Celebrating India: A book review

What makes India a nation? What gives a common Indian identity to its billion plus population? Is it religion? Is it race or ethnicity? Is it language? Or is it something else altogether? In his essay on “The Invention of India”, Shashi Tharoor says that the answer for a common national identity, unlike in other countries, is neither religion nor race nor ethnicity nor language, but diversity.

India is never truer to itself than when celebrating its diversity. (in Celebrating India, p.14)

Celebrating IndiaThese particular lines in Tharoor’s essay sets the context for Celebrating India (2012, Nivasini Publishers, pp. 152, Rs. 200), an anthology that aims to celebrate this diversity and the “India in each of us” through memoirs, poems, short stories, travelogues and art. A special feature of this book is that all the contributors have waived off their fees and have agreed to contribute the profits of the book to the Yamini Foundation, Hyderabad.

An initiative of the publishers themselves, this anthology has contributors from various backgrounds — journalists, engineers, editors, academicians, film personalities, students, bloggers… In fact, nearly half the contributors have blogs !

The contributors are a mix of well-known names like Tharoor, Gulzaar and Deepti Naval and unknown writers (for me at least) and have attempted to elaborate on the theme of the anthology in their individual pieces. And do the contributors succeed in communicating this? Let’s see.

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The Best of Quest: A review

 

The book

Once upon a time there existed a magazine which was a “quarterly of inquiry, criticism and ideas” and fittingly enough called Quest. It had very clear-cut guidelines for its content: everything and anything published in the Quest had to have “some relevance to India. It was to be written by Indians for Indians” (p.xix).

It was because of these guidelines that Quest was able to publish highly original writing in English in the form of essays, opinions, book reviews, film reviews, critiques, stories, poems, memoirs, etc. The writers were a mix of the new and the established, academicians and journalists, politicians and poets — Rajni Kothari, Nirad Chaudhuri, Kiran Nagarkar, Ashis Nandy, Khushwant Singh, and Neela D’Souza, to name a few.

Published from Bombay, Quest was born in 1954 with Nissim Ezekiel as its first editor. After Ezekiel, A.S. Ayub and Dilip Chitre were the editors of Quest, and both of them stayed true to the founding vision of publishing writing relevant to India. In spite of this, or perhaps because of it, Quest died an untimely death with the imposition of the Emergency about 20 years later. In the decades that followed, Quest got relegated to the realm of nostalgic memories of people who were associated with it, or in wooden boxes stored in lofts and attics. Some forgot about it and some like me did not even know that Quest had  once existed. Till recently, that is.

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