English 198/Asia 198

Spring 2006

Professor Amardeep Singh



Travel Writers: India, England, and the U.S.



Contact information:

Amardeep Singh (nickname Deep)

Email: amsp@lehigh.edu, amardeep@gmail.com


Office: 221 Drown Hall

Office Hours: Wednesday afternoons, appointment recommended



Required Reading:


Amitava Kumar, Away: The Indian Writer as Expatriate

E.M. Forster, A Passage to India

Sarah Macdonald, Holy Cow!

Lee Siegel, Love in a Dead Language

William Dalrymple, City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi

Gita Mehta, Karma Cola: Marketing the Mystic East

V.S. Naipaul, India: A Wounded Civilization  


Additional short reading we will be doing (generally on Blackboard/online)


The Travels of Dean Mahomet

            Available on Blackboard (and online –etext)

Katherine Mayo, excerpts from Mother India

            Available on Blackboard (and online –etext)

Amy Waldman, New York Times reporter

            Recent travels in India. Available on Blackboard

Thomas Friedman, New York Times columnist

            Excerpts from The World is Flat. Available on Blackboard

Suketu Mehta, excerpt from Maximum City

Amitav Ghosh, essays on visiting Andaman/Nicobar after the Tsunami (January 2005)

            Available on Blackboard




Travel Writers

English 198/Asia 198

Spring 2006



Tentative Syllabus



Tuesday 1/17 First day of class/ introduction to the course NOTES

Excerpt from Yemi Onufuwa, “Ancient Land” handout


1/19     Read: “Introduction” and “Prologue” chapters from Amitava Kumar’s Away: The Indian Writer as an Expatriate (pp. xiii-xx and 3-58)

Also read: the rest of “Ancient Land” handout


In class: Lecture and discussion, introducing the concept of ‘travel writing’. Keywords: exile, expatriate, migration, traveler, acculturation, assimilation, diaspora, desi

Historical keywords: Empire, imperialism, colonialism, decolonization.



1/24     E.M. Forster, Passage to India NOTES

1/26     Passage to India NOTES

            Additional reading: keywords on “orientalism”


In class: introduction to E.M. Forster and the modern British literary scene. Also discussion of the role of India in British fiction.


1/31     Passage to India NOTES

In class: Discussion of the rising Indian independence movement in the 1910s and 20s. Discussion of various religious communities amongst in India – Hinduism and Islam.

2/2       Passage to India

            Also read: excerpts from Katherine Mayo, Mother India NOTES


2/7       “Part I” of Kumar’s Exile: pp. 59-171 NOTES

2/9       “Part II” of Kumar’s Exile: pp. 210-274 NOTES



2/14     “Part III” of Kumar’s Exile pp. 301-389

2/16     Sarah MacDonald, Holy Cow! NOTES

Also read: Article by Gautam Dutta on Yosuf Komunyakaa’s visit to India in Callaloo (Blackboard)


2/21     Sarah MacDonald, Holy Cow! NOTES

2/23     NO CLASS (I’m off to Oregon to give a lecture); we will try and schedule a virtual make-up class (Blackboard chat/IM) for 2/25 or 2/26.


2/28     Gita Mehta, Karma Cola NOTES

3/2       Gita Mehta, Karma Cola


3/7       SPRING BREAK

3/9       SPRING BREAK


3/14     William Dalrymple, City of Djinns NOTES

            Also read: recent American journalism on India, including Amy Waldman’s

pieces on cars and highways, and Tom Friedman’s pieces on the business/IT

revolution in Bangalore

3/16     William Dalrymple, City of Djinns NOTES


3/21     William Dalrymple, City of Djinns

3/23     Love in a Dead Language NOTES


3/28     Love in a Dead Language NOTES

3/30     Love in a Dead Language


4/4       Naipaul, India: A Wounded Civilization NOTES

4/6       India: A Wounded Civilization


4/11     India: A Wounded Civilization

4/13     Papers due


4/18     Travels of Dean Mahomet (online/Blackboard)

4/20     Travels of Dean Mahomet (online/Blackboard)


4/25     Online projects discussion/progress

4/27     Exam review/ wrap-up NOTES


Final exam: during exam week




Christopher Columbus may have sailed the ocean blue, but it was Vasco de Gama that actually found India.


(As you may remember, that’s where Columbus thought he was headed after all, but what he found was the New World. Making one of the most colossal misnomers in human history he named the people he met there “Indians,” which… oh, don’t get me started!


But somewhat more seriously, it does tell you something worth considering: if he couldn’t distinguish Native Americans from people in India, he really didn’t know anything about the people he was trying to find. On the flip-side, the fact that the name stuck, at least for awhile, shows that he and the Native Americans he met really didn’t understand each other at all (or they might have been able to clue him in). The name was created because of ignorance, and the fact that it stuck even after people realized that they had discovered an entirely new continent is an enduring puzzle.


Despite the story of the wrong-turn, the Portuguese trade with India, which focused on textiles, spices, and tea, did take off. Eventually it was surpassed by the British, who would, by 1757 come to totally dominate the Indian subcontinent. It was the British who in many ways gave shape to the idea of modern India -- through their efficient colonial administration, their censuses, and the development of a vast railway network, most of which is still in use today. In turn, India provided the British with the raw materials and the manpower to support commerce on an unprecedented scale. India was, for England, the ‘Jewel in the Crown,’ providing the basis for the material wealth that enabled England to be the dominant world power for nearly two hundred years.


Which brings us to travel writers, the topic of this course. The British inherited from the Portuguese a tendency to misunderstand and mischaracterize what they were seeing when they went to India. And they Indians they met didn’t necessarily get the Brits either. The mutual misunderstanding was partly a simple function of ‘not getting it’ – not having enough information to decode another culture. But at times, the misunderstanding was driven by political circumstances, as well as ideologies of race and Orientalism that seemed to suggest that true cross-cultural connection is practically (or even genetically) impossible. The famous English writer Rudyard Kipling – himself a possible candidate for this course – expressed the sense of impossibility in a famous epigram, “The east is east and the west is the west, and never the twain shall meet.” Kipling was, oddly enough, born and partly raised in India, and knew it much better than the vast majority of Englishmen. And yet he insisted that the gulf between cultures was essentially unbridgeable – a matter of race, not knowledge or experience.


Why? Where did this sense of skepticism come from?


Since the beginning of the modern era – the era of full capitalism and European colonial dominance – travel has rarely been innocent. To a fair extent the idea of travel was closely linked to British authority over its colonies in Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean. Indeed, working for the colonial administration frequently gave the British the opportunity to write about their travels. It’s no accident that Kipling, for instance, was the son of employees of the Indian Civil Service, the British colonial administration.


If you go someplace as a master, rather than simply as a visitor, it has an affect on how you see the country. Some of the early British travel narratives bear the stamp of a too-confident sense of superiority, the sense that only they are truly able to understand the merits and failures of foreign civilizations. The “natives” themselves are thought of as naïve simpletons, who don’t know what’s good for them.


This course deals with the politics of travel writing to an extent, especially in the materials we’ll be looking at early on, materials written in the latter days of colonialism. You really see this smug, superior attitude in the writing of the American writer Katherine Mayo, whose book Mother India was a big bestseller in the U.S. when it was released in 1937.


Not every British or American traveler in India fell prey to the temptation to see the country [this way]. E.M. Forster, for instance, was a notable exception. And while there are some obvious clichés and questionable racial attitudes in his famous novel A Passage to India, the novel is one of the most complex and sensitive representations of colonial India ever written. 


There’s a flip side too, writings by people from poorer, colonized societies like India who themselves go abroad, visiting England (and today, the U.S.). Here the sense of superiority is absent, and if anything what the traveler brings with him is somewhat of a sense of inferiority and awe at an opportunity to be at the ‘center’ of things.


Of course, not everyone worshipped the west. Mohandas Gandhi (who would later be given the nickname “Mahatma,” or great soul, by his admirers) went to England to study law, and found that he didn’t particularly fit in with mainstream Englishmen, nor did he want to. He sought out radical thinkers, and was eventually exposed to ideas about nonviolent resistance that he would later use against the English. But Gandhi was an exception – many early Indian travelers in England and the U.S. were completely stupefied by what they saw. Some tried very hard to mould themselves into perfect Englishmen. The English, of course, laughed at such efforts, noting that the Indian version of Englishness missed the point entirely. It was, you could say, a misunderstanding in reverse.


Of course, at some point you have to try and get beyond mutual misunderstanding, or you are essentially talking about people who don’t understand each other at all. If our only response to travel writing is to find faults with the traveler – this is what she doesn’t understand in the local language, that is what he doesn’t know enough about the local religion – there wouldn’t be much point in reading them.


What this course is going to try and do is look beyond the various failures one finds in travel narratives, and focus on the full picture: good insights as well as obvious clichés. The larger interest is to think about the idea of travel writing as a genre: what do travel writers do and how do they do it? Can we make a list of characteristics that seem to be present in nearly all travel writing?


More questions: How far do you have to go before you’re traveling? Is it possible to look at the everyday world around you with ‘travel eyes’, which is to say, to see it as if for the first time?



Obviously few if any of you have been to India, and I’m presuming you have no previous experience with these materials (we’ll be starting from the ground up). Ideally, a course like this would actually end with students taking a trip there, though at this point that isn’t really in the cards. But the ideas and arguments we work on here could well apply to you no matter where you’ve traveled or are likely to travel.


The problem of cross-cultural understanding, and the awkward position of the traveler is an issue that you’ll experience nearly anywhere in the world.


This is an experimental course, and one of the questions I’ll be asking as a teacher is how similar are the two kinds of travel narratives? How much do Indian travelers in the west resemble the writing produced by English and American travelers who go to India?


