Wednesday 8 April 2015

Guest Post - Through Gujarati Travelogues - Ms. Dhwani Vaishnav

Through Gujarati Travelogues
Ms. Dhwani Vaishnav
Assistant Professor in English
Shantilal Shah Govt. Engineering College, Bhavanagar

Journey has been a rich literary device. When it comes to travelogues or travel literature, reader undergoes various kinds of journey; external and internal. So is my experience of researching travelogues. Apart from reading canonical texts in English literature, I happened to read what is happening in the literature of my mother tongue - Gujarati; and you know what, I am thrilled!  

I didn’t know it can be such a wonderful journey. Let me take you to that journey and share the same joy of reading Gujarati travelogues with reference to  two travelogues on the river Narmada written by Amritlal Vegad. 

Out of his interest in nature and search for the subjects of his paintings, Amritlal used to go to the river banks. He took the entire journey of the river almost 2624 km. during his Summer and Diwali vacations with friends and students. After his retirement, his journeys became more regular. His two magnum opuses Parikrama Narmada Maiyanee and Saundrayani Nadi Narmada speak of beautiful river Narmada which flows from mountains, rocks and plains amidst three states.

Amritlal tries to capture lived life on the banks of the Narmada. He portrays folklore with their beliefs, typical behavior, and lifestyle. Amritlal’s journey is not a religious journey but it is a journey of beauty for him. This is a journey of an artist. His descriptions are full of figures of speech. He experienced the village life but at the same time he could feel the touch of urbanization entering very succinctly in the villages. He witnessed the rituals of the tribal life at different occasions like marriages and poojas. In first book Parikrama Narmada Maiyanee, Amritlal had to pass through Shulapaneshwar Zadi where tribal folk rob everyone considering it to be the order by the river which leads to the idea of renunciation of material world and self. But in his case, they completely miss that excitement, as they had armed police guards to protect them. He could know that tribal people have faith in parikramavasis but their lives are too difficult to sustain in this rocky areas. Amritlal notes positively that though they have tough life; they always go out of their way in their hospitality towards parikramavasis which is a major factor why such ancient tradition of parikrama is possible even in this modern time! People take up parikrama for various reasons. 

Only few are real sanyasis, many others are doing this to run their life because on the parikrama they get food without doing any job and to add to that people will revere you. He encountered real sanyasis as well as many imposters on the banks of this holy river.

At the end of his journey he writes about the change that is coming up in surroundings of the river including development of dams. But the writer has a positive eye for this development. He is looking at utilitarian aspect of dams. He believes that the travel writer does not write merely from spatio-temporal place but he adds his own reactions, contemplation to his experiences. He believes that the travel writer should be a bahushrut as he discusses his process of writing and also the river and its life in different modes like history, structure, religion, literature, language and culture. Thus Amritlal observes that the Narmada is an inborn traveler and for a simple human being who takes up its parikrama, it becomes yatra only, when one’s faith merges with physical travel. For him, this is a journey of anubhuti. A reader would find a good mixture of poem, story, novel and autobiography in Amritlal’s this travel writing.

Amritlal considers himself as the reporter (propagator) of the Narmada. In his dedication note of his second book Saundrayani Nadi Narmada, he scathingly criticizes Gujarati readers for their less reading practice. As per the parikrama rules the parikrama should be done in three years, three months and thirteen days. He believes that the winds of urbanization would make this beautiful river only a historical and an archeological monument only within few years. This he fears on witnessing the bridge building activities. He feels that due to dam the river would lose its natural bouncing flow and there would enter commercial aspect of life. In this period of his journey he covers remaining 800 km and when he saw the dam actually, his earlier notions changed. He notes that dam means a bow in the hands of the river and canals are arrows from those bows. He compares civilized and cultured behavior by saying that speech (vachalata) is the gift of civilization (sabhyata) whereas silence likes to be with culture (samskruti). He feels where the purpose ends, beauty begins from there. Parikrama is a mission of faith for every parikramavasi. He had two objectives in his mind when he started this journey: i) In the whole world only Narmada is the river whose parikrama is made and ii) The Narmada is very beautiful river.

He writes his experiences as if he is writing the biography of the river. He feels religious love towards the nature. He notes that the Narmada is having variety of cultures on its banks as on its North she has Aryans (aacharpradhan) and on its South she has Dravidians (vicharpradhan). He personifies the human emotions in the natural sources and especially in the river. Amritlal tries to gather the feel of the banks of the river. People believe that those who take this parikrama are doing a great task because taking of this journey even for a short distance is quite tough and to sustain throughout abiding by all the parikrama rules is challenging. This is the reason, why local folk try to contribute by taking care, helping travellers and at times joining them for a short distance and thus make an attempt to keep this cultural tradition of parikrama alive. These river travelogues make readers feel that they are not only the water flow but they are the lifelines, archival traces of history and civilