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Review

Travel Stories Beyond Borders

Book Review of an anthology of travel essays by Gracy Samjetsabam

Book: Across and Beyond

Editor: Nishi Pulugurtha

Publisher: Avenel Press, 2020

Across and Beyond edited by Nishi Pulugurtha is an anthology of sixteen essays by multiple writers on travel. Nishi Pulugurtha is an academic and writes on travel, films, short stories, poetry and on Alzheimer’s Disease. Besides Across and Beyond (2020), her works include a monograph on Derozio (2010) and a volume of poems, Real and the Unreal and Other Poems (2020). She has a number of publications in various newspapers, journals and magazines.

Through the essays, the contributors share their travelogues to entertain and enliven our imagination and reason. Pulugurtha opens the introduction by invoking “small little things” from a travel as passages to our journeys taken in which nostalgia, memory, and longing play a significant role in recreating the magical experiences and knowledge gained and shared.

She contends, “Travel is about negotiating with the known and the unknown, the familiar and the unfamiliar.” The essays traverse on these negotiations to humanise the travelling self by pondering on perceptions before and after the travels. Thereby, highlighting how travel writing is not merely about the journey but is more about the experiences of people, places and cultures. And in this, the memory ignites the experiences to a better comprehension on life, politics, history and geography.

The essays are arranged thematically into four sections. Each covers multiplicity of themes on language, identity, gender and culture. In the first section – ‘Music, Textiles, Food and Travel’, Srirupa Dhar’s ‘From the Womb of Wien’ beautifully blends motherhood and music to her travel experiences and takes us on a tour to Vienna, the home of Hayden, Mozart and Strauss. In ‘Here and There: My Experiences with Food’, Usha Banerjee shares her gastronomic travel explorations of places in and around the two places she calls ‘home’ – Roorkee and Calcutta (now Kolkata). Ilakshee Bhuyan Nath’s ‘Celebration of Everywomen’ races her memory of travel to Lyon in France and a nostalgic remembrance of her childhood days in Tipling village in Assam and juxtaposes the two different cultures across time and space to weave new ideas and thoughts. As she ferries across the Brahmaputra, she remembers seeing Le Mur des Canuts, one of the largest murals in Europe, a tribute to silk workers in the city, a celebration of textiles. She thinks of women, weavers and the Muga silk in Assam and hopes for such an “art that celebrate the life of Everywomen”. In “A Journey to Santa Barbara”, Ketaki Datta muses over her trip to Santa Barbara and compares her taking the route Tagore took in 1916, experiencing the Danish culture in the city and visiting the Christian Anderson Museum to getting into portals of history.

In the second section – ‘The Solo Women Traveller’, Sohini Chatterjee’s “Travelling with fear and baggage of vulnerability: Reflections on Gender and Spatial mobility” juxtaposes her travel from Kolkata to Nottingham with the issues faced by women traveling alone, stressing on fear and vulnerability. Amrita Mukherjee’s ‘How Work Travel Taught me a Thing of Two About Life’ recollects her trip to Kashmir to emphasise on how an enriching travel is more about discovering people than places. Debasri Basu in ‘Journey’s Mercies Please – The Female Traveller in Perspective’ recalls her trip to the Himalayan province of Uttarakhand.

In the third section – ‘Literature and Travel’, Nishat Haider’s ‘Travelling Memory: A Study of Qurratulain Hyder’s River of Fire’ critically explores concepts of time, history and memory and examines plurality of culture. Haider notes how the novel evades conventional boundaries of historiography or narratology and is “like time travel across the map of memory”. In Arundhati Sethi’s ‘Re-mapping A Small Place: Examination of the Tourist Gaze and Post-colonial Re-inscription of the Antiguan natural and social landscape in Jamaica Kincaid’s A Small Village’, one can read to find out how Kincaid “uses the Antiguan consciousness to reveal the inerasable tie between the colonial past and the post-colonial present”. Gillian Dooley’s ‘From Timur to Mauritius: Mathew Flinders’ Island Identity’ analyses the travel accounts of the British navigator Captain Mathew Flinders to enlighten us on how the islands inspired him and “never quite lost the aura of romance for him”. Nabanita Sengupta’s ‘A Bibliophile’s Sauntering in and Out of London’ tells us about the joy of actually travelling to re-live familiar places that have earlier featured in books. Sayan Aich’s ‘In Search of the Lost Travellers: Tradition of Travel in the Bengali Milieu’ debates with humour and serious concerns on the label “Bengali tourist”, the community’s passion for travelling and pauses to reflect on how political and social turmoil can dampen the spirit of inclusivity and cultural heterogeneity.

In the fourth Section — ‘History and Travel’, Sheila T. Cavanagh’s ‘“The Sun Shines Bright in Loch Lomond”: Geography Meets Politics in Scottish Highlands’ explores the narratives of the 18th century travellers Dr. Samuel Johnson and James Boswell to point out the power of narratives in shaping political and social agendas of the time. Himanshu Sharma’s ‘The Exotic Tropics of William and Thomas Daniell’ is an interesting take on how one of the earliest travel impressions of the ‘Oriental scenery’ of the two engravers-painters travel to British India from 1786 to 1796 indirectly contributed to coloniality by creating new materiality of India.

