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The Lure of Travel


Sachidananda Mohanty

INDIAN TRAVEL NARRATIVES
Edited by Somdatta Mandal
Rawat Publications, Jaipur, 2010, pp. 292, Rs. 695.00

VOLUME XXXIV NUMBER 7 July 2010

Once relegated to Sunday supplements of newspapers, and pushed to the margins of the academia, travel writing today straddles disciplines such as literature, ethnography, translation, film studies, anthropology, politics and history. While a number of cultural and theoretical factors are responsible for this development, it is undoubtedly the search for identity in the postcolonial era that is responsible for renewed critical attention paid to this fascinating genre. The search for identity in late capitalism makes a compelling demand upon us. A retrieval of our past with the attendant memories is crucial to identity formations. The paradox lies in the fact that while postcoloniality pledges loyalty to decoloni-zation, influential sections of Indian critics tend to follow the agenda of the metropolitan West. Confined to a select audience through self-validating acts and self-serving, arcane vocabulary, such critical works, including the ones on travel writing, fail to relate to the informed audience in India in terms of our multiple histories and traditions. Knowledge of our Bhasha literatures is the first step in a healthy direction, a sine qua non for such an exercise. To call for an Indian approach is not to believe in nativism or revivalism.It is to try and forge a new cosmopolitanism, to negotiate intellectually with the West on our own terms. Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj, itself born out of a travel experience, could suggest a working model for our use. Somdatta Mandal’s edited book Indian Travel Narratives, the result of a seminar organized by the Department of English and other European languages at Visvabharati, Santiniketan, in January 2008, goes beyond the confines of conference proceedings. It sets up a new benchmark in the study of travel writing, viewed essentially from Indian perspectives. While travel seems to be integral to the Indian view of life and forms an inalienable part of the Indic civilization, howsoever debatable the term may be, most of the essays in this volume have rightly chosen to focus on the imperial vision of travel that involves India and the colonial West in the late 19th and early 20th century. In five sections, ‘Theoretical and Critical Perspectives’, ‘Crossing the Kalapani and the Seven Seas’, ‘the Eternal Himalayas’, ‘Internal Journeys’ and finally ‘Miscellaneous Journeys’, the volume brings together an impressive range of Indian travel narratives hitherto unknown to the mainstream audience. The narratives come from many theoretical perspectives and deploy divergent modes/tools of analysis. There is ...


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