Another biggie is this: how does reading these books help us understand the relationships between these two distant – but still tightly connected – parts of the world? What is the history of the relationship between India and England/America, and how has that relationship evolved over time?


English 198/Asia 198 (?)

Spring 2006




Keywords for the course:


Empire: The idea of total control by a single power, over several nations at once. At its peak (1900-1947) the British empire controlled something like 1/3 of the earth’s territory, with near-total military dominance on the seas.


            Discussion question: Does America have an ‘empire’?


Imperialism: The practice of building empires.

Colony: A subject territory, ruled by a foreign power.

Colonialism: The practice of running foreign territories. This terms is actually distinct from ‘Imperialism,’ though there is some overlap. Colonialism is more of an economic idea (it doesn’t necessarily have strong ‘symbolic’ value).


Decolonization: The process of dismantling colonialism.

            (Indian independence was achieved in 1947, after 40 years of agitation)


Nationalism and cultural nationalism: The intellectual and political movement oriented to achieving independence from a foreign power.

Anglophilia (or “mimicry”): In the Indian context, the slavish imitation of foreign values, attitudes, and style. Generally antithetical to nationalism, though there is some overlap here.


Expatriate: A person who lives outside of his or her home country.

Exile: A person who has been banished from his or her home country. Sometimes used in a philosophical rather than  a legal sense: ‘exile’ as in, out of sync with one’s peers, ignored, or widely disliked. (See Nirad Chaudhuri)

Migration: The process of moving from place to place.  

Travel: Visiting places temporarily (obvious, I know)


Acculturation: Adapting to the cultural norms of a new society.

Assimilation: Thoroughly blending into a new society.


Diaspora: The body of people in a country that are living abroad at a given time. (All of the Indians living in the west can together be called a ‘diaspora’.) The term is also often used with other ethnic and religious groups: the Jewish diaspora, the African diaspora.


Desi: An ‘in-house’ term, describing a cultural artifact or person as of South Asian origin. From the Hindi word “desh,” meaning country.



Very Brief Timeline of “Official” Indian History, 1960s and 70s


1757: British become official colonial power in much of India.

1857: ‘Sepoy Mutiny’ – first major challenge to British rule.

1910s: Major Indian political movement oriented to achieving independence begins.

1947: India becomes independent. First Prime Minister is Jawarhalal Nehru.

1948: Mohandas Gandhi (“Mahatma”) is assassinated by an orthodox Hindu.

1947: First Indo-Pak war (separate from Partition), over Kashmir. A stalemate in terms of territory.


1962: Sino-Indian war. Chinese win decisively in a skirmish in border areas in the north.

1964: Nehru dies. Lal Bahadur Shastri becomes Prime Minister.

1965: Indo-Pak war over Kashmir. (7000 casualties)

1966: Shastri dies. Indira Gandhi (Nehru's daughter; no relation to Mahatma) becomes Prime Minister.

1971: Rebellion in East Pakistan leads west Pakistanis to brutal suppression, then full-scale civil war: Pakistan commits 'ethnic cleansing' in East Pakistan. India gets in involved, and fights in support of the East Pakistanis. India wins, and the new nation of Bangladesh is created out of what was East Pakistan. 300,000-1 million people died, many of them civilians.


1975: Indira Gandhi's “Emergency” -- assumption of dictatorial powers following election defeat.


1977: Resumption of free elections, civil liberties. Indira voted out of office

1980: Indira voted back into power.


1984: Indira Gandhi assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards

1991: Liberalization instituted; change in direction of the government



Travel Writers

English 198 – Spring 2006





Passage to India Notes 1/26


E.M. Forster: 1879-1970.


Edward Morgan Forster lived most of his life in England, but traveled extensively during the 1910s and 20s, mainly in Egypt and India. Forster was close to many of the movers and shakers in the British modernist literary scene, though his novels have been considered somewhat traditional in comparison to some of his peers (Virginia Woolf, James Joyce). It’s also important to note that Forster was gay – though he was never ‘out’ during his lifetime. Some scholars have in recent years, looked for homosexual themes in Forster’s works, including Passage to India. These are debatable, but what isn’t debatable is that Forster’s strong emotional attachment to Egyptian and Indian men he knew probably made a difference in how well he portrayed those societies in his fiction.


Forster’s major novels:

            A Room With a View

            Howards End

            Passage to India


(Note: All three have been made into movies!) He also wrote some influential literary criticism, including Aspects of the Novel. His letters, short essays, and diaries have also all been published in the past 30 years.


From Wikipedia: Forster traveled in Egypt, Germany and India with classicist G.L. Dickinson in 1914. During a journey to the East in the winter of 1916-17, he met in Ramleh a tram conductor, Mohammed el-Adl, a youth of seventeen with whom he fell in love and who was to become one of the principal inspirations for his literary work. Mohammed died of tuberculosis in Alexandria in spring of 1922. After this loss, Forster was driven to keep the memory of the youth alive, and attempted to do so in the form of a book-length letter, preserved at King's College, Cambridge.


* * * *

Passage to India was a bestseller and made a major impact when it was first published in 1924. It has been especially influential in shaping the western image of colonial India, and for its sensitive and realistic portrayal of Indian characters. He wasn’t the first; many earlier British novelists had brought Indian characters in their works, including especially Rudyard Kipling and Arthur Conan Doyle (author of the “Sherlock Holmes” mysteries). But usually the Indians came in as minor figures, shifty villains, or stereotypes of the “Guru.” (Some Indian critics of the novel have claimed that, though Forster may be better than some of his peers, there are still stereotypes in this novel as well – something for us to discuss).


The novel is based on Forster’s two trips to India, one of which occurred in 1912, and the second of which occurred in 1921-1922. The second trip was longer and more meaningful, and probably gave Forster much of the material that makes up A Passage to India. He had a number of Indian friends, including one he had somewhat of a romantic interest in. But through them he gained a good sense of what young Indians were interested in, and how they felt about the British at the time. 


He seemed to prefer Indo-Muslim culture over Hindu culture, which he frankly admitted he didn’t quite understand (you’ll notice that most of the Indian characters in Passage to India are Muslims). Here is something he said in a letter to his mother and sister back in England:


The more I know the less I understand. With the Mohammedans it is different. When after the nightmare of Gokul Ashtami, I stood on the minaret of the Taj in Agra, and hear the evening call to prayer from the adjacent mosque, I knew at all events where I stood and what I heard; it was a land that was not merely atmosphere but had definite outlines and horizons. So with the Mohammedan friends of Masood whom I am meeting now. They may not be as subtle or suggestive as the Hindus, but I can follow what they are saying.


Forster’s second trip to India was sponsored by a Hindu prince (“Maharajah”), and he worked in the prince’s court as a translator and teacher for several months. 


Discussion questions


What kind of town is Chandrapore? What does it look like?

How is this a ‘travel narrative’? Who are the travelers? Is the resident British community (the “Anglo-Indians”) in transit? Would you call them “expatriates”?


How does Forster characterize Indians in the novel? What do you make of the Indian character Aziz? Is it a sympathetic portrayal? (Give examples of important events of descriptions)


How does Forster characterize the relationship between the English and the Indians in the early part of the novel? (Give examples)


What do you make of the statement, made on p. 32, that “nothing is private in India”?


What do you make of Ronny Heaslop’s argument with his mother on p. 51? I’m particularly interested in the statement, “We’re not here to behave pleasantly.” How do different characters view British colonialism in India?


How much is race or racism an issue in this part of the novel?


Travel Writers

English 198 – Spring 2006



Religious Groups in India


Hinduism/Hindus. 2/3rd of Indian population before independence. Hinduism is a polytheistic religion that is practiced slightly differently from place to place. There are several holy books, none of which can be considered the “definitive” text (there is no single Hindu “Bible”). Some groups worship some deities above others, and have slightly different rituals and beliefs. Major deities include Vishnu, Shiva, Brahma, Ganesh, Hanuman, Kali, Durga, and Lakshmi, though there are many others. By the 1890s, various Hindu reform movements had changed the structure of Hinduism slightly in response to contact with British missionaries – this is the “Hindu Protestantism” that Nirad Chaudhuri refers to in the “England” section of “Away” we read last week. 

Islam/Muslims (close to 1/3 of population; most conversions to Islam occurred at or after the 12th century AD. Between the 1500s and the 1700s, various Muslim rulers built an empire, with India as one of the major centers. The “Mughals” from central Asia were the most important: they built the Taj Mahal, many beautiful fortresses and palaces, the city of Delhi, and a major road system linking India to Afghanistan – the “Grand Trunk Road” or GT Road)

Sikhism/Sikhs. Recent sect combining attributes of Hinduism and Islam. About 20-25 million in number, largely based in Punjab.

Zoroastrians/Parsis. A small minority and a totally distinct faith; originates from Persia.

            Indian Christians. A decent-sized community of Indian Christians has been in

            India for nearly 1500 years. After the British came, many more Indians converted

            to Christianity. Today as much as 6 percent of Indians are Christians.

            Indian Jews. A small community of Indian Jews has been based in the southern

Indian city of Cochin for many centuries. The community is now dying out, as most Indian Jews have emigrated to Israel.

            Buddhism. Though this religion originated in India, Buddhists are relatively

small in number in India; most Buddhists are now in other parts of Asia. Buddhism originated as a sect of Hinduism, and has many similarities to Hinduism still)

            Jains. Pacifist, vegetarian sect related to Buddhism, strongest in Gujurat state.


Timeline: What was happening in India in the 1910s and 20s


(Quiz: when did British rule in India start to take hold? Anything major happen in the 19th century?)