Ankita Das’s ‘The Private Lives of Memsahibs: A Study of Emily Eden and Fanny Parkes’ Experiences in India’ discusses multi-layered experiences based on a traveller’s social class or caste and their purpose of travel to relate race, gender and politics in narratives. She explores representation of Otherness, cross-cultural contacts, feminist discourses in Europe and on mental health and travel. Ruskin Bond’s story ‘Susanna’s Seven Husbands’ later made in the Bollywood movie Saat Khoon Maaf was inspired from the life of a Dutch lady Susan Anna Maria who lived in Chinsurah, whose tomb is locally known as “saat saheber bibir kabar” (tomb of the lady with seven husbands). This and many more stories through art, architecture, culture and heritage interlocking history and literature in and around Chinsurah finds life in Nishi Pulugurtha’s ‘By the Ganga-Chinsurah’.                    

Rich and delightful, subjective yet universal, whether you are a citizen of the world of globalisation or a postcolonial scholar, Across and Beyond is a book for everyone. Ranging from personal accounts of travel to critical essays on literary texts, it engages to connect and cater to mindful and meaningful travelling. Passionately written by a group of travel enthusiasts from their own experiences of travel, their shared moments and memory make the set of essays a bumper harvest for anyone looking for ideas or insights to solo travel or group travel, or for those who want to partake in what Jumpa Lahiri wrote in Namesake, “… to travel without moving your feet”.     

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Gracy Samjetsabam teaches English Literature and Communication Skills at Manipal Institute of Technology, MAHE, Manipal. She is also a freelance writer and copy editor. Her interest is in Indian English Writings, Comparative Literature, Gender Studies, Culture Studies, and World Literature.

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL

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Excerpt

Across and Beyond, Essays on Travel

Excerpted from the Introduction of a book of travel essays  

Title: Across and Beyond, Essays on Travel

Editor: Nishi Pulugurtha,

Publisher: Avenel Press, 2020

Small little things – a place, a book, a poem, an image, an incident, an anecdote, the memory of a journey, a short walk, a sight, a monument, a photograph, a magazine article, a snippet of history,  the train whistle, a meal, a trinket, a souvenir, someone I met, help received at some point of time — these and many more things like these often remind me of journeys, of my sojourns, some taken, some still to be taken, a story that is waiting to happen or a story that has become a part of my being. Nostalgia, memory and longing are closely intertwined in my mind whenever the word travel comes to mind.

Travel is about negotiating with 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. There are places where one cannot travel to because of restrictions. This counters the basic idea of travel as a free, spontaneous movement. There is also the travel of certain people that is necessitated by work – for instance, journalists travelling to war ravaged zones.

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Since time immemorial travel has excited and enticed people. Inspite of the fact that not all travel has had or has happy associations, people have written about their voyages in strange and new lands, opening new vistas, people and places. These works of travel, of experiences and adventures have enriched literature, and have worked at recreating social, cultural, political and economic history.

Travel writing is not just about travel. It is about one’s experiences, about places, people, culture. It is the subjective that matters more, or should matter more. Travel is about observations, it is about lives lived differently, in places that are so very different from what one is used to, the land, the history, the culture, the people, the food, the music, the textiles, the sights and sounds, the weather, everything that one gets to see is so very different. The personal, the subjective, becomes important, whether it is a personal narrative, or one that has a particular agenda to serve, whether it is about experiences pleasant or those unpleasant. Memory plays an important role in writing about travel experience. History, politics, geography, almost all branches of life feature prominently in works that talk about travel. 

Travel and writing on travel bring up various issues and themes. What makes people travel? How does the idea of travel work to re-present one’s lived place? How do the familiar and well-known take on a charm so very different? How do people and places seem to interact to create a sense of lived experience? What role do memory and nostalgia play in travel? Does writing about travel bring about a re-living of the whole experience? How do bad experiences while travelling colour one’s experience of the place visited? Who travels, for what purpose, and how does the purpose or nature of travel determine itineraries? Do images/ narratives/ descriptions produced by travellers influence or present constructions of identity? What is the role of travel writing in colonialism? How does travel writing work to present the little known or almost forgotten places and people? At a time when more and more women are beginning to travel alone or in women-only groups for pleasure, how do their experiences of travel add to the genre of travel narratives? Could travel writing be gendered?

The essays range from personal accounts of travel that interweave food, music, textiles and books into them, that speak of the nuances of language and words, of culture and its influence on things, of place and memory, critical essays on literary texts which have travel as an important aspect of their narrative or deal with travel as a metaphor, essays that deal with travel in the nineteenth century, to essays that talk about the fear that instinctively comes to the mind of a solo woman traveller conditioned socially to be wary of people and /or places, travel in popular culture, essays that bring together notions of identity, politics, diplomacy, geography and history, of work related travel and the experiences wrought thereof.

About the Book

An edited volume of a collection of essays by travel enthusiasts and scholars that range from personal accounts of travel that weave together food, music, textiles and books to essays that speak of the nuances of language, words and culture, of place and memory. There are essays that speak of travel in popular culture and bring together notions of identity, politics, geography and history. The volume also contains critical essays on literary texts which deal with travel, essays on travel in the nineteenth century, to essays that reveal the experiences of the solo woman traveller.

About the Editor

Nishi Pulugurtha is an academic and creative writer. Her research areas are British Romantic poetry, Indian Writing in English, diaspora literature, Shakespeare adaptations in film and she has presented papers and published in these areas extensively. She writes short stories, poems, essays, travelogues, and on Alzheimer’s Disease. Her creative writings have been published in anthologies, journals and magazines. She is the author of a monograph on Derozio (2010),  a collection of essays on travel, Out in the Open (2019), and has a volume of poems, The Real and the Unreal and Other Poems (2020). 

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL