Someone I hadn’t ever really talked to in my school had once been paired up with me for some school project. The details of this are unclear to me now, but what stuck to me from that incident like the scaly skin of a crocodile, was the fact that I discovered that the person in question was an excellent conversationalist. In fact I was so surprised at the common grounds of interests we shared that my raised eyebrows and my stumped expression somewhat blindsided the person. Towards the end of a particularly nice conversation, the person told me to pick up a book called ‘The Name of Rose’ by Umberto Eco, because he was convinced that the book would suit my taste.
So started a year long search for the book. Maybe it had to something to do with the book never being in stock with the bookstores or just my general bad luck, but whenever I would swing the glass doors of a hallowed bookstore, take the refreshing first whiff of the smell of still unread books, and then inquire about ‘The Name of Rose’, I would be disappointed. So I would stuff my hands in my pockets, look down in disappointment, shrug my shoulders and leave. Each time I left my house, regardless of the kind of work at hand, if I passed a bookstore, it then became my duty to inquire about the book. I was always disappointed, but after a while the disappointment stopped getting to me, and this became a kind of ritual.
My friends started teasing me about it, my parents ever exasperated, rolled their eyes whenever I insisted upon going into a bookstore to inquire about the book. Some can say I was obsessed, like the artist chasing after his muse; I was left out of breath at my new found ritual. Each time I entered a bookstore; I would rush to an attendant and ask about the book, and after his customary shake of head, I would insist upon rummaging through the books, letting my hands slide upon the shiny covers of these books, and stand quietly as if trying to listen to these unread books call out to me. In this search, I would stumble upon other books left unread; books that had long been added to my imaginary booklist, and then henceforth been forgotten. These books I would buy, promising myself that the next time I would be able to find ‘The name of Rose’. Through this search I visited each and every bookstore in Delhi, rushing through the corridors of books like a maddened bookworm and then settling for the other books that caught my eye in the process.
One day as I was walking in GK with a couple of shopaholic friends, I saw a Teksons Bookstore, tucked away neatly in the corner of the bustling market. I had been to this bookstore a lot of times and this time too, I left my friends stumped at the street, shaking their heads at my madness, and entered the beautiful tiny shop, tearing at the seams with books. I looked at the attendant expectantly, while simultaneously browsing through the new arrivals at the shop. This time the attendant looked back at me and gave a slight nod at my customary question. He disappeared for a while leaving me rooted at my spot in shock and then came back with the red book in his hand. The search was over; I had finally found ‘The Name of Rose’. I held the book in my hands and flipped through the pages. When the attendant turned his back, I slowly placed the book on the shelf and walked out.
When I look back I realize that the search had been so invigorating and enriching that I had never expected for it to end. When in fact the search did end, and the purpose of the search i.e. the book itself was found, instead of whooping in the air, I had been disappointed. I guess life is just so. It’s a journey that is just so enriching and beautiful that we never want it to end. The search had become a ritual that had settled within the crevices of my life and I could not have it overturned. Finding the book meant an end to an era of search. That brings me to think that we are all in search of a lot of things. Love, companionship, success, money, power etc. The search is unending, not because these things are particularly difficult to find. The search is unending because this quest is life itself, and an end to this quest is the true death of a person. I find a particularly romantic quality of life itself, in this quest of ours. We would search all our lives for things that seem to matter, forgetting just how beautiful the search is. The search itself gives us everything that we are looking for, so this quest would never end. There is nothing sad about that, only poetic.
I think people should fear not having any quest in their lives, more than fearing death itself. Because while death can bring an end to life, a person without a quest can bring an end to living.