1885:   Founding of Indian National Congress. In its early years, it was an organization focused on the rights of Indians within the empire (they didn’t initially advocate independence). Later, it would become the main political party agitating for independence from British rule. Both Mahatma Gandhi and Jawarhalal Nehru were Congress Party members. The Congress Party is also the one governing the country at present (as in, today in 2006).


1918    Rowlatt Committee Report: Detailed in alarmist tones the spread of revolutionary sentiment throughout India. The Rowlatt Report led the colonial administration to institute harsh restrictive measures against all forms of dissent, and eventually to events such as the Massacre at Jallianwalla Bagh in Amritsar, in 1919.


1919    Massacre at Jallianwalla Bagh in Amritsar. Crowd of peaceful Indian protestors gunned by British troops down in town of Amritsar, Punjab. Some 500 unarmed people are killed, and the event sparks an international outcry.



1919    Khilafat movement. Many young Indian Muslims were involved in a brief pan-Islamic movement, which aimed to shake off British rule, and establish a new “Caliphate” – a new Muslim empire, whose leader would be Turkish. This was a brief phase in Indian politics, but it marked the beginning of a split between Hindu and Muslim political movements (this split would eventually lead to the creation of Pakistan). Several of Forster's Indian acquaintances were in fact directly involved with or sympathetic to this movement.


1921-1922       Gandhi’s “Civil Disobedience movement. By the time Forster came to India for his second visit, Mahatma Gandhi had come into focus as the main political figure. He advocated nonviolent resistance to British authority, and was the first Indian politician to really mobilize the Indian masses (most of the early political maneuvering involved English-speaking elites). But he found it difficult to control the masses – especially to rigorously enforce the principle of nonviolence. Many times his peaceful marches and protests ended as riots. In 1922 he called off his first “Civil Disobedience” movement after a major riot. (The relevance of all this to the novel will become clear towards the end.)





Travel Writers

English 198 – Spring 2006




Passage to India day 3 (1/26/06)


Keywords and vocabulary terms


Oriental (21):


“Rather surprised, [Mrs. Moore] replied: “I don’t think I understand people very well. I only know whether I like or dislike them.”

            [Aziz:] “Then you are an Oriental.”


The term “Oriental” has a long, vexed history in the history of British colonialism and travel writing. Beginning with the late 1700s, “oriental” was a term used by many Europeans to describe peoples as well as a whole slew of cultural attributes associated with the ‘East’, which included the Middle East, South Asia, and East Asia. (Today, if one hears the term “oriental” it is probably used to describe only east Asians.)

            What is confusing about the term is its vagueness: it seems to apply to everything east of the Suez Canal, and lumps together cultural attributes that seem to be completely unrelated. It is also in some sense a racial or racist term, as it aims to describe fundamental personality traits people in or near Asia: a tendency to mysticism, non-rational thinking, and a basically untrustworthy nature.

            Recent scholars like Edward Said have suggested that the term “Oriental” was fundamentally a myth constructed by Europeans to describe everything and everyone they thought to be different from themselves. If Rationality is a valued European trait, Orientals are by definition irrational. Edward Said suggests that the way the term “oriental” was used during the colonial era had more to do with the European imagining of the Other than actual experience or observation. It was such a powerful term that it almost didn’t matter if it was backed up by empirical fact. As he put it:


“Orientalism was ultimately a political vision of reality whose structure promoted the difference between the familiar (Europe, West, "us") and the strange (the Orient, the East, "them").” (from Orientalism)



            In the book, it’s surprising to see Aziz playing with the term so confidently, and turning it in some sense on its head even as he accepts it as a category. What might it mean for him to refer to Mrs. Moore as an “oriental”? And what else does she do and say in the novel thus far that corroborates with what she says here? (For instance, consider her relationship to Christianity. Also consider her doubts about marriage [149], and her reaction to the cave [165])


            Following his own usage of the word, would Aziz  be an Oriental? (Compare Aziz’s way of speaking to Godbole’s, especially on pp. 84-85)


            What do you make of the second invocation of “oriental” on page 59?


            The third time the word is used, on p. 157, Aziz is quite plainly described by the narrator as an “Oriental”: “Like most Orientals, Aziz overrated hospitality, mistaking it for intimacy, and not seeing that it is tainted with the sense of possession.”


Maidan (4): open, public field.

Tonga: (13) a kind of primitive carriage or taxi drawn by a buffalo.

Bridge Party (26): ‘East’ meets ‘West’ in Chandrapore.

Pukka (27): Means “ready” or “ripe.” If someone isn’t fully or properly adjusted to standard values in Chandrapore, they are likely to be referred to as “not pukka.” Both Fielding and Adela Quested are referred to as “not pukka” in this passage.

Burra Sahib (27): Literally means the “big master.” It’s actually a reference to the head British magistrate who governs this unit of British India.

Izzat (33): Literally means honor or respect.

Mohurram (41): Important Shia Muslim festival, which marks the massacre of the early leader Imam Hussain. Usually involves large public processions of mourning where men flagellate themselves to ritually reenact Hussain’s death.

Purdah (42): Literally means “curtain.” It is a reference to the segregated living patterns practiced in elite Indo-Muslim culture.


Urdu (42): This is Hindi (the dominant language spoken in North India), with significant amounts of vocabulary from Persian and Arabic. The grammar is the same as Hindi, and the two languages are mutually intelligible. Many British Anglo-Indians would have learned a little Hindi/Urdu to be able to communicate with non-English speaking Indians (usually servants). Today, Pakistan’s official language is “Urdu,” while one of India’s official languages is “Hindi.”


Maharani/Maharajah (49): A maharani is a queen, and a maharajah is a king. Many regions of British India were technically independent principalities. But in practice, the Maharajahs and Maharanis in these small states were on the British payroll, and were in effect quite compliant with British policies (especially British taxation policies). These kings and queens also had significant numbers of British “advisors” staying in their territories (such as Miss Derek). Forster himself worked for a Maharajah on his second trip to India.


Chukker (60): Round. “Let’s have another chukker” means “let’s have another round.”

Chit (61): Sheet. In fact, the two words come from the same Indo-European root.


Babuisms (68): A ‘Babu’ would have been an educated Indian man who knew English, and possibly worked for the British administration in some capacity. Early on, many ‘Babus’ were a bit comical with their attempts to emulate British style, and some spoke English a bit idiosyncratically. A ‘Babuism’ is, then, a grammatical mistake.


What do you make of the way the term “muddle” is used in the novel (see p. 73 for instance) ?

What do you make of the experience of the caves, described on pp. 136-137, and then again on 165?





Another important quote from Edward Said, this time on imperialism


But there's more than that to imperialism. There was a commitment to imperialism over and above profit, a commitment in constant circulation and recirculation which on the one hand allowed decent men and women from England or France, from London or Paris, to accept the notion that distant territories and their native peoples should be subjugated and, on the other hand, replenished metropolitan energies so that these decent people could think of the empire as a protracted, almost metaphysical obligation to rule subordinate, inferior or less advanced peoples. We mustn't forget, and this is a very important aspect of my topic, that there was very little domestic resistance inside Britain and France. There was a kind of tremendous unanimity on the question of having an empire. There was very little domestic resistance to imperial expansion during the nineteenth century, although these empires were very frequently established and maintained under adverse and even disadvantageous conditions. Not only were immense hardships in the African wilds or wastes, the "dark continent," as it was called in the latter part of the nineteenth century, endured by the white colonizers, but there was always the tremendously risky physical disparity between a small number of Europeans at a very great distance from home and a much larger number of natives on their home territory. In India, for instance, by the 1930s, a mere 4,000 British civil servants, assisted by 60,000 soldiers and 90,000 civilians, had billeted themselves upon a country of 300,000,000 people. The will, self-confidence, even arrogance necessary to maintain such a state of affairs could only be guessed at. But as one can see in the texts of novels like Forster's Passage to India or Kipling's Kim, these attitudes are at least as significant as the number of people in the army or civil service or the millions of pounds that England derived from India.


Travel Writers

English 198 – Spring 2006




Discussion questions on Passage to India, 1/31/06



1. Law and Order time: Discuss the trial itself. What do you think happened to Adela Quested? (And why do you think that?) What evidence is there against Aziz?

            What are some of the factors that make Aziz look guilty?

What do you make of the way the trial is conducted. What are the key events? Does it seem fair overall? 



2. Stereotypes: Discuss how the British stereotype the Indians during the period of the trial of Dr. Aziz (pages 180-260). Name some of the stereotypes that are being deployed with regards to Aziz as well as other Indians involved in his defense.


            Are there any stereotypes of the British by the Indians?


            Notably, most of the stereotypes belong to individual characters. Are there any stereotypes mentioned that seem to belong to the novel itself (i.e., E.M. Forster)?


3. Traveling: Take a look at the longish section (pages 232-233) focusing on Mrs. Moore’s train ride to Bombay, where she plans to depart India before the trial starts.

            What do you make of the imagery in this passage? Beneath the mystical language, what do you think Forster is trying to say?

            How might we read it as a kind of travel narrative? (How does it change Mrs. Moore’s experience of India?)



4. More on the “Sepoy Mutiny” of 1857


            In Passage to India, the Sepoy Mutiny is mentioned on pages 187 and 207  


            The Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 was a military mutiny (“sepoy” comes from “sipahi,” which means soldier in Hindi) that occurred in response to increased missionary activity by the British, a rapid pace of annexation of small territories and principalities, and heavy taxation instituted in India. There was also an immediate myth circulating in the spring of 1857 that the new type of cartridge used by soldiers in the British army contained both cow and pig fat. This was an especially serious issue, since at that time in order to load a cartridge into a rifle, a soldier had to bite off the top of the container pouch. Thus the soldiers were, as a matter of routine, asked to violate a fundamental principle of their religion (Hindus are forbidden to touch beef or cow fat, while Muslims are forbidden to each any pig products or pork.) 

