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November 30, 2011

Book Review---"The Best Of Quest"

In 1954, a magazine called 'Quest' appeared out of Bombay with Nissim Ezekiel at its helm---a quarterly of inquiry, criticism and ideas which Sir Nissim based on the following principles that everything about it had to have relevance to India..and that it was to be written by Indians for Indians-as in those days, anything foreign was glamourised including writers.

'Quest' stayed in circulation for a good two decades until Indira Gandhi’s emergency caused it to collapse.
Many renowned names that light up newspapers, magazines, academic journals and even television screens today, first made their mark with a piece in this magazine.
Decades lagter, three beautiful minds decided to compile poignant snippets from this magazine into a collection of varied genre so that our generation could have a glimpse of what once was (and still remains) a priceless piece of nostalgia and indian literature.

Book Title: The Best Of Quest.

Price: Rs 695/-

Publisher: Tranquebar Press

Editors: Laeeq Futehally, Achal Prabhala, Arshia Sattar.

'The Best of Quest' is a collection of some of the most striking essays, poems and stories to have appeared in the pages of the magazine.

The book is clearly classified into seven segments interspersed with ad's from yester years which bring around an air of nostalgia as the pages flip by (I have posted a few such ad pages in this review to render a whiff of that experience).

Now for a bit of individualized attention to each segment:
SEGMENT 1:The foreword by Achal Prabhala and Arshia Sattar
about how the journey started...the inspiration, the motivation and the rearrangement of space to confine memories and thoughts, views and opinions.

SEGMENT 2: In memoriam
which brings to light moments from the life of of Nissim Ezekiel, as fondly remembered and cherished by those who personally knew and interacted with him.
In his article 'someone like Nissim', Laeeq Futehally says "He wanted people to write not for money but because they had something to say that was worth saying."
Ever so often in life, all we need is one simple line to connect with a particular something or someone---one line which pulls at your heart strings...that one line you can relate to...that one line which melts the cold ice of indifference you feel for a stranger you hardly know about.
This was the line which managed to break down the wall between me--a random reader and a great writer as I delved more into the biographical pages of the book.

On reading further, i learnt that this man was not just a poet but a mentor and a source of inspiration to many a great writers.
Snippets of sepia tinted memories from Githa Hariharan, Raj Rao, Jane BHandari, Menka Shivdasani flood your heart with a sense of deep found respect for this man who was brutally honest and yet genuinely motivating in his own way.

His words to Menka Shivadasani "no matter what level you are at, you must always go a little higher" will stay with me forever---like precious pearls of advice from overheard conversation reaching you at a perfectly apt moment.
Here was someone whose poetry i used to read and admire, but never did i once contemplate on the kind of life he must have led.
Reading about him now from those who knew him closely gave me more insight into his life and greatness.
Yes, it was disheartening to read that Nissim was not in the state to read his biography when completed..but his memoirs definitely get a smile on your face..and he continues to live on forever---in his work.


SEGMENT 3: Essays And Opinions
'The Best Of Quest' has compiled some of the finest essays that have appeared in the magazine.
Articles ranging from Impact of religion on indias external affair to marriage morals to cinematography comparisns to pulp literature, it covers them all.

This segment deals with views on diverse topics and makes one ponder on the mental debate they evoke in the reader.
Though coming from a different era altogether, one is still compelled to relate it to current times as we all are aware that some issues are just pushed under the carpet and never resolved.

In the article 'Dichotomy in Hindu life and its Impact on external relations', Nirad. C. Chaudhary has clearly related this to the prevailence of opposing causes due to the pervasive dichotomy in hindu existence in our country which stand namely as;
solidarity ---> <--- br="" disunity="">megalomania ---> <---self abasement="" br="">Xenophobia ---> <---xenolatry br="">He has further explained beautifully and with valid examples how this holds true even in our modern day system.
Also pieces like 'the charisma of rajesh khanna' and 'what has dimple got that satyajit hasnt' take us down memory lane and discuss various changing trends of cinema and stardom.
Khushwant singh's in depth analysis on why delhi remains the eternal capital of India is also a must read. Written in his usual simplicity, this article manages to hold your interest in the mundane day to day details of a common life.

With a total of 45 articles in this segment, it becomes rather difficult to dissect each one based on its salient features and views.But all in all, this segment is abundant of well researched, wonderfully structured (to the minutest details) and carefully selected opinion of some of the best experts we could have in this area.

