An Entertaining Tale: a review of Across and Beyond: Essays on Travel

Nishi Pulugurtha

Title: Across and Beyond: Essays on Travel

Editor: Nishi Pulugurtha
Page: 80
ISBN: 978-81-946404-9-3 (Paperback)
Edition: (2020)
Published by Avenel Press, India.
Price: ₹ 375.00 INR

   It is travel that is the key to the wide world. Travelogue as a distinctive form of writing antedates almost all known genres and can comfortably be traced back to age-old antiquity where the limbos between the travelogue and the epic get inseparably blurry, like the Odyssey, and since then travelogues have been prevalent for signifying a more or less comprehensible tale. Travel is a close sibling to the French word Travail, fundamentally defining unpleasant work. 700 hundred years ago, traveling seemed to be a synonym for being tormented. In the introductory note to “Across and Beyond: Essays on Travel” the editor Nishi Pulugurtha writes, “travel is about negotiating the known and the unknown, the familiar and the unfamiliar. It brings in ideas of negotiation, urban planning, history, architecture, space, food, memory, exile, emigration, and colonialism. As a free, voluntary spontaneous movement travel could be contrasted to ideas of displacement. This brings into contention as to who can and who cannot travel, an important idea in today's world, where violence has caused forced displacement of people”. The urge to travel is in our genes driven by the magic wand of curiosity. Now that pandemic has forced us to restrict our moves this is one of the reasons that reading this book on travel embalms our travel crazy heart.

Sutanuka Ghosh Roy
   The book has a taut structure and has been divided thematically into four sections and there are sixteen essays. The first section ‘Music, Textiles, Food and Travel’ comprises essays that are personal and speak about food, music, textiles, and books in them. The opening essay of the volume by Srirupa Dhar narrativizes travel and music in it. The beautiful photographs are an embellishment to a well-crafted essay. Usha Banerjee’s essay ‘Here and There: My Experiences with Food’ travels between her two lived spaces—Calcutta and Roorkee. She pens it beautifully by pointing out how a particular food travels to different places and changes its taste and name making it an ideal marker of culture. Ilakshee Bhuyan Nath in her essay ‘Celebration of Every Woman’ writes about Lyon its murals, frescos and textiles. She compares the silk workers of Lyon with the silk workers of her home state Assam. The women weavers in her home state have highly neglected a fact that she regrets. She loves the way that Lyon distinguishes and honours its silk weavers. ‘A Trip to Santa Barabara’ is a wonderful read and Ketaki Dutta blends work with pleasure. She writes a pen-picture, ‘Santa Barabara has a different character of its own. The flora, the fauna, the less-peopled streets, the swimming pool in the hotel, and the room on the first floor overlooking the hills around, held a mesmerizing appeal to me’. It was an academic tour but laced with travel, satisfying the wanderlust in her. She is an effective user of the language and at the same time a keen observer too.

   The next section of the book is named ‘the solo woman traveller’ has three essays. These personal narratives depict the perils of a solo woman traveller. Sometimes the fear bug makes us unnerved and like a ritual we count each breath under our chin. Sohini Chatterjee writes, ‘this is an offshoot of growing up with anxieties congruent with cautionary tales I have been fed since childhood about the vulnerability of the “female body” to violence and my own experiences of harassment since childhood’ (“Travelling with Fear and the Baggage of vulnerability: Reflections on Gender and Spatial Mobility”, 63). For Amrita Mukherjee a journalist, travel is an integral part of her work. Travel helped her to discover places as well as people. She writes, “I have realized that while travelling on work, it’s not only about rediscovering yourself but it also about discovering how people can be—both men and women out of their comfort zones” (“How Work and Travel Taught me a Thing or Two in Life”,73). In ‘Journey’s Merceies please—The Female Traveller In Perspective’ Debasri Basu speaks at length about the menaces of a solo woman traveller. The experiences of foreign travellers in India are infected with all sorts of perils which dampen the spirit of travel.