Recent historical evidence has suggested that the myth about the new cartridges was likely false. But it was severe enough that it gave an emotional connection to tens of thousands of soldiers who had little contact with each other.


            As the most visible act of resistance, it might still be a live issue for the British in 1910s. They remain a very small minority in most parts of India, outnumbered as much as 98 to 1. The army remained dominated by Indian soldiers, though most positions of authority were reserved for the British.


            While the Mutiny was in effect (British authority in India was disrupted for nearly six months), there were rumors that British women trapped in colonial areas were humiliated and in some cases raped. Though there is little evidence that this actually occurred, the myth of the “native” as a sexual predator fed the idea that British women were in a special kind of danger in the colonies. If we look at the myth today, it seems more than a little tinged with racism. 


            Discussion questions: Take a look at the two passages. What does the memory of the Mutiny mean for the British residents of Chandrapore?  



5. Muharram (spelled in the novel as “Mohurram”), and the relationship between the three major religions in the novel.


            The Shia Muslim festival of Muharram (or Mohurram) is mentioned a number of times in the novel, as the date of the festival apparently coincides with the trial of Dr. Aziz. More on this festival below (See especially pages 212 and 216.)

            How do the three religions interact in this novel?

            What are some of the characteristics (or stereotypes) corresponding to members of the respective three religions? (Keep in mind that of the British characters in the novel, only Mrs. Moore and Adela Quested are described as practicing/believing Christians)

            Read the article on Muharram in Wikipedia. Can you imagine how the theme of mourning and self-sacrifice might fit the events of the novel?



More Muharram (Source: Wikipedia)


The Festival of Muharram  is an important period of mourning in the Shi'ite branch of Islam. It is to mark the anniversary of the Battle of Karbala when Husayn bin Ali, a grandson of Muhammad, was martyred. Muharram is the first month of Islamic lunar calendar. This marks the time when Prophet Muhammed fled Mecca and, along with Muslims, took refuge in the city of Yathrib, which was later renamed to Medina (The City). Though Muslims around the world celebrate the new Islamic year, the Shi'ite sect has most visible commemoration proceedings, whereby mourning reaches its climax on the tenth day, known as Ashurah.


This festival is observed in the first month of the Hijra year, Muharram. Mourners, both male and female, congregate together (in separate sections) for sorrowful, poetic recitations performed in memory of the martyrdom of Imam Husayn, lamenting and grieving to the tune of beating drums and chants of "Ya Husayn." Passion plays are also performed, reenacting the Battle of Karbala and the suffering and death of Husayn at the hands of Yazid.

Many of the male participants congregate together in public for ceremonial chest beating as a display of their devotion to Husayn and in remembrance of his suffering. In certain Shi'a societies, mainly Lebanon and Iraq, some male participants will inflict actual wounds upon themselves, though this practice is viewed as being extreme and is widely discouraged and banned in other countries with significant Shi'a populations, such as Iran.


6. Muddles and Clarity.


            “India is a muddle,” Fielding says at one point. Follow the theme of “muddles” (and “echoes”), and compare this theme of confusion of chaos to the bits and pieces of clarity that certain characters in the novel experience. What allows one to escape muddles?

            Who of the characters in the book is more prone to muddles? (Is anyone completely free of them?)




Questions from your response papers


Is the novel slanted so as to pose British characters – Fielding in particular – as heroes?


The novel is full of big generalizations about India. What is the link between the pattern of generalizations and the problem racism?


In a situation of unequal power (British control over India), can people of different races be close friends (on an equal footing with one another)?

Travel Writers

English 198/Asia 198 – Spring 2006




Mother India notes 2/7/06

The publication of Katherine Mayo's Mother India caused a major controversy, both inside India and out. It appeared in 1927, following Mayo's trip to India in 1926. Her visit was just after E.M. Forster's, so it's worth thinking about the similarities and differences between her book and A Passage to India.


            Disccusion: Compare E.M. Forster and Katherine Mayo.

Mother India is partly a travelogue; it has sections that describe India directly, and with some degree of poetry. But it is dominated by a more journalistic, polemical tone. Perhaps she's merely emulating the style of travel writing to do something that is, fundamentally, quite different.


Discussion Question: To what extent does this book fit with other ‘travel writing’ we have seen thus far?

Mayo was originally from Pennsylvania, and had earlier written a book celebrating the rural state troopers in the state. Her politics were conservative in the American sense of the time: she was hostile to immigrants, blacks, and Catholics. Even that first book was criticized for portraying an oversimplified view of the Pennsylvania police force, though it obviously also opened doors for her socially and politically. Importantly, Mayo was a supporter of the “Asian Exclusion Acts,” which were passed beginning in the 1910s. These were American laws sharply restricting immigration from Asia and Africa. The laws were essentially racial in nature: the government wanted to encourage white European immigrants, and discourage darker-skinned people. Some Asians who had been born in the U.S. had their citizenship stripped from them at this time.


Mayo had also, in 1925, published a book called Isles of Fear, where she does to the Philippines what Mother India does to India, namely tear it apart.

Katherine Mayo commits one act of outright deception in the opening pages of the book. In the forward, she states that she is traveling through India and recording her observations without any assistance from any government agency.


For this reason the manuscript of this book has not been submitted to any member of the Government of India, nor to any Briton or Indian connected with official life. It has, however, been reviewed by certain public health officials of international eminence who are familiar with the Indian field.


And she says it again at the beginning of Chapter 1:


It was dissatisfaction with this status that sent me to India, to see what a volunteer unsubsidized, uncommitted, and unattached, could observe of common things in human life.


In fact, that wasn't true; she had been in direct contact with the British administration -- in fact, with Central Intelligence Division in India (the officer she was in contact with is named in her letters – J. H. Adams). They had encouraged her to write a book critical of Indian habits and traditional Indian practices, mainly because this was the 1920s and people like Gandhi were making major strides in building a mass-movement to end British rule. They set up meetings with important people for her, and basically paved the way for her to do the exact kind of research that would best support their claim that their rule over India was a benefit to the Indians themselves.

(While people like Forster saw the writing on the wall, other British were less comfortable with  ‘letting go’ of India.)

Because of the British role, we can say that Mother India is a work of Imperial propaganda. In light of the effect it had on readers in England, the U.S., and India itself, it was remarkably successful, though it had not influence at all with the Indians themselves, who would continue to agitate for independence through the 1920s and 30s.  

Mayo was seen as a good candidate because she was in fact American. That helped her gain some credibility -- if she had been British, the book would likely have been received more skeptically by both British and American readers. And it also didn't hurt that the book sold extremely well in America; part of the aim for the British was to shore up support from the U.S. on their policy in India. For the most part, the U.S. supported British imperialism, but by the 1910s and 20s that support was waning (partly for "moral" reasons, and partly for geo-political strategic reasons, I believe – the U.S. saw the British empire as a potential security threat, and a challenge for their own aspirations for territorial expansion).

It definitely changes a lot to know that Mayo wrote this book, essentially, as an agent of the British colonial authority.

Still, many of her statistics on things child marriage, infant mortality, and venereal disease come directly out of official documents, and census reports. And her quotes about the public child marriage debate in 1925 (which involved many Indian politicians) are
all a matter of public record: many prominent Hindus did support child marriage. (Others opposed it -- and Mayo doesn't refer to them much. Gandhi, for his part, was quite outspoken against it, and Mayo at least notes this.)

Alongside the true observations, there are many statements Mayo makes in the book that are either gross exaggerations or outright falsehoods. She piles it on so thick that she almost undoes her own argument about the evils of "Hindu tradition." If morals are in fact so debased, if hygiene is so bad, if girls are so mistreated -- how is it that the Indian population continues to grow at a healthy rate?

So we are again in position to waffle. On the one hand, Mayo's book can hardly be seen as credible, both because of her involvement with British authorities and because of her errors and exaggerations on points of substance. On the other hand, many of her points are valid, which puts Indian nationalists and Euro-American liberals in an awkward position. [We see versions of this still today, in the ongoing debates about "global patriarchy," especially in the recent push by western feminism against the repression of Muslim women by Muslim men.

Mayo's book, Mrinalini Sinha notes, was cited approvingly by the American feminist theorist Mary Daly in some of her influential books as evidence of the Indian oppression of women.

Mayo's book is exactly the kind of thing Spivak is talking about in her various critical engagements with 'western feminism' (i.e., in essays like "Three Women's Texts and a Critique of Imperialism").

More than fifty books and pamphlets were published in response to Mayo's book. It also led to a Broadway play and almost made it to the movies. Here are some of the titles:


Father India (1927); Sister India (1928); My Mother India (1930); A Son of Mother India Answers (1928); Long Live India: What a Son Has to Say About Mother and Father India (1932); An Englishman Defends Mother India (1932); The Truth About Mother India (1928); Unhappy India (1928); Mother India By Those Who Know Her Better than Miss. K. Mayo (1927); Miss Mayo’s Cruelty to Mother India (no date); Mother India Ka Jawab (The Reply to Mother India) (1928); and so on.


One of the most important replies to Mother India was by Muthulakshmi Reddi, the first Indian woman legislator.


(The condition for women was generally bad in India as a whole, but a small slice of Indian women were given the vote in the 1920s. Also, there were women being elected to local legislatures in India by the 1910s and 20s. Third, the main Indian political movement, the Indian National Congress, elected a woman president named Sarojini Naidu in 1925 – just before Mayo went to India.)



