Deblina Hazra (Presidency University Kolkata)


Deblina Hazra is an Assistant Professor of English at Mahishadal Raj College, West Bengal India. She is also a final year doctoral researcher at the Department of English, Presidency University, Kolkata, India. She has presented papers in various international conferences across the globe, and has two edited books to her credit among other publications.

“Empire Travels Back: Subversion of Gender and Racial Hierarchies in the Modernist Travel Narratives of Nabaneeta Dev Sen”

Approximately three decades before the advent of modernism, a woman’s freedom of movement symbolised unfettered agency which was perceived as a threat to the stability of a patriarchal social and familial order. This perception changed in the twentieth century and the threat was now displaced on the flaneuse figure – the female counterpart of the flaneur who, unlike the latter, is uninhibited both in observing and in being observed. Wendy Parkins in Mobility and Modernity in Women’s Novels, 1850s-1930s (2009) compellingly argues that “women’s mobility bears an important relation to questions of women’s agency.” This relation is further complicated when we look at mobility that overturns the centre-margin equation in the context of both race and gender in a post-colonial and post-modern world. Most colonial European travel narratives adhered to the “colonial mobility regime” (Nayar 10) whereby the European male was seen as the observer and recorder of exotic Oriental life and land. However, recent scholarships on Indian/Non-European travel writing overturns this power politics by tracing the journeys of the imperial subjects to the West and their observation and reinterpretation of the imperial centre. Pramod K Nayar uses the term “antinomies” (16) to locate the complex identity of the colonial traveller arguing that the antinomic self, through his travel, is transforms into a transnational cosmopolitan from his peripheral existence as an imperial subject. It is within these two different but interconnected theoretical frameworks that this paper proposes to read the travel narratives of Nabaneeta Dev Sen vis-à-vis her unique subjective position as a divorced single mother from India travelling to Occidental spaces to both observe and be observed. While Indian travellers preceding her either offered their unbridled admiration of the West or criticised the climate and the locale, Dev Sen’s critique of the people and discriminatory bureaucracy dismantles the the power-politics surrounding the traveller-travellee (Nayar 10) equation across both the racial and gender axes. This paper proposes to read her travel accounts as counter narratives that subverts power hierarchies at the level of both gender and race and question if they open up a space for rewriting the tradition of modernist travel writing from postcolonial spaces.