Travel Memories: A Review of Nishi Pulugurtha's Out In The Open: Essays on Travel

Review by: Sutanuka Ghosh Roy

Title: Out In The Open: Essays on Travel
Author: Nishi Pulugurtha
Page: 200
ISBN: 978-93-88332-97-2 (Paperback)
Edition: (2019)
Published by Author’s Press New Delhi (India)


       In the multiplicity of literary genres travel writing, assumes a unique status due to both the ethno-historical significance and narrative problematics. Travelogue as a distinctive form of writing predates almost all known genres and can comfortably be traced back to a hoary antiquity where the borderlines between the travelogue and the epic gets inseparably blurred, as in the case of Odyssey, and since then travelogues have been popular for representing a more or less coherent narrative. The status of a travelogue, resides on the element of veracity; the generic identification ‘travel narrative’ itself evidently shows it to be a commentary on or description of a specific geographical body that in reality exists. It is considered, then, a sort of narrative counterpart of a palpable reality. Nishi Pulugurtha’s  new work Out in the Open-Essays on Travel bears the ultimate touchstone of an aspiring travelogue as it contains the element of authenticity which is considered the direct effect of her first hand nature of experience. In the foreword to the book she writes:  “My first encounter with writing about travel was when I was in school. We made annual trips to Kakinada in Andhra Pradesh and later to Hyderabad and my parents had a difficult time dealing with a hyperactive and over-energetic child who needed to be kept engaged on the long-train journeys. My sister and I were given notebooks which we were to maintain throughout our whole journey.”
Sutanuka Ghosh Roy

        This element of authenticity encourages her readers to trust in her and her agency, and Out in the Open Essays on Travel ultimately becomes a narrative or textual device to manipulate the reader’s attitude to the narrative development. Nishi Pulugurtha is an academic based in Kolkata. She is engaged in teaching and active research, is a creative writer and has published short stories and poetry. She writes on travel and her travel essays have been published in The Statesman, Kolkata, and online—Café Dissensus and Coldnoon. The present volume is a collection of travel essays written over a period of seventeen years. The book has a neat structure---divided into three sections each focussed on a special area of travel—Bengal, Beyond Bengal and Across the Oceans. While Bengal comprises of twelve essays, Beyond Bengal has twenty one while the last section Across the Oceans contains three essays. The essays of the first section of the book are unique in the sense that she writes of those places which were almost hidden from the common eye but have now become popular tourist destinations like Baranti, a small village 265 km from Kolkata, where she is drawn in by the tranquillity, “It is completely quiet here, the rustle of leaves, the occasional dog bark, the cuckoo in the trees, these are the sounds one get to hear” (16). As we travel with her vicariously to Chandannagar, Dhyankuria, Kurseong, Murshidabad, Hetampur, Susunia, Darjelling we witness various incidents or proceedings that Pulugurtha has to encounter or be a vital part of it.

Nishi Pulugurtha
       Pulugurtha now broadens her horizon and embarks on journeys beyond Bengal. “It is early morning when the train chugs into Amritsar station” and to her dismay she discovers that “fresh, hot, delicious kulchas with stuffing of one’s choice- potato, paneer, cauliflower, radish are a breakfast here” (91). The readers are bound to enjoy the journey gastronomically too. Pulugurtha then takes us to the picturesque Dhanaulti. “As is always with every journey across the hills, each turn brings up a new view- a green hill here, a snow capped mountain suddenly showing up, a small hamlet high up on a hill, a small boy waving to us, tall pine trees, and of course the cold wind caressing our cheeks as we gain altitude.” (99). The author is a keen observer, even the minutest details does not escape her eye. Wherever she goes she gives her reader a thorough lesson about its history which is what makes this travelogue stand apart. Be it the architecture or the roads or the rustling of the leaves she weaves it beautifully. In “A Trip Amidst the Clouds: Lansdowne” she writes, “As we stand at the highest point and look around, we see verdant hills all around, huge moss laden trees, clouds move in and then clear away revealing the road below, an occasional car passing by, a lone monkey comes out behind the trees, moves onto the railing and runs off-it is almost as if time stands still here.”(115). Each of the trips are etched in memory and she takes pain to write about its historical significance and bothers to make notes and thus the memories are turned into archives.   

       As Pulugurtha goes beyond her motherland to Jena she broadens her wide spectrum. Her essay on “Glorious Land: Jena” essentially points to the fact  that  the role of place in literary culture varies widely across different countries and historical periods. In periods of high nationalism, for example, place is often perceived almost exclusively in national terms; in more relaxed postcolonial style, local or regional identities might be explored. In this context one can refer to E. Relph’s book, Place and Placenessness, where Relph applied phenomenology to notions of place and identified ways in which individuals relate to where they are and to the places and landscapes they remember. Georgetown, Weimar and Jena are unique in their own way so are the essays.

       The language is lucid which makes the travelogue an easy read. The chief object of  Pulugurtha’s essays is to determine the relationship between memory of various places, everyday experience, lived events and its translation into narratives.  Pulugurtha’s  essays  in their journey with words and memories are not limited to any singular species of memories, but are drawn from many histories and geographies. The essays bring forth the literary mediation of memory and experience set in the narratives of particular time, space and milieu. Black and white photographs taken by the author herself are laid out along with the text. Had they been printed on glossy paper it would have been an embellishment itself. The essays are precise but sometimes an occasional reference to the local people, local cuisines etc would have made it a more endearing read. Out In The Open Essays on Travel essays definitely add to the oeuvre of travel writing. 

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