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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