December 13, 2011

The Best of Quest- a book review

Time and history are recorded not just in history text books, but also in its art. Literature and art have over and again frozen that slice of time for us to revisit it with every piece of fiction, a dance form from an era or music that haunted the days of yore. Somewhere in all these, one can read chapters of what-was and relive it for its course.

In this, magazines also play a very important role. Opinions, words and verses of contemporary writers and thinkers get recorded between the pages. Nissim Ezekiel’s Quest magazine, started out of Bombay in 1954. Meant to be “a quarterly of inquiry, criticism and ideas”, it went on for about two decades, publishing the thoughts and expressions of many of yesteryear’s greatest in the form of essays, fiction and poetry. Unfortunately, it had to be shut during the Emergency period and was never revived, until recently, when Arshia Sattar discovered the whole stock of the magazine, lying by her bedside.

When she discovered what a wealth of perspectives lie in the trunk, she knew she had to share it with the world. Thus was born, The best of Quest, published by Tranquebar and edited by Lafeq Futehally(who worked as the Literary Editor with the Quest for over twenty years), Achal Prabhala(a writer and researcher) and Arshia Sattar(who writes and teaches classical Indian literatures and narrative at various institutions across the country).

The book begins with a memoriam to Nissim Ezekiel- the man behind the magazine. This is followed by the essays and opinion sections. From politics to Indian writing, caste system to cinema, a plethora of topics have been examined in detail in this section. Interesting, thought-provoking and widening one’s perspective, the essays are authored by many major names such as Dilip Chitre and Mujibur Rehman.

The poetry section has Kamala Das, Nissim Ezekiel among others playing with words in verse. Once again, the topics are varied, quirky and eloquently dealt with in rhyme and blank verse. Anita Desai, Keki.N.Daruwala and many other fantastic writers are featured in this collection- their writings as refreshing as ever!

What is splendid about such collections is the fact that it holds a mirror to the society as it existed then. Through the essays, one gets a glimpse at the kind of opinions and systems that prevailed. Anthologies such as these, puts the reader on a retrospective mode. One after the other, they present the changing face of a nation and its outlook on various aspects of life and society.

Apart from the historical relevance of such anthologies, the literary relevance is of no less importance. The kind of writers that have been scooped under the umbrella of Quest is simply amazing. It shows how there was once a voice in India which in different timbres, expressed freely, in prose and poetry and went on to generate opinions, criticisms, statements, perspectives and shape the course of a literary awakening of sorts.

The best of Quest is a must-have for all literary buffs who want to trace the path of Indian literature, immediately after her Independence. It is also a thing of joy for all those who obsess over anthologies; this is a gathering that merits attendance! Most of all, this is for all those who simply would devour the written word- such a variety of food that hides between its covers that you just cannot possibly resist! 

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