Travelling, either for work, pleasure or education, is often a transgressive act. Those who move across geographical, political and socio-cultural frontiers, whether within or across precolonial and postcolonial boundaries mandated by nation-states, often engage in the act as a form of an ethical exercise. This travelling might also be symbolic or intellectual, from the urban to the rural, from the center to the periphery and vice-versa. It results in, or so the travelers and their audiences imagine, to a widening of horizons - physical, mental and socio-political.
Travelling is translation (from the latin trans-latio, to carry across) in its very literal form, where once-alien landscapes and strangers become slowly revealed and familiarized not as wondrous, but essentially as human and related by that shared humanity. In the present political climate, travel and mobility have become increasingly divisive loci of socio-political debate. While migration, especially labor and refugee migrations across the Indian Ocean arena, have received growing attention in the study of South Asia across disciplines in the twentieth century, there is an urgent need to re-situate the fundamental human context of travel beyond these parameters, in a broader historical context, in the precolonial period as well as in the age of empires.
This panel aims to explore textual, archival and literary depictions of the many aspects of travel, real or imagined, as well as the gendered restrictions placed on mobility, in various South Asian languages from the early modern period to the present. By tracing the evolution in the generic ideals and expectations associated with writing about experiences garnered while travelling, the presenters on this panel will explore the transgressive nature of mobilities that fostered political, social, sexual and cultural intimacies and imaginaries. The panel will offer a more nuanced analysis of human solidarities fostered by traveling, which fundamentally reshaped debates about culture and identity in South Asia, and very much continue to do so at present.