The Best of Quest: A Book Review
Edited by: Laeeq Futehally, Achal Prabhala, Arshia Sattar
MRP: Rs 695
Before I read, or even saw the book, I stumbled upon this article published in Live Mint and needless to say, I was intrigued. The last lines of the article, by one of the editors Arshia Sattar, especially appealed to me in a mysterious way. They were -
“Today, we might be critical about the fact that Quest spoke only for some people, and essentially to a westernized middle class with intellectual aspirations. But we have to acknowledge that different things come to us from a different time, that they can tell us how our time became our time”
This glossy, colorful and rather fat book took me to a bygone era, one where I had not ventured at all. I’ll explain. Quest was a magazine that was born in Mumbai in the 1950s, and ran successfully for two decades before it bowed down to the Emergency period and collapsed. With poet and critic Nissim Ezekiel as editor, Quest was the intellectual rite of passage for many of the big names that we see today in newspapers, magazines, academic journals an even TV. The Best of Quest is a collection of some of the best essays, stories and poetry that once adorned the pages of the magazine.
The essays are the real essence of Quest – long, diverse (subject wise) and strongly opinionated, they offer a perspective that can still surprise us. I especially loved the pieces by the elusive “D” – identified as Dilip Chitre. ‘Charisma of Rajesh Khanna’, ‘From Sex to Samadhi’ and ‘What Has Dimple Got That Satyajit Hasn’t?’ are hilarious and you automatically fall in love with the writer’s sharp wit and outright irreverence. Essays like ‘Sadhus and Hippies’, ‘The Coffee Brown Boy Looks At The Black Boy’ and 'In Defence of Pulp Literature’ could be easily talking about situations in today's India – with the topics being, well, topical even today. Some, though, I had to push myself to finish (or even start) – but that is not because of the quality or content, but because the context doesn’t resonate with me, a reader in her twenties. Maybe a note before the essays, an introduction to the pieces would have helped. However, my mother (whose parents read the original magazine and who also is the proud owner of two original Quest issues stacked in her safely locked tall teakwood book shelf somewhere), claims to have read and loved each and every essay in the collection, so there.
I read ‘Kalyani’ (Kamala Das, translated by R.Nandakumar) and I shuddered. I read ‘Gherao’ (Arun Joshi) and I wept. This is the effect of some of the stories in the collection. This section is carefully crafted, featuring some writers that are prominent now and some translations as well. ‘The Departure’ by Yashwant Chittal (translated by Dilip Chitre) and ‘Sword and Abyss’ by Keki N. Daruwalla are worth reading again.
Now this is the section I loved. I love poetry and I have proved it time and again by posting my own versions of it on this blog every now and then. I now wonder - what if I had a chance to show my pieces to Nissim for his comments – I can almost picture myself walking to him at the Bombay University, holding sheets of paper and nodding anxiously at anything he had to say. Why don’t we have people like that now? Whom do I go to and show my work for an expert view? So unfair.
Anyway, all the poems in the book are a delight to read. From Adil Jussawala (I offered her cracked rock, / Thistles, wildthorn, grit, / A desert without shade / And called it love.) to Santan Ridrigues (Greasy seas you float in / have changed/ their song, / its waves the colour / of their foam) – each and every poem touched a chord somehow. Every poem takes on a different theme, every poet – a different style, making it an enchanting collection. My suggestion - Keep this book on your bedside table for its poems and read a random piece before you go to bed.
Also, what shines throughout the book is a rich collection of yesteryear print ads from the pages of the original Quest. I am going to get a couple of them framed for sure! For a girl in digital advertising in the 2000s, the image of a saree clad lady, posing on the floor against a table fan (or floor fan, who knows?) with the copy – “You’re cooler with a Rallifan” is adorable. Some of these darling advertisements are about brands that I haven’t even heard of – Sungloss decorative surfacing, Black Magic permanent hair dye and (the winner!) Erasmic razor blade.
In my opinion, though a bit verbose (essays) and with a couple of archaic topics, The Best of Quest will leave a reader like me happy, content and maybe even a tad evolved. All in all, the collection should make its editors proud of all the hard work because they have given today’s reader a gem from a time that seems enormously distant in some ways and extremely tantalizing in every way possible. If I had to sell this book in one line, I would tell you to read it because it “...tell(s) us how our time became our time”
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