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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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