* * *



Kali (Wikipedia entry):


Although her presentation in the West is usually as simply dark and violent, Kali is a goddess with a long and complex history in Hinduism. Her earliest history as a creature of indiscriminate violence and wrath still has some influence, while more complex Tantric beliefs sometimes extend her role so far as to be the Ultimate Reality and Source of Being. Finally, the comparatively recent devotional movement largely conceives of Kali as a straightforwardly benevolent mother-goddess. Kali is associated with many devis (goddesses) as well as the deva (god) Shiva.

Kali is generally considered one of the consorts of Shiva. Her name seems to be a female version of the word 'kala' (Sanskrit for 'dark' or 'time'- time in this form being a euphemism for death); it also means Black Female, in contrast to her consort, Shiva, who is white.

Shiva (mentioned on 84)


Shiva (or Siva) is a form of Ishvara or God in the later Vedic scriptures of Hinduism. Adi Sankara interprets the name Śiva to mean "One who purifies everyone by the utterance of His name" or the Pure One. . . . Śiva is "the destroyer", though this title can be misleading as Shiva appears in a multitude of roles. Additionally, Śiva can also mean, "the Auspicious One." He is often depicted as the husband of Uma or Parvati. In the process of manifestation, Lord Shiva is the primeval consciousness and creates the other members of the trimurti (or triumvirate -- Vishnu, Brahma being the other two Gods mentioned in connection with Shiva). He is symbolized by the wisdom of the Serpent. He has many other names, for example Shankara and Mahadev.

Shiva is the ultimate reality who is the nature of Bliss itself and all complete in Himself. He is beyond description, beyond all manifestation, beyond limitation of form, time and space. He is eternal, infinite, all pervading, all knowing and all powerful.

Travel Writers

English 198/Asia 198

Spring 2006



Discussion Questions for Naipaul, India: A Wounded Civilization


The second half of Naipaul’s India: A Wounded Civilization is essentially an extended rant about Gandhi’s failures, and the failure of the imagination of what he calls ‘Gandhianism’ in India in the 1970s, when Naipaul was writing the book.


As with many of the other travel narratives we’ve read, Naipaul’s book refers to a number of other, earlier travelers. The most important of these is Gandhi himself, who went in 1890 to England to study, and subsequently spent almost 20 years in South Africa, where he was a practicing lawyer and political activist. He returned to India in 1915, and quickly built up a massive, popular movement against British rule.


What were some of the difficulties to travel for Gandhi before he left his home-town in Gujurat state? Why did his family discourage him from going?


What are some of the interesting aspects of Gandhi’s experience in England? What is interesting to Naipaul about the way Gandhi writes about it in his Autobiography?


It was in Africa itself that Gandhi developed a sense of the injustice of the British colonial system. How does Naipaul interpret the significance of this? According to Naipaul, how does Gandhi translate his understanding of South Africa’s race politics to India (where race was less of an issue)?


In the book, Naipaul is very critical not just of the Indian government, but of the failure of India’s civic institutions. He singles out particular failures in a number of areas:


The development of agriculture

The modernization of business  

The capacity of Indian journalists

The ability of Indian social workers to actually help the poor

Progress in Design and Architecture

Progress in Science

Originality in the arts (especially painting)

The generation of new political ideas and genuine political debate


What are the particular failures he identifies? Find the passage where he makes his criticisms.


He repeatedly argues that Indians have lost the ability to directly observe their own country. What does he mean by this? How might this problem be addressed? How do you interpret passages like the following:


When men cannot observe, they don’t have ideas; they have obsessions. When people live instinctive lives, something like a collective amnesia steadily blurs the past. Few educated Indians now remember or acknowledge their serenity in 1962, before the Chinese war and the end of the Nehru era, when Independence could still be enjoyed as personal dignity alone, and it could be assumed, from the new possession of dignity by so many, that India had made it or was making it. Few can interpret the increasing frenzy of the country since then, through the Pakistan war of 1965, the consequent financial distress, the drought and famine of 1967, the long agony of the Bangladesh crisis of 1971. (100)



Questioning or Criticizing Naipaul himself:


This is a book that is on a mission -- we might call it a polemic rather than a straightforward account of Naipaul’s experiences during his travels in India in 1975. Naipaul is clearly an outsider, but he gets into the specifics of India’s political situation in a way that writers like Dalrymple or Macdonald don’t do. Does he acknowledge that there might be limits to his ability to accurately describe Indian society as an ‘insider’? How does he relate to other foreigners who visit India?


Is it possible that Naipaul might be just flat out wrong about India’s problems? If we wanted to throw out the whole book as misguided, on what grounds might we do so?


Or perhaps we could throw out just part of the argument. Is it possible to accept what Naipaul says about the limitations of Gandhi himself, while rejecting his claim that the continuation of Gandhianism into the post-independence era is India’s biggest problem?


We are now 30 years down the line from when this book was written. The Emergency is over and Indian democracy has returned and flourished. The problems that were ailing the country during the 1970s haven’t completely gone away, but many of the specific failures Naipaul cites have diminished to a great extent. Art, literature, journalism, science, agriculture, and business have all boomed since that period. (The legal system still has some serious problems to contend with, and the government is still somewhat inefficient at responding to problems.)

            To what extent might the passage of time make Naipaul’s account of India less convincing? Or could we say that his conclusions about India were in fact quite valid for the time, but have become less valid in recent years?



Travel Writers

English 198/Asia 198

Spring 06



Discussion Questions – Thomas Friedman, 4/25/06



Outsourcing is one of the most controversial issues involving India in the U.S. media in recent years.


The two basic reasons it works are 1) the internet allows people to do certain kinds of work anywhere in the world, and 2) there is a major currency ‘buying power’ gap between the U.S. and India, which means that an Indian employee can get paid 15 to 25 percent as much as an American, and still live a pretty good life. Rent and daily cost of living expenses (i.e., groceries, clothes, books, other low-tech commodities) are all much cheaper in India than they are in the U.S. More advanced technology (computers and cars) cost about as much as they do in the U.S., or up to 50% less.


Some facts:


            Current exchange rate: 42 Rupees = $1 (two years ago it was 50 Rupees to a


India’s per capita income (GDP or average salary per person) in 2005: $3400 (according to the U.S. government; adjusted for “purchasing power”; the “real” per capita income is closer to $800)

            Per capita income in the U.S.: $42,000


Starting salary at an Indian call-center (college students and fresh-out-of-college): about $5,500

At banks and consulting firms, the salaries go much higher – between $15,000 and $20,000 for a consultant with an M.B.A.


            Cost of a new car (basic Maruti 900) in India: $3,000-$4,000 (equal to the average


            Cost of a basic new car in the U.S.: $10,000, or one quarter of the average salary




The big controversy is of course whether the advent of all these new jobs in India is taking away American jobs. Many states passed laws starting in 2004 banning the outsourcing of government work, sometimes for job reasons and sometimes because of ‘security’ issues. It also didn’t help that the early 2000s were a time of high tech slump in the U.S. (“dot com bust”), and general economic slump.


Of course, there is lots of confusion about just how much outsourcing is going on, and fierce debate about how many jobs it has cost (some people claim that it actually might create jobs in the U.S. through a certain logic)


While most Indians are quite proud of the role they are playing on the global stage, there are some who have concerns about the types of jobs they are getting. Answering customer service support phone calls isn’t really a skill that will help you build a country’s economy. Sometimes these workers are referred to disparagingly as “high tech coolies,” referring to an insulting term for Indians that goes back to the 19th century.





Thomas Friedman is a senior columnist at the New York Times. Earlier in his career he worked on hard-hitting international political issues like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. His first book, From Beirut to Jerusalem, looks closely at all of the different issues in the various wars and disputes between Israel and its Arab neighbors, starting in the 1940s, and moving forward through the late 1980s. That book too was a travel memoir – and had some personal reflections, as Friedman is an American Jew who has some criticisms of what both the U.S. and Israel were doing in the 1980s in Lebanon.


Since the mid-1990s, Friedman has been an enthusiast for globalization – the idea that goods, money, culture, and people move freely around the globe. Globalization exploded partly because of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the communist regimes in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. Indirectly, the collapse of socialist and communist governments around the world led countries like India, which had a protectionist economy, to make its system more compatible with the free market. As Friedman shows, globalization also benefited a great deal from technological advances and the internet.


One side of globalization is financial and purely business. But the spread of cultural artifacts like movies and music is also an important part of it. American movies in particular now make more money abroad than they do in the U.S. (It also, theoretically, means that foreign commodities should be more readily available in the U.S. We’ve seen some of this, with the rapid growth of foreign sports personalities like Yao Ming, Vlade Divac, and baseball players from Japan, Korea, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, and so on.


The globalization era has also been a time of increased movement of people around the world, though national borders generally haven’t opened up as much as one would expect. (Indeed, the U.S. seems to be poised to tighten its borders.) One of the factors limiting globalization is the sense in many individual countries that foreign people and goods are somehow threatening to the fabric of society. This way of seeing the world can be called ‘isolationism’ when it refers to economics, or ‘xenophobia’ when it refers to personal attitudes. Both of these are subsets of nationalism, which might be the strongest force resisting globalization (or the ‘flattening’ of the world) today. Nationalism is a force that Friedman’s book doesn’t much address.



Travel Writers

English 198/Asia 198

Spring 2006



Notes on Love in a Dead Language 4/13/06



One might wonder why there are so many voices in Love in a Dead Language. One of the reasons Siegel uses figures like Anang Saighal is to enable him to criticize Leopold Roth indirectly. And there are many moments in this part of the novel where Siegel sets up Roth – as a hypocrite, as delusional, or as even an outright sexist jerk.

            Today we’ll look at the various ways in which the book itself criticizes Roth’s attitude towards women and his obsession with India.



