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Non-pilgrim on a Holy Trail

Nilanjana Mukherjee

By Nabaneeta Dev Sen . Translated from the original Bangla by Soma Das
Supernova Publishers, New Delhi, 2014, Rs. 225.00


Nabaneeta Dev Sen’s travelogue written and published first in Bangla in 1977 titled Karuna Tomar Kon Patha Diye fills the gap in an important sub genre of travel literature in that it narrates a road story of a woman. The work was first published in the special edition of Desh, a Bengali periodical and later as a book once it already had gained popularity through the periodical.  Travel itself is an important facet in a human being’s realization of himself or herself. Travel literature for that matter has gained importance as an autobiographical-literary recounting of a person’s conscious perigri-nations through which (s)he is supposed to have attained a greater understanding of the world as well as himself or herself. Given the patriarchal regulations on a woman’s mobility, a journey undertaken by a woman is in itself an act of defiance, more so, if she chooses to narrate it. Nabaneeta Dev Sen’s The Holy Trail deals with her journey on a pilgrimage to the Maha Kumbh at the Triveni Sangam near Allahabad on the special occasion of the Mouni Amavashya (no moon night), a rare astrological assemblage in the Hindu almanac. Much of the work deals with the impulsive decision she made about taking the holy dip at the confluence of the Ganges, Yamuna and Saraswati rivers at the site popularly known as the Triveni Sangam deemed holy by the Hindus. The auspicious dip is regarded as a good deed (punya) when undertaken during Makar Sankranti. It becomes a matter of great courage and determination to undertake this journey as it is fraught with uncertainty coupled with adverse weather and unruly crowds. Nabaneeta Dev Sen herself describes it as ‘one young woman’s desperate, lone rush to the Maha Kumbh, with all its forebodings and misadventures’. Much of Dev Sen’s narrative is a scathing sarcastic attack on the patriarchal mindset the Indian society is ingrained with, where a single woman travelling without a male escort is viewed with suspicion and seen as an aberration to the rule.  The irony is that the actual journey appears to have been less of an ordeal than replying to the endless harrowing queries of curious questioners. Though Dev Sen is a known name in the Bengali household, the readers who read this in English can get acquainted with the author through a nonchalant conversational style that Dev Sen adopts ...

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