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Travels Across Time: Memory and History

Jasbir Jain

Translated by Somdatta Mandal
Visva Bharati,Kolkata, 2014, pp. 402, Rs. 450.00

By Krishna Bhabini Devi Translated, edited and with an Introduction by Somdatta Mandal 
Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015, pp. 196, GBP 41.99


Travelogues from the past are more than mere journeys over a land mass or stretch of sea. They speak to us of life-styles, of economic strengths and weaknesses, of politics and race and of nationhood and family relations—all interlinked and woven together in the writer’s imagination. The translator and editor of both the volumes which have appeared in quick succession, Somdatta Mandal, herself a tireless traveller and an equally indefatigable translator, is determined to bring the invisible past before us. A few years ago she had brought to the public another Bengali woman’s travelogue Attiya’s Journey and in the years in between she has edited two volumes of critical essays on travelogues from Indian languages. Together they cover nearly five hundred years and several languages thus drawing a map of the journeys of the body and the mind and evolving cultural histories. Wanderlust puts together travel accounts of at least three generations of the extended Tagore family—fathers and sons, brothers, sisters—tracing a complicated family tree and travels which cover a period of more than a century and half and journeys both in India and abroad. The sources are varied: diaries, travel accounts, memoirs and letters. A pleasant surprise is that of these extracts eight are by women, amongst them is also the noted activist, Sarala Devi. A natural question to ask would be: are women’s perceptions and observations different? Yes. They are more rooted in the reality around them and the newness of the experience whereas many men are absorbed in their own self, comfort and health. Men are more free and there is also an underlying consciousness of social power. Women rarely travel alone and tend to be more emotional and nostalgic. The travels in Wanderlust throw light on the social history of the nineteenth century, the cross-cultural connections, the mobility of people for various reasons and the absence of narrow parochialism. One could also draw a map of the riverways which were frequently used for travel, and the pilgrims who used them. It is possible to chart out past histories through travel modes. In fact GuruNanak’s journeys have been charted with the help of riverways and pilgrim routes. Reading Prajnasundari’s piece, ‘A Trip to Kasi’, is like accompanying her on a cruise and takes us to Tagore’s and Sarat Chandra’s writings which abundantly illustrate these travel routes ...

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