SEGMENT 4: Poetry---
Being a big fan of poetry, I was in total awe of this section albeit reading the works of such great poets did make me feel a little shallow for my clumsy attempts.But they did show me how much i had to improve.
Most of all, I liked Ezekiel's work...liked would perhaps be an understatement. I loved it to bits.
This book has compiled some of the finest pieces of poetry. It is an orchestra of beautiful minds. It is imaginative writing and reflective musings at their best.
It is an exemplary collection of beautifully crafted patterns from simple words woven together.
In one word---AWESOMENESS!!!

my favorites would have to include--
Nissim Ezekiel's
"poet, lover, birdwatcher",
"enterprise"
"in the garden"

'In this the poet finds his moral proved,
who never spoke until his spirit moved'

Simple words which go straight for the heart and make themselves at home there---the magic of Nissim.

There were others which i loved reading too like;
'Cinesmorning' By Dom Moraes
'Love' By Adil Jussawala
Santan Rodrigues's 'City Streets'
'Contacts' By Kamala Das

SEGMENT 5: Fiction
'The Best Of Quest' has short stories which take you into the depths of satire, cynicism, tragedy, loss, irony, poverty, life, death and back.
You guessed it right---not something you would like to read with a heavy head.
These are carefully picked stories--sieved through a critics net and separated from the mediocre chaff with utmost care.
Rustic stories which hit your soul like a hammer and make you think about it at least once more after you have read it---definitely not the 'read and forget' types.
One more feature that I noticed these stories share in common is the way they keep churning up leaving no trace of where or how the end is going to be...so that by the time you reach the end, you just stare at the last line frozen. If that is not enough, just when you are about to conjure up a pattern from stories read and expect the one you are reading to take a familiar course, it again hits you by being surprisingly simple and unexpected.

The segments opens with the story titled 'the departure' which is one of my favorites.
The thought processes which haunt the protagonist are the ones that have often crossed my mind and I am sure everyone reading it will have their lips curled into a smile on noticing how much they can relate to it--be it their professional life or personality.
What takes you by surprise though is the ending---which of course I'm not going to revel.
I also have to mention that it is one of those stories wherein you reach the last line and say "Ahh..I knewwwww this would end like this" when the truth is all along the way, you were too busy engrossed in reading how the story progressed---cause somewhere it felt like 'you'.'

'The moon had to be mended' is a story which left me feeling creepy all along.I reckon it is the satire and the dark side that it should be appreciated for.but frankly, so powerful was its impact that i found it a tad bit revolting to assess. Something you wouldn't want to read again---only for its gory details, which again is an achievement for the writer.

There were others that I liked--which prodded on different emotions in a way slightly different than routine---"Aunt Matilda is 90 years old", "Tangents", "Gherao"...though i must mention here, that a particular story titled 'kalyani' left me a little confused with the end.But nevertheless, this segment was quite an experience.. a form of fiction one rarely gets to see nowadays.

The last two segments (6 and 7) include endnotes and postscripts.

About the editors:
Laeeq Futehally is a writer and garden designer who has worked as the Literary Editor of Quest for over twenty years.
Achal Prabhala is a writer and researcher in Bangalore.
Arshia Sattar teaches at various institutions across India and works with classical indian literatures.


'The Best Of Quest' is indeed a literary gem...a precious gift from an era bygone to this modern day era which can only bow its head in respect and seek inspiration from those great minds who have clearly made a difference, not just to Indian literature but also to the society in which we live.
A book that would be loved and valued by all age groups.
A book that the youth of today definitely needs to spend time with.

Rating: 4 out of 5

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6 comments:

nandan tripathi said...

i remember quest from the good old days.will buy this book now.

a very intelligent and in depth review.thankyou!

Nitin Jain said...

Quiet an amazing review of an amazing quest! books are the best way to travel back in time...

pri said...

@ anandan tripathi
you are most welcome...im glad my review could take you back in time--since you have been a reader of the magazine, the book would promise you a lot of nostalgia :)

pri said...

@ nitin jain
true that!
some can take you 'back' in time, some can make you travel to the 'future'...while some just transfer you into a different 'present' altogether :)

'the best of quest' digs up the past, makes you relate it to the present and hence hope and look forward to a better future!

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