you will appreciate the perfect grammar, punctuation and use of words.

Apart from the essays, there is a poetry as well as fiction section. There are some gems there as well. And finally a very unique addition is that of retro looking product adverts of the time to give you the magazine feel.

All in all a five star read and highly recommended as long as you are open for some serious thinking.


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