1. Orientalism, p. 61

            This is a term we discussed briefly at the start of the semester. Edward Said wrote a book criticizing the “orientalist” view of eastern cultures – arguing that it was to a great extent an invention of the European imagination, and an effect of their power over those cultures. Orientalism, which overlaps somewhat with explicit racism, was explicit in earlier travel narratives like Katherin Mayo’s “Mother India.”  But it was also present in a somewhat more benign way in A Passage to India – with references to Aziz (and even Mrs. Moore) as “Orientals.”


            Read the explanation of Orientalism in Anang Saighal’s footnote.


            Here is more from Said’s book Orienalism:


Just as the various colonial possessions [...] were useful places to send wayward sons [...], so the Orient was a place where one could look for sexual experience unavailable in Europe.  Virtually no European writer who wrote on or travelled to the Orient in the period after 1800 exempted himself or herself from this quest [...].  In time, "Oriental sex" was as standard a commodity as any other available in mass culture, with the result that readers and writers could have it if they wished without necessarily going to the Orient.


Explain how Orientalism might apply to this book.



2. The Peace Corps. At one points in his adolescence, Roth says he wants to join the Peace Corps. What are his motives for wanting to join the organization? What is the “joke” here? (63-64)


3. On page 69, Roth brings up a real-life British writer named Edward Sellon. His book The Ups and Downs of Life is still available (from a publisher called “Wordsworth Classic Erotica”), though I don’t find “The Delights of Hindoo Sex” anywhere on Amazon. Take a look at the footnote on him on page 69.

            Why is Edward Sellon mentioned here?


4. The romance between Leopold Roth and Sophia White brings in India in some interesting ways. What is the connection to India in Sophia’s family? And what role does India play in their romance (see pages 72-74).


5. There is a reference in the long footnote on page 84-85 to a film by Mira Nair called “Kama Sutra,” which came out in 1991. Though it was funded by Hollywood money, it was a commercial and critical flop. What do you make of Roth’s response to Saighal’s question to him about the film?


6. There are numerous references to the English writer Thomas Chatterton in this book (beginning on page 107). Chatterton is famous because he wrote a famous literary forgery that took years to uncover: he invented a medieval poet named Rowley, and composed an entire series of poems in Medieval English, claiming to have merely discovered them. 

            In Love in a Dead Language, Aphra decides she wants to do her own literary forgery. What does she want to do and why does she want to do it?

            Why is this in the book?



Travel Writers

English 198/Asia 198

Spring 2006



From an interview with Lee Siegel


SOURCE: http://www.asiasource.org/arts/siegel.cfm

Q: I see much of your book as a satire on academia, on a white, male professor's obsession with India and, on a larger scale, with Orientalism and the West's fascination with India. How does satire function in this book? How important is it to know how to make fun of yourself?

A: In my understanding, satire is moral, acrimonious, and condemnatory; it exposes and, as it comically castigates human folly, it demands reformation. In that sense, my book isn't meant to be a satire especially since I am, after all, a white male professor who is obsessed and fascinated with India. In any case, I'm not interested in morality, denunciation, or changing people. I appreciate human folly and enjoy all that is goofy about us. But I suppose it's because I used parody, lampoon, caricature, and other rhetorical devices that are associated with satirical attack, that many of the reviewers of the book construed it as satire. This has particularly been the case in India where reviews have consistently characterized it as a satire of Orientalism. I'm pleased because, as a result of that, the book has been on the bestseller list there (second for a while only to Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire); but in my mind it's about a thoroughly universal human need for fantasies about love, a pandemic belief that there are experiences of sexual intimacy in other times and places that are different from our own (and somehow grander and more voluptuous) and yet possible to be imported and known. The book could just as well have been a satire of Occidentalism, written about an Indian Professor of American literature at Banaras Hindu University who falls in love with an American girl enrolled in one of his classes.

Discussion questions: He says that reviewers have seen the book as a satire of ‘Orientalism.’ Remind us what Orientalism is again.

He says he’s not interested in morality. Does that square with your reading of the book? Is this book moral, immoral, or amoral?

Is the original Kama Sutra (as you understand it) moral, immoral, or amoral?


How much of Love in a Dead Language is inspired by the Kama Sutra specifically and Sanskrit literature in general?

In writing Love in a Dead Language, I aspired to do for the Kama Sutra what the Talmud did for the Torah. It's confusing to refer to the Kama Sutra, however, without distinguishing between the scientific-sexological treatise compiled by a Brahmin moralist in Gupta India and the romantic-erotic symbol construed in the nineteenth and twentieth century and still developing. While the ancient Sanskrit text itself has inspired very little other than a few obscure commentaries, the symbol has inspired a full line of products including massage oils, body dusts, pleasure balms, lingerie, lubricants, condoms, sex toys, plenty of X-rated videos and adult web sites, lots of illustrated sex manuals and compilations of erotic art, a major motion picture, and Love in a Dead Language. The symbol is incredibly powerful--it intrigues me that people who have never heard of Sanskrit or the Veda, who would not be able to name the capital of India, have heard of the Kama Sutra and could tell you exactly what it's about.

Discussion questions: Is Siegel playing with the Kama Sutra or just the remixed idea of it that has been widely disseminated in the west? How might that distinction be significant?


General discussion questions


1. Throughout the middle part of the novel, Leopold Roth has to deal with a series of ‘foils’ – men who show up briefly and threaten to thwart his plan to seduce Lalita Gupta. One is Paul Rothberg, who runs off with Lalita and has a brief fling with her before disappearing. (He briefly reemerges later in the book, when he and Leopold have a conversation on the phone.)

            Another foil is “Lee Siegel,” who shows up on page 235 and says that he too is working on a translation of the Kama Sutra.

            To some extent these figures aren’t meant to be ‘real’ characters that we care about as readers. By using them, Siegel is at least partly referring back to Nabokov’s Lolita, in which the middle-aged man who has kidnapped and seduced (raped) his step-daughter is shadowed by another man who ultimately re-kidnaps her.

            But he’s also doing something more. Look at pages 242-243.


2. Do you take the love affair in the book seriously? Is this a book about love after all, or about footnotes and obsessive ideas (i.e., the fixation with India)?

            A passage that relates to the love affair is on page 243 (“I threw this notebook away today…”) How do you read it?


3. Over the course of their stay in India, Lalita’s attitude to India begins to shift. What are some of the signs of the shift?


4. Starting around page 270, Leopold and Lalita are starting to think about returning to the U.S. At one point Leopold makes a statement that attempts to explain why his affair with a student might be justified (p. 271). Do you buy it?


5. On page 281, Lalita finally gets to ‘talk back’ to Leopold. What has she done that will cause problems for him when they get back? What might some of the complicating factors affecting them when they return?


6. Let’s look closely at Lady Isabel Burton’s letter to Leo Delibes. Lady Burton was the real-life wife of Richard Burton, a famous explorer of India and ‘orientalist’, who is important as this book as the first English translator of The Kama Sutra. He was, needless to say, also notoriously promiscuous when in India.

            Leo Delibes is one of France’s most famous opera composers. His opera Lakme, which was written in the early 1880s, has an Indian theme. I do not know if he really ever intended to do an opera of The Kama Sutra.

            What do you make of the paragraph on the top of page 286?





Travel Writers

English 198/Asia 198

Spring 2006



Notes on Karma Cola 4/4/06


One of the things I’ve wanted to do with this class is point out that it’s not simply that westerners have certain ideas about India that may or may not be true. In fact, it goes both ways: Indians have myths about the west they tell themselves too. In the past three or four decades, the two myths have been interacting with each other in some pretty interesting ways.


One of the biggest events was when the Beatles went to India in 1968 for a few weeks to study transcendental meditation with an Indian holy man called Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. They had earlier used some Indian sounds in their music, especially the sitar, in “Norwegian Wood” (from Rubber Soul; if you haven’t listened to it, you should). They were only there for a few weeks, and in fact they all quit the course early (all kinds of rumors about why), but still the trip captured the imagination of thousands of young people in Europe and the U.S. Over the next years, it was quite fashionable for young independent-minded people to go to India to ‘expand their minds’: somehow India’s religious traditions (especially Hinduism then) were tied to experiments with psychedelic drugs, the idea of free love, and rock and roll.


Though the terms have changed, some element of this idea of India as a ‘holy’ place still persists for some people, though these days there is probably more interest in Tibetan Buddhism than in the kind of Hinduism that people were going to India to experience in the 1960s.


Gita Mehta’s book Karma Cola was written in the 1980s, at the tail end of the first wave of westerners going to India to seek enlightenment. Mehta is herself a world traveler (born in Delhi, she did a degree at Cambridge), though in Karma Cola she mainly describes herself as a local – an Indian gawking at the strange habits of the foreigners.


Indians were not unaware of the fad of interest in India as a ‘hip’ place to go. The influx of laid-back, pot-smoking hippies, so unlike the stiff British who had ruled India for so long, had an immediate effect on the Indian imagination. Many Indian movies from the 1970s feature hippies in some capacity, though most of them are pretty hostile images of western corruption and decadence: hippies as loose and dirty, a bad influence.  It took time for the ‘free love’ image of the west to fade in the Indian imagination, just as it’s taken time for the ‘exotic India’ image of India to fade in the western imagination. But it seems to be happening.


Interesting passages: p. x (in the Introduction); pages 4-5 (“We were Indians…”); page 19; 65 (“India as bad for landscapes, unparalleled for faces”); 67-69 (Beatles). Other suggestions?

Travel Writers

English 198/ Asia 198

Spring 2006



Notes for 3/21/06: City of Djinns


This section of the book has two very interesting sections, one historical and the other contemporary.


