Tete-a-tete with Ranjita Biswas | Solo Traveler

As the world seems to be shrinking with flights to destination never heard before, instant internet connectivity and couch surfing becoming a norm, travel literature as compared to the Instagram word “wander lust” is gaining popularity, slowly but steadily.

We wanted to find out about the challenges faced by one such wanderluster, our very own Ranjita Biswas, author of the recently published title, Notes from a Spanish Diary’. Her previous published work with Niyogi Books was Brahmaputra and the Assam valley (2013).

  • These days, Indian writing in English is witnessing more and more female voyagers writing their own accounts–travelogues–so much so that we can consider it as the rise of a new genre of literature. May we know your opinion? 

Women travelling on their own or in company of women friends in the Indian context are rather new phenomena. Not that, there were none earlier but they travelled with families or husbands on postings out of their home town  and those with a flair for writing put down those experiences. Pandita Ramabai who founded ‘Arya Mahila Samaj’ wrote interesting letters based on her travels in America. Santha Rama Rau, born in Chennai, who made her home abroad, was a prolific traveller and writer. But they were exceptions rather than the norm.

Travelogues as a genre of literature has been there for quite some time. But even in the West, with more opportunities and more liberal social mores, the number of women travel writers is limited compared to their counterparts. However, they have made their mark with the quality of their writings. Pioneer Jan Morris’ many works, Terry Tempest Williams (Finding Beauty in a Broken World ), Gretel Ehrlich (The Future of Ice), Irish writer Dervla Murphy’s Full Tilt (accounts of her 1963 solo bike ride from Europe to India through Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan etc. in a freezing winter), are some that come to mind.

In our home country travelogues by women are still a budding genre, but there is definitely an upswing due to different conducive circumstances.

With economic independence, the world opening up through the internet, better education et al, many women with a dormant desire to travel and see the world are getting an opportunity to fulfill their dream. Today, there are women who have changed track from different professions to take up some travel-oriented occupation- travelling and writing blogs, or books, while some have their own start-ups focusing on the travel industry.

  • Do we find a strong essence of urban elitism in such travelogues from the very birth of such literature? Does ‘class’, in Marxian terms, feature as a very strong category? 

 If you check the travelogues or blogs written by women you would definitely see that most of them come from an urban background in India. I don’t think it’s anything to do with ‘elitism’ or ‘class’ but simply due to opportunities available. In a patriarchal society like ours, women stepping out of their rural or semi-urban homes to explore the world would seem rather unusual though exceptions are always there. Urban women are exposed to more travel-oriented careers or can indulge in the hobby or satiate their passion for travelling more easily.

Language is another problem. Ability to understand and communicate in English is a definite advantage if you want to travel across the world. Even within India it could be true while travelling from one region to another though Hindi, thanks to the popularity of Bollywood films is fast becoming a convenient language of communication too. If this skill is considered elitist then so be it.

  • Following this question, another question comes to my mind, which, in my opinion, is quite pertinent to this discussion–is there enough travelogues written by female voyagers in vernacular languages? If yes, then how far they have gained prominence? What, according to you, has been the role of the concerned authorities in our countries in mining such ambitious works?  

 There could be more travelogues written by women in the vernacular language though we know women writers more for their novels or short stories. Nabanita Dev Sen, for example, is well-known for her insightful travelogues written in Bengali, besides her considerable oeuvre of poems, short stories, etc.  In the colonial period some Bengali women writers wrote travelogues on their experiences after stepping out from Bengal.

The problem is, even if there are  travelogues written by women  in vernacular languages, there has hardly been translations done, or available, to get introduced to their work.

  • Do all travelogues by female writers quintessentially carry a strong essence of feminism? Are all travelogues by female travelers necessarily gendered, the moment they feature as accounts of ‘women’?

To an extent, yes! As I wrote in the Preamble to my travelogue Notes from a Spanish Diary the reason I feel/felt more comfortable to be on my own while travelling in countries of Europe or South East Asia is because I didn’t seem to face some of the constraints usual back home. I could also relate to many women co-travellers or new acquaintances exploring our common grounds. It may not be applicable to others but that’s how I see it and may be seen as a ‘gendered’ view.

But if you talk about the travelogues by women writers, they are not necessarily ‘woman-oriented’.  Travelogues on the whole are for everybody to enjoy, man or woman. When we read a male travelogue writer’s work do we, as women, look at it as ‘male-writing’ or enjoy the land and people emerging from the work?


7 thoughts on “Tete-a-tete with Ranjita Biswas | Solo Traveler

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