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A Quest in Search of Memory, of Beauty
Date of Review: 
Feb.02.1998
Published Work: 
Reviewer: 
Amit Sen Gupta
Source: 
The Pioneer

It’s a common name in many Sikh families. Simran Kaur. Simran means, to remember. This book remembers her; idealistic, tempestuous, scholarly Simran hiding the hint of a hidden beauty, doing her Masters in Philosophy in Himachal University at Summerhill. in Shimla, obsessed with her thesis on the aesthetics of the human form.

But her thesis remained unfinished. Simran died young. While traveling in a bus from Rishikesh to Gurdaspur. Her body blown to bits by a bomb planted by Khalistani terrorists. But she struggles to live in her friend and lover’s memory, like an unspoken, hesitant dialogue, a solitary, invisible game. ‘It had been a favorite spot of ours. Sitting on that hillock, gazing across the vast space, watching the mist descend, I had a strange sensation. I felt her presence behind me, quite close. Yet, I was afraid to look. The game was that if you looked, she would disappear. I stayed there till it became dark.’

He too is obsessed with the aesthetics of the human form, his thesis also remaining unwritten while he is switching jobs, living in cheap rooms, almost always broke, always solitary, teaching philosophy of law at the Law Fac in DU, ad hoc for years in a department headed by a crude, cannibalistic Hindu fundamentalist. Orphaned as a child, he is also doing odd, writing-thinking jobs, drinking Old Monk and crashed out. He also works in support of human rights, for Tibetan students, for eunuchs.

One of his best friends is Kumari, who lives in a slum of eunuchs, who writes with a beautiful hand, who is sometimes a man, sometimes a woman. He and Kumari walk on the streets. They help each other. The world distrusts the couple though they are not even lovers. He is helping Kumari to organize the eunuchs into a union.

Then comes Diamond, the girl with the same hand-writing as Simran’s. She comes suddenly, and brings enlightenment, old wounds, and suspense in his life. She too is working on the aesthetics of the human form. Delhi’s streets and cafes emerge like accidental, ancient friendships. The tortured quest of Diamond and the ad hoc philosopher in the serene sadness of Shimla and Summerhill appear as a real, tormented landmark in the journey of life. No catharsis here. This is almost an incomplete book without drama or flourishing sentimentality. Incomplete, as the aesthetic quest of two young students in the search of memory, of fragrance, of beauty and body; also, of the body of the Idea.

This is no great first novel by a great Indo-Anglian writer, marketed by a great publishing house along with cocktails and drooling media reviews. The book has its flaws, its language lacks lucidity; it has its share of lousy grammar, bad adjectives, unhappy verbs and many typos. But this is an honest, deeply felt self-journey. It touches with its innocence, magnanimity and idealism; it leaves in its pages a slow wound, and the possibility of resurrection.

A novel on love, aesthetics and the search for truth