The Westward Traveller (Translated from the original Bengali Paschimjatriki)
Durgabati Ghose, Somdatta Mandal (Tr.)
140 x 216 mm
Year of Publishing
Territorial Rights
Orient BlackSwan

In 1932, Durgabati Ghose, an upper middle-class Bengali woman accompanied her husband on a trip across Europe. The Westward Traveller (originally Paschimjatriki) is an enchanting written record of this four-month long sojourn. Filtered through her upper middle-class upbringing and perceptions, the narrative is observant—not only emphasising on a sense of place, space and landscape, but also an aesthetic, intrinsic appreciation of every destination. The writing comes alive in the author’s everyday interactions with ordinary people, be they fellow travellers or hotel owners or even beggars. Focussing on an accurate description of the ‘real world’, she is always concerned with verisimilitude.

An interesting fact about this travelogue is that even within its set pattern, it offers nuggets of history. What makes the account endearing is the various examples of intercultural encounters and wry comments, often arising from not knowing the language and making value judgments that can be cited at random. As Ashis Nandy says in his Foreword to this translated work, ‘the way Durgabati recounts her adventures in Europe makes them variations on familiar Bengali domesticity, interpersonal patterns and femininity played outside their natural locale. This gives the travelogue a stamp of predictability and at the same time, a touch of robust, irreverent charm and self-confidence.’

To translate this depiction of Europe in colonial times through the eyes of a modernising Bengali woman has been a ‘labour of love’ for translator Somdatta Mandal. Simple and lucid in style, the work retains the traces of the times in which it was originally written and is faithful to the intention of the narrative. Coloured in the expanding consciousness of an individual woman, exploring previously unknown areas of the world, away from the home and hearth characterised by conventionality, conservatism and domesticity, this travel narrative will be a significant contribution to the history of women’s travel narratives from colonial Bengal.

Durgabati Ghose was born in 1905 into a prosperous Bengali family. Her father Girindra Sekhar Basu was the founder of the Indian Psychoanalytical Society. She accompanied her husband on a trip to Europe in 1932, and wrote about her trip in a book title Paschimjatriki. A very loving, considerate and liberal woman, she was loved and revered by everyone in the family till her death on 11 January 1992.

The Translator

Somdatta Mandal is Professor and current Chairperson at the Department of English and Other Modern European Languages, Visva-Bharati, Santiniketan, India. Recipient of several awards and international fellowships, she has published widely both nationally and internationally. She has written two books—Reflections, Refractions and Rejections: Three American Writers and the Celluloid World (2002), Film and Fiction: Word into Image (2005), and has edited and co-edited twelve volumes of scholarly works including Indian Travel Narratives (2010). Her current projects include South Asian Diasporic Cinema and translations of travel narratives from colonial Bengal. She has received an award from Sahitya Akademi for the All India Indian Literature Golden Jubilee (1957–2007) Literary Translation Competition in the Fiction category.

The Empire Thinks Back: A Foreword
Ashis Nandy
Translator’s Introduction
Followed by 7 chapters

The Westward Traveller (Translated from the original Bengali Paschimjatriki)
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