1. The contemporary section deals with Hijras (or Eunuchs), people who are transgendered in one way or another.


There is a very old tradition of this in Hindu society – though to be a Hijra was to be effectively cast out of society. In the Muslim tradition, eunuchs were treated with much more respect, and were trusted members of the court societies of some of the Mughal emperors. The two traditions merged after the fall of the Mughal empire.


Today Hijras live in small clans or ‘tribes’ of their own. They pick up members when hermaphroditic or ‘queer’ children are cast out of their own homes as unclean. They often appear at weddings, where their presence is considered a kind of blessing or good omen. Hijras make most of their money from wedding parties, where they demand a certain fee. Others are prostitutes, and in fact you’ll see some begging in the streets of big cities like Bombay.


            See pages 171-172, and 180-181


Discussion: Dalrymple talks to two or three Hijras to get their stories. What are the stories of Razia, Panna, and Vimla?

What do you make of the fact that Dalrymple refers to Hijras as ‘she’?

How does knowledge of the Hijras change how we might think about homosexuality and transsexual/transgender issues in the U.S.?


2. The historical section deals with the story of Shah Jahan’s rise and fall in the 1600s. Shah Jahan is the Mughal Emperor who built the part of Delhi known today as “Old Delhi” (or Shahjehanabad). After the death of his wife Mumtaz, he moved the capital of the Mughal Empire from the desert city of Agra to Delhi. (The Taj Mahal, which memorializes his wife, was built by Shah Jehan in Agra.)


As he visits the major forts built by the Mughals in Delhi, Dalrymple refers to two books written by earlier travelers in India, Francois Bernier and Niccolao Manucci. Both were in Delhi during the time of Shah Jehan, in the mid-1600s, and witnessed the major events of the time.


Discussion: What kinds of stories do these travel writers tell?

What can we make of the fact that Dalrymple references these earlier travel-narratives so extensively in his book? (Remember the earlier discussion of William Fraser and James Skinner.)


Finally, there is the story of the Emperor Shah Jehan and his children. It’s a fascinating and horrible story.

            The eldest son, and heir presumptive, was Dara Shukoh (sometime spelled Shikoh). What does Dalrymple tell us about Dara Shukoh? What kind of personality did he have?

            The youngest son was Aurangzeb. He is the one who ultimately rebelled against his father, and took the throne. What do we know about Aurangzeb?

            Two daughters were also important players, the elder Jahanara and the younger Roshanara. What was Jahanara’s role during her father’s rule? How did Roshanara help Aurangzeb defeat Dara Shukoh during her youngest brother’s rebellion?

Travel Writers

English 198/Asia 198 – Spring 2006



Notes on Dalrymple 3/16/06



Mughal Empire


What you need to know: The Mughal Empire dominated most of India between 1500 and 1700. The Mughals were Muslims who originated from what would now be Uzbekistan or Turkmenistan, but they were strongly oriented to Persian culture, and brought the influence of the Persian language into India.

The Mughals built roads, important fortresses, and most importantly the Taj Mahal. Many of the rulers were benevolent, and encouraged dialogue between different religious groups. But some of the later Mughal Emperors were more militant (or ‘fundamentalist’), and sometimes massacred innocent people and instituted forced conversions. Mughal dominance was challenged first by the Portuguese, who came to India beginning in 1500, then by the Dutch, and finally by the English. For the most part, the early European presence in India was limited to trading.

By 1757, the British established a strong military foothold in Bengal, and chose the port city of Calcutta as their base. By around 1800, they were coming to dominate Delhi (in the north central part of India). British trade with India had become a huge, vital part of the British economy. Many historians have argued that the reason England – a small country – was for more than a century the world’s greatest superpower was due to the economic benefit it derived from its colonial holdings in India. India was called “the Jewel in the Crown.” 

People like William Fraser and James Skinner (in Dalrymple’s City of Djinns) had an unconventional approach to being in India: they tended to marry Indian women (often several of them), and blend in with the ‘natives’ to a considerable degree. (Skinner was himself a ‘half-caste’ – of mixed race.) Fraser spoke Hindi and Urdu fluently, grew a beard, and eventually gave up eating pork and beef so as to blend in better with Delhiites. He clearly loved India and was passionate about its culture. He also disliked the Europeans who were stationed with him in Delhi, and tended to avoid their company. 

Note: The mixed-race offspring of people like Fraser and Skinner were generally called “Anglo-Indians” or “half-castes.”

But beginning in the 1830s and 40s, many British administrators took a dim view of such activities. Dalrymple talks about a figure named Thomas Metcalfe, who discouraged blending in with the natives, and had a more racially separatist idea about what the English role in India. His view quickly came to dominate, and intermarriage was banned. By the 1850s, the English “Raj” in India came to look a lot like the world in A Passage to India.






Discussion questions: ‘going native’

            What are your thoughts about Europeans ‘going native’? There are many impressive, positive things about it: what are they? And what are some of the dangers of going this route?

            See page 106-107


How did William Fraser die?

            (see 144-145)



            William Fraser’s Residency, p. 111

            Compare to E.M. Forster’s description of Fielding’s house:


The room inspired him [Aziz]. It was an audience hall built in the eighteenth century for some high official, and though of wood had reminded Fielding of the Loggia de' Lanzi at Florence. Little rooms, now Europeanized, clung to it on either side, but the central hall was unpapered and unglassed, and the air of the garden poured in freely. One sat in public—on exhibition, as it were—in full view of the gardeners who were screaming at the birds and of the man who rented the tank for the cultivation of water chestnut. Fielding let the mango trees too—there was no knowing who might not come in—and his servants sat on his steps night and day to discourage thieves. Beautiful certainly, and the Englishman had not spoilt it, whereas Aziz in an occidental moment would have hung Maude Goodmans on the walls. Yet there was no doubt to whom the room really belonged. . .


Military adventures


James Skinner was a solider, first and foremost. What are some of his experiences as a mixed-race soldier fighting on behalf of the British after 1800? (see page 129)


What are some of the other signs of the growth of racialized (or racist) thinking on the part of the British?


The Anglo-Indians after Indian independence


What happened to the Anglo-Indians after independence?

What does this say about attitudes about race and complexion in England?

            (see page 136)

Travel Writers

English 198/Asia 198

Spring 06



Notes/Discussion Questions for 2/14/06



R. K. Narayan’s “My America” is a short essay by a writer who is quite famous in India for his relatively simple stories of village live. He writes of the rather narrow lives and perhaps unpleasant experiences that some immigrants the U.S. have. (Keep in mind that this essay was published in 1985, and things are somewhat different now.)

            To what extent does Narayan’s story trade on stereotypes? What

            kinds of stereotypes of Americans, and what of Indians?



Dom Moraes’ “Changes of Scenery” is a kind of short memoir by an Indian poet who moved to England for a number of years in the 1950s and 1960s, before ultimately moving to places like Hong Kong, and then back to India. Moraes is interesting partly because he was clearly accepted by English society early on, and succeeded in the English publishing world.

            What happened to him later?

How did the fact that Moraes’s mother was struggling with mental illness affect his interest in and experience abroad?

What might be unusual about Moraes’s relationship to the English language and India?


Farrukh Dhondy’s “Speaking in Tongues” describes a rougher, less pleasant experience of London than what Moraes encountered, though Dhondy too ended up becoming a successful writer.

            What are some examples of racism Dhondy encountered in English society in the

            1960s and 70s?

            What do you make of Dhondy’s comments on writing in English (p. 215)?

According to Dhondy, what do writers need to learn to do to ‘get it right’?  (Hint: what does he mean when he refers to the “pattern in the carpet”? [p. 216])


Ved Mehta is an Indian writer who moved to the U.S. in the 1950s to study at a school for the blind in Arkansas (at that time, there weren’t any such schools in India, so this was really the only way for him to get an advanced education). Mehta went on to publish many books, including novels and memoirs, in the U.S.

            What do you make of his experiences as he attempted to become a naturalized

            citizen in 1969?


V.S. Naipaul is a writer of Indian descent who was born and raised in Trinidad, amongst a large expatriated Indian population that has been on the island since the 1850s (the vast majority of whom came as indentured laborers who were unable to pay to return to India after their period of indenture expired). He moved to England in the early 1950s and eventually became a well-known writer (he won the Nobel Prize in 2001). This is a memoir of returning to Trinidad at the time of his sister’s death, focusing on his ambivalence over orthodox Hinduism.

            Any comments?


Salman Rushdie is a famous Indian writer based in Britain, who became famous in the 1980s when Muslim fundamentalists tried to have him killed after he published a blasphemous novel called The Satanic Verses. Before writing that novel, however, he took a trip to Nicaragua in the mid-1980s, where he visited the (left-wing) Sandinista government that was then involved in a civil war with the Contras (supported and armed by the American government). He went on to publish a memoir of his travels called The Jaguar Smile. There isn’t much to do with his Indian background in this section (one reference appears in Spanish), but we can certainly discuss it.


Abraham Verghese is a medical doctor of Indian descent raised in both Ethiopia and India. “The Cowpath to America” is an account of how he came to want to leave India for the U.S., and his early experiences working in hospitals in different parts of  the country.

            Why does he want to leave India?

What are some examples of the racism he encountered?

            What does he mean by “Ellis Island” and “Plymouth Rock”?

            How does he fare in rural Tennessee when he moves there?

            Why does he end up liking Texas?       

            How does he respond to being put on the ‘other side of the table’, judging Indian

            applicants who wish to get hired in the U.S.?



Travel Writers

English 198/Asia 198

Spring 06



Notes for 2/16/06


Meera Syal, “Indoor Language”

            This is part of a novel about a ‘second generation’ Indian girl’s coming of age in a northern English industrial town, in the 1970s and 80s. The episode is pretty much self-contained: the narrator is nine, and something a bit traumatic happens to her on what is probably the Hindu holiday of Diwali (“our Christmas”).


