Guest-Editorial – Travel: Cities, Places, People
By Nishi Pulugurtha
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.
The word ‘travel’ traces its roots to the word ‘travail’, which in turn traces its origins to the medieval Latin word ‘trepalium’, ‘instrument of torture’, from Latin ‘tres’, ‘three’ and ‘palus’, ‘strike’. In ancient times, travel entailed all kinds of great difficulties. Things are much different today. There is definitely no trouble or torture in most associations of travel today. On the contrary, it is a word that mostly brings up pleasurable associations. The reasons for travel are many and myriad – recreation, vacation, research, study, visiting people, travel for charity, migration to begin new life elsewhere, mission trips, business travel, trade, pilgrimage, for health care, fleeing trouble, among others. There is another kind of travel too, one which does not have the notion of pleasure associated with it – a journey, a movement, that needs to be undertaken as a result of forced migration and displacement due to conflict and violence.
Since time immemorial travel has excited and enticed people. In spite 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?
This issue of Café Dissensus hopes to look at some of these issues that come to mind when travel and writing about travel comes to mind. Issues relating to imperialism, colonialism, postcolonialism, ethnography, multiculturalism, nationalism, identity, visual culture, tourist/traveler, hybridity, margin, cosmopolitanism/localism, home/abroad, arrival/return, road narrative, and diaspora, to name just some, are important aspects of the genre of travel writing.
The essays in this issue 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, book reviews, of work-related travel and the experiences wrought thereof.
Dr. Nishi Pulugurtha is Head and Associate Professor, Department of English, Brahmananda Keshab Chandra College, Kolkata. She is an academic with varied interests and writes on travel, too.
For more stories, read Café Dissensus Everyday, the blog of Café Dissensus Magazine.