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Indian Sites, Indifferent Insights

Nivedita Sen

By Patricia Scot Bernard
Bluejay Books, Shrishti, New Delhi, 2005, pp. 344, Rs. 350.00

By Kunal Sinha
Bluejay Books, Shrishti, New Delhi, 2004, pp. 276, Rs. 495.00


Writing about late twentieth century travel writing, Susan Bassnett says: Though the I-narrator still occupies a dominant position, the increasing use of dialogue in travel writing has …[made] the travel text resemble the novel much more closely. The protagonist engages in conversations that introduce a range of other characters into the narrative, and the reader is expected to believe that such conversations which apparently transcend any language barrier are recorded rather than invented.   Such dialogues are the mainstay of Patricia Scot Bernard’s book, in which two middle-aged women from England and Australia respectively decide to rough it out all over Rajasthan, Delhi and Uttar Pradesh. In the process, they not only get rid of some of their prejudices about cleanliness, hygiene and order, but also desensitize themselves vis-à-vis their concern for street dogs and other such creatures. The two had been travelling companions in their twenties and had globe-trotted with gay abandon until they had “lost their virginity in the same week”. Thereafter, Patricia had sailed for New York to become a writer, and Sally had flown to Jerusalem to plant trees. After marrying, giving birth and then getting divorced, Patricia lives in Sidney and writes books, while Sally lives in Scotland and promotes plants. Unlike Patricia, Sally has not learned to travel light, but is accompanied by a monster case, which seems to wag its handle as she enters the room, and whimper when it is left behind.   But if Sally has a monster case, Patricia is accompanied by the Kama Sutra, which she believes to be her gateway to India. Reading excerpts from it eases their exhaustion after strenuous walking and climbing, and provides some entertainment at the end of each day. Their outrage at the fact that Kama is the first ‘married’ god of love that they have known wedded to Rati, the goddess of sensual desire, arouses side-splitting laughter. Almost each chapter has a refrain in which Patricia inspires her friend to relax her limbs by practising some of the positions of love-play described in the book, but despite supplying an exotic brand of comic relief, the connecting thread is rather tenuous.   Gossip and banter apart, women’s travel writing in the late twentieth century, according to Bassnett, tends to focus more on the relationship between the individual and the societies through which she travels. Bernard, for instance, is highly sceptical of a country ...

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