Monday, February 05, 2007

Travelers: Ryszard Kapuscinski in The New Yorker

Last week's New Yorker had an intriguing travel narrative by a Polish journalist named Ryszard Kapuscinski. Kapuscinski went to India for the first time in 1955, knowing no Hindi and little English. Arriving, he felt a little like he'd landed on the moon.

The most interesting part of the story, perhaps not surprisingly, has to do with Kapuscinski's attempt to learn both English while in India:

I walked around the city, copying down signs, the names of goods in stores, words overheard at bus stops. In movie theatres, I scribbled blindly, in darkness, the words on the screen; I noted the slogans on banners carried by demonstrators in the streets. I approached India not through images, sounds, and smells but through words; and not the words of the indigenous Hindi but those of a foreign, imposed tongue, which by then had so fully taken root there that it was for me an indispensable key to the country.

It's also intriguing that the book he was using as an entry point to the English language was Heminway's magnificently convoluted novel, For Whom The Bell Tolls.

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Blogger Ruchira Paul said...

Interesting. Actually, India is not such an unlikely place for those who wish to learn English. During my college years, a very large number of foreign students (Thailand, India, Korea, Egypt, the UAE, Palestine and several African countries) were enrolled in Indian universities, in order to get a "good English education" that cost much less than it did in the UK and the US.

1:59 PM  
Blogger Amardeep said...

Ruchira, yes, definitely.

What struck me is the way in which language itself becomes the theme of his visit. It's quite different from other western travelers in India, who have tended to notice the poverty, the traffic chaos, the ancient/exotic beauty, etc.

2:07 PM  
Blogger Ruchira Paul said...

Amardeep, a couple of things:

The link you've provided opens to a political story, not the travel narrative.

The second country on the list in my previous comment should read Iran, not India.

You never did answer the question I asked in the Masud Khan story. Were Desani and Naipaul, in your opinion, messed up human beings as a result of their minority status as brown men in white countries?

2:46 PM  
Blogger Amardeep said...

Ruchira, I think Desani and Naipaul were probably messed up in certain ways by colonialism before they ever reached England. Naipaul at least has written pretty self-consciously about it: the sense of being hopelessly marginal, irrelevant, less than a subject.

Desani is less forthright about the anxiety, but in my reading it is there. I actually wrote an essay about it, and am waiting to see if it will get accepted by a journal...

8:32 PM  
Blogger Ruchira Paul said...

Thank you, Amardeep.

Perhaps you will publish the essay here after you hear from the journal.

10:25 PM  
Anonymous Corina said...

I read Kapuscinski at college, I loved his articles. He is a very interesting man. I read a book where he describes and explains periodism under his point of view. I don´t remember the title, but if anyone knows what I´m taling about... I highly recomend it.

2:17 PM  

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