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.
The Empire Thinks Back: A Foreword
Followed by 7 chapters