   Literature and travel is the theme of the next section of the book. Nishat Haider’s essay ‘Travelling memory: A Study of Qurratulain Hyder’s River of Fire delineates travel as a key trope and revisits the terms ‘travel’ and ‘traveller’. Further, she questions the critical tendency to conflate radically different types of travel discourses that essentially define postcolonial spatiotemporal frames. “Re-mapping A Small Place: Examination of the Tourist Gaze and Postcolonial re-inscription of the Antiguan natural and social landscape in Jamaica Kincaid’s A Small Place” by Arundhati Sethi’ analyses the tourist gaze of the narrator. The narrator takes the modern tourist on a guided tour per se to the tiny and obscure Caribbean island. Arundhati writes, “Thus, the tourist then is a sort of a modified extension of the early colonial traveller and his imperial gaze”. Gillian Dooley in “From Timor to Mauritius: Matthew Flinder’s Island Identity” writes about the British Captain Matthew Flinder’s voyage to Terra Australia. Nabanita Sengupta’s “A Bibliophile’s Sauntering in and Around London” is a pleasant read. We see London and around through her writing and have an impression of a writer who serves to be an informer, guide and advisor. The most overwhelming presence in her trip was a nineteenth-century Bengali woman Krishnabhamini Das the first Bengali lady to write a travelogue on England in 1885 named Englandey Bangamahila or A Bengali Lady in England. Sayan Aich Bhowmick’s essay “In Search of Lost Travellers: Tradition of Travel In the Bengali Milieu” substantiates the Bengali traveller’s love for travel---one being the literary repertoire of narratives the other being a Wordsworthian idea of nature as a healer and a nurse to bring a fresh whiff of air to the jaded soul.

   The last section of the book ‘History and Travel’ has four essays. Sheila T. Cavanagh in “The Sun Shines Bright On Loch Lomond”: Geography meets Politics In The Scottish Highlands”, writes, “In March 2018, I joined a group of graduate students in Scotland under the direction of Georgia State University Professor Tanya Caldwell. The students were enrolled in a course investigating the travel narratives of renowned eighteenth-century writers Dr Samuel Johnson and James Boswell” (137). She knits together history, the Jacobite uprising, the battle of Culloden, the travel narratives of Johnson and Boswell in her narrative. Moreover, she has stitched together two completely different aeons and viewpoints and has effectively used the popular song “Bonnie Banks ‘o Loch Lomond” that adds to the visitors’ different attitudes even when the places remain the same. Himanshi Sharma’s “The Exotic Tropic of William and Thomas Daniell” is an exploration of the art of two talented engraver painters Thomas and William Daniell. They had travelled to British India between 1786 and 1796. She writes, “The travel of Daniells from one exotic location to another to produce exquisite prints as a purely artistic project causes us to break away from the available template of looking at travel in India during British colonial rule as simply an activity of knowledge creation”(149). As always we are fascinated by the memsahibs so the essay of Ankita Das “The Private Lives of Memsahibs: A Study of Emily Eden and Fanny Parkes’ Experiences in India” arouses our curiosity. Emily Eden did not enjoy her days in India, the sultry weather in India made her weak physically and mentally she was isolated. Fanny Park, on the other hand, was married to an East India Company official and her “Journals may be regarded as a great travel book of its time, filled with exciting descriptions of Indian life and customs”(160). The last essay of the book is by the editor Nishi Pulugurtha and she takes us on an exciting trip to “By The Ganga—Chinsurah”. Nishi Pulugurtha is a poet, academic and literary critic based in Kolkata. She has a monograph on Derozio, a collection of travel essays Out In the Open and a volume of poems called The Real and the Unreal and Other Poems.

    Chinsurah or Chunchura is about two kilometres from Kolkata and is located on the banks of Ganga. This place has a historical significance as Pulugurtha writes, “Every moment of our trip to this town has opened up to us rich treasures of the glorious past of the place” (180). Across and Beyond keeps you engaged and entertained. The tone is set right from the opening essay and also packs in a lesson about how important it is to choose the right path while travelling. In a year that’s been when one missed the opportunity to travel, we’ll take all the entertainment —this book on travel delivers it in spadeful—that as readers we get. 

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