Golden Treasury

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The Best of Quest, Laeeq Futehally, Achal Prabhala , Arshia Sattar , book reviewI started with an article by Professor P Lal, a rejoinder to Jyotirmoy Datta, on why he wrote in English, ‘We do not write in English because it is a pan-Indian language of the educated; we write because we cannot write as well in any other language’, revisiting the incisive words of the man who was the doyen of Indian Writing in English, or Indo Anglian literature. Then I went onto Khushwant Singh at his vigorous best writing about Delhi, in a collating of some of his columns. There was a piece about the notorious Sashtibrata, writing letters in English for Delhi’s shoeshine boys and turning up in rags at tatters at the Delhi offices of The Statesman.

And of course, there were the usual subjects, s review of Nirad C Chaudhuri’s Continent of Circe, an interview of Naipaul by Adrian Rowe-Evans, a review by Saleem Peeradina on Satyajit Ray’s films. And there is ‘D’, then a mysterious alphabet gracing the head of a column, but later revealed as Dilip Chitre who wrote about ‘movies, art and life’, not to mention poetry, before passing away and leaving a void in the world of Indian belles letters, who among other things contributes a tongue in cheek piece on why Dimple Kapadia in Bobby made more impact on Indian cinema than Satyajit Ray did.

Quest was a literary magazine that first made its appearance in 1954 with the legendary poet Nissim Ezekiel as its chief editor. It dominated literary thought in India for twenty years until Indira Gandhi and her Emergency brought a sudden stop to its refreshing and revolutionary thinking. Quest’s principles were very simple to ‘reflect the values of the Committee of Cultural Freedom’, as Laeeq Futehally writes. The result of this freedom was to cause a certain amount of scandal – the magazine was accused, along with Stephen Spender’s Encounter and several other international publications, to have been funded by the CIA in a covert operation to sow the seeds of dissension.

From the first, Nissim Ezekiel insisted on an essential ‘Indianness’ Among its writers were many who went on to head today’s media world, the leading lights of TV, newspapers and scholastic journals – for them it was their first stepping out into print.

This collection has among its editors Laeeq Futehally who joined Quest when it first began its two decade journey and who later became literary editor.

The Best of Quest demands a leisurely going through – and one can read it, set it aside and return to it, skimming through and picking and choosing at will as I did. Apart from essays and reviews, the volume contains poems by Adil Jussawalla, Kamala Das, Arun Kolatkar, Agha Shahid Ali, Allen Ginsberg, Santan Rodriges and many others. Along with fiction from Kamleshwar, Anita Desai, Kiran Nagarkar and Keki Daruwalla.

The Best of Quest edited by Laeeq Futehally, Achal Prabhala, Arshia Sattar
Published by Tranquebar Press in India, 2011

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Best of Quest, The
by Laeeq Futehally, Achal Prabhala, Arshia Sattar

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Written by Anjana Basu
Anjana Basu

Anjana Basu works as an advertising consultant in Calcutta. In 2003, Harper Collins India brought out her novel Curses In Ivory. In 2004, she was awarded a Hawthornden Fellowship in Scotland where she worked on her second novel, Black Tongue, published by Roli in 2007. In February 2010. her children's novel Chinku and the Wolfboy was brought out by Roli. She writes features for travel magazines and reviews for Indian newspapers.

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