March 31, 2020
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My Book of the Century

My Book of the Century
MY book of the century was the one that fell into the swimming pool of Mumbai's Willingdon Club the other day. It disintegrated before it could be fished out. It was the only copy in existence. Written in Old Persian in Shiraz in 1901, it was a substantial book of verse which focused on the struggle between 17th century Zoroastrians and their kitchen appliances. The kitchen appliances won, the Zoroastrian empire collapsed.

If that sounds fantastic, it's only as fantastic as the presumption that there can be such a thing as a book of the century or even my book of the century. Books speak different languages at different times. What the Wasteland said to me once, it doesn't say now. What speaks to me now is The Family of Man. It's the book of the photographic show of 1955 that toured the world and which empowered black-and-white photography and the written word as no other show has since. Images which sear, images which exalt: Cas Oorthuy's photograph of a hungry woman biting into a crust of bread; Ansel

Adams' landscape which is like a shot of paradise announcing itself to a stretch of dead stones below it; Jerry Cooke's picture of mental depression, a woman on a bench, her knees drawn up to her face, highlighted against a wall, which looms over her as darkly as her mind...beneath the photograph is a line by Lui Chi: "I am alone with the beating of my heart." Opening the section on street demonstrations and protests are lines from the Gita: "The wind is restless, turbulent, strong and difficult to subdue as the wind." I'd say that about the book too.

(Adil Jussawala is a well-known poet and critic.)

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