Book review: The Best of Quest

May 08, 2012, 06:49 IST | Lindsay Pereira

1954 was a good year to be a writer. It must have been, given the number of journals devoted to ideas and criticism that sprang up across the globe in response to the horrors of World War II

That sense of hard-won freedom found its way to Mumbai too, where advocate Minocher Masani — founder of the Indian Liberal Group, a think tank to educate the public on Liberalism — founded a quarterly called Quest.

Masani placed poet Nissim Ezekiel in the editor’s chair, giving life to a journal that, for the next two decades, coerced a number of interesting people into putting their thoughts to paper. Ezekiel wanted it to be ‘by Indians for Indians,’ prompting everyone from established journalists to new poets, politicians and academicians to contribute essays, fiction, poetry and critiques of all kinds.

Naturally, this idea of people thinking for themselves didn’t go down well with Indira Gandhi. During the Emergency, the PM insisted the journal be submitted for review before publication. Quest chose to shut down instead. Issues presumably lay forgotten in second-hand bookstores until Tranquebar recognised the need for this volume.

What one notices almost immediately — a hat tip to the editors — is how little the writing has aged. The poems by Ezekiel and Arun Kolatkar are, as always, a delight, as are a couple of stories (Kiran Nagarkar’s The Moon had to be Mended), essays by the late Dilip Chitre and Claude Alvarez, even advertisements for products that no longer enjoy currency.

The downside is a fair bit of verbosity one must wade through in order to find something sparkling; that, and the serious lack of biographical information on lesser-known contributors. Still, considering we live in an era of 300-word book reviews (like this one), one ought not to complain. This collection is a joy.

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