What are some of the signs of culture clash between the narrator’s experience of

            England and the ‘mainstream’ experience?

Describe the relationship between the narrator and her friend Anita.

            What happens as they are walking around the town?

What happens at the mehfil (a get-together where people tend to sing popular or semi-classical songs)?

            Why is the story called “Indoor Language”?



Rohinton Mistry

            Rohinton Mistry is a writer from the Zoroastrian community in Bombay, who now lives and writes in Toronto Canada. The short story “Swimming Lessons” is unusual because of the way it bounces back and forth between an immigrant’s experience in an apartment building in Canada, and his parents’ simultaneous experience in Bombay (these parts are in italics).

            Take the first segment, where the narrator sees the old man in the hallway. What

            does this make him think of?

            What do his parents think about his letters home? Why are his letters home so


Why is he taking swimming lessons? What is his experience with swimming at Chowpatty Beach in Bombay? What is the history and importance of that beach?

What happens during his first swimming lesson and his subsequent swimming lessons? Does this tell us anything important about his experience (i.e., as an immigrant)?

Eventually, the narrator sends home a book of stories he’s published while living in Canada. Take a look at his parents’ reaction to these stories (p. 359 and 361). What do they tell us about the narrator and his life? Are the parents correct in their presumptions about why he writes about what he does?

How does the ending of the story affect how you read the rest of it?






Agha Shahid Ali, “When on Route 80 in Ohio

Agha Shahid Ali was a poet from the state of Kashmir, on the India-Pakistan border. He moved to the U.S. and taught at some northeastern universities before passing away three years ago. He published a number of books of poetry in English, blending Indian and American styles of poetry.

            Read aloud and discuss. How is Ali using the experience of driving through Ohio as a way of remembering Calcutta? What does he do with the connection as the poem moves forward?  

Travel Writers

English 198/Asia 198

Spring 06



Discussion Questions 2/21/06


Sarah Macdonald’s book Holy Cow is an irreverent kind of travel guide. It is an enthusiastic catalogue of her experiences on her second (long) trip to India that also harshly criticizes aspects of Indian culture and everyday life that bother her. There are many things that Macdonald really dislikes about India – and this book might well be the rare travel narrative that makes people not want to go there – but one thing she does have going for her is an awareness of her status as a western woman and an outsider. She does want to reach a point where she is at peace with the country and her place in it.




Why is Macdonald making this second trip to India?

For about how long is she going to be there?

Where is she going to be staying?


The tone of the book changes after the first few pages (where Macdonald describes her first trip to India – that didn’t work out as she would have liked). But there are still many examples of ‘snark’. One might be page 11 – the “holy cow.”


Indians on the street also have a rather dramatic reaction to Macdonald, but she seems ok with it (pages 16-17). She also seems more self-conscious (page 23).


One of the first things Sarah and her boyfriend do in India is go to Rishikesh, a famous Hindu pilgrimage site in the Himalayas in northern India. It’s on the Ganges river, and receives millions of Hindus a year. What is Macdonald’s experience of Rishikesh like?


            What do we learn about the city of Delhi (page 26)?


One of Macdonald’s points of connection to India is an Indian-Australian friend named Padma, whose mother lives in Delhi. What is Padma’s story?


In one chapter, Macdonald goes to a Buddhist meditation center, where she is required to meditate for several hours a day, and not speak, read, or write. What do you make of her experience there?


Travel Writers

Spring 06



Discussion questions 2/28/06


Many of Sarah Macdonald’s experiences with Indian religion and spirituality in the second half of Holy Cow are more upbeat than her early encounters.


She is relatively upbeat on the Sikhs she meets in Amritsar, though she has some questions about the American Sikh school she visits there. What does she like about the Sikh religion? What questions does she have?

            (20-30,000 Americans not of Indian origin have converted to Sikhism; some have

gone to India to live.)



Macdonald ends up having fun at a major Hindu festival called the Kumbh Mela that she attends in the city of Allahabad. Despite the fact that it’s a crowded festival overrun with western tourists and various hassles, she enjoys herself. Why?

            Also, what do you learn about Hinduism from this chapter? (There are lots of helpful factual passages)


Of all the religious traditions she experiments with, Macdonald seems to be most attracted to Tibetan Buddhism. Why? Can you summarize the principles of Tibetan Buddhism as she explains it? What are some of the unusual features of the Tibetan Buddhist community currently based in Dharamsala?


Alongside the many Indian religions she samples, Macdonald also devotes some time to getting to know the large number of Israelis who spend time in India. Why are there so many Israelis in India? What are some of the strengths of the community according to Macdonald, and what are some of the weaknesses? Would you call them expatriates?


One of the harshest chapters in the book is the chapter on the Parsis of Bombay. Why are they such a small community?



Quick Summary of the course


The motivation for talking about narratives of travel in particular is two-fold. On the one hand, I do think stories about traveling and travelers is inherently interesting. It's an under-studied genre of literature, and it's quite important. It goes back to ancient times: one of the most important books in the western tradition is the Odyssey, and it's a travel narrative. If you look at it a certain way, even the story of the Exodus in the Bible is a travel narrative: Moses leading the Hebrews out of Egypt. It's no surprise that stories of exile and the loss of place are so central in the Jewish tradition.

In more recent literature, you see a turn to questions of power relations and race. In the modern world, travelers have tended to be people from powerful and wealthy societies. Travel was an essential part of European colonialism, and is virtually synonymous
with the European colonization of much of the globe in the 18th and 19th centuries. Explorers like Christopher Columbus (who was looking for India), Vasco de Gama (who actually found it), and Sir Walter Raleigh (who just wanted gold) wrote detailed accounts of their voyages, and those accounts are now an important part of the historical record concerning the history of the new world. Many of these travelers brought with them certain racial prejudices concerning the kinds of people who lived in places such as India and Africa, and this shows up in their writings as "Orientalism."

It's pretty clear that traveling was tied to this process of the growth of imperialism. But the critic Edward Said has taken it a step further, and claimed that the use of orientalism by people like Richard Burton (the first translator of The Kama Sutra) was in fact a direct asset to the imperialist project. Scholars used the knowledge they compiled to learn how to run India better, not just because they loved the culture.

In that sense, the notes produced by some travelers during the colonial era might take on a rather sinister hue: they aren't just personal impressions, but might potentially be part of the handbook that help the British take and keep control of Indian society.

After Indian independence in 1947, all of that changed. Travel writing can't explicitly be thought to be an ally of a project for direct rule. But concerns linger nonetheless: what is a travel narrative going to be used for? Who is going to read it? To what extent does it
reaffirm existing prejudices and preconceptions about a foreign society ("it's dirty" "it's primitive" "there are cows in the road"), and to what extent does it challenge those preconceptions?

Even after colonialism ends, a travel narrative can still be a political text, because the relations between cultures still isn't quite equal. To put it in Thomas Friedman's terms again, the world isn't quite flat.

In recent years, there has also been the emergence of a new genre, which is the 'reverse' of the European-visits-India story. More and more Indians have been writing stories of their experiences in the west, sometimes as permanent expatriates, and sometimes merely as visitors. And just as the writings by western travelers shows their personal preoccupations and reveals their misunderstanding of the culture they encountered, the Indian travelers in the west have their own misconceptions and hang-ups to contend with. It’s a little different here – because while an Englishwoman like Adela Quested can get to India knowing nothing at all of the culture or language, it’s very rare for an educated Indian traveler to know nothing at all of the west. There is a basic asymmetry in terms of how much background cross-cultural awareness people have. (Today, most Indians know far more about America and American culture than their counterparts in America know about India.)

It isn’t all negative: in addition to the stories of misunderstanding (and sometimes mutual misunderstanding), a good travel narrative also tells you the story of how to learn about another culture. There is a sense of growth in many of these books, of learning to live with difference, and how to start thinking about things from a new perspective.

One bit of feedback I've heard from some of you is that you were surprised by how much history and politics we talked about in this class. In the past I've taught courses focused on India that were entirely focused on Indian literature, and I wasn't completely
satisfied. Often students came into the class with very little background on the culture, and the books by themselves only help you learn a limited amount. I do hope you'll use what we talked about here in the future as you continue to expand your knowledge. I encourage you to read Indian fiction in particular (it's kind of a boom time for books written by Indian authors); I can give you a list of recommendations -- all things you'll find in Barnes & Noble, that I think you'd probably enjoy.

Another thing that may be on your minds is that, ok, travel narratives aren't *really* my favorite genre. Actually, that's ok, because one of the goals of looking at travel narratives is to think about the cross-cultural encounter *in general*. How does one culture look at another? How much can we understand how people in very different parts of the world live, and view the world? At the very least, in this class you learned a lot about India. But hopefully you also thought about how knowledge about India is constructed by the west. How do we know what we know about another culture? One of the key ingredients in that process of learning and translation, I’ve been arguing, is travel.

That's a broader question – which could apply to cultural encounter anywhere in the world – and looking at travel narratives has helped us do that. Misconceptions and prejudices exist on both sides, which is why it was important to look at Indian views of the west as well as western views of India.

(One of the places where this issue comes up is in thinking about things like terrorism. Why is there such hostility in the Islamic world to the U.S.? Most people who think about terrorism understand it on only a very simple level. But if you really make an effort to get
deep inside the mindset of another culture you can begin to see things you couldn't before.)


This course will really only come to fruition if you, at some point soon, go off and do some traveling of your own. It doesn’t have to be to a distant country like India – start with Mexico for instance. (Canada, I’m afraid, doesn’t count! It’s too similar)  If you do go, I would love to hear your thoughts about what you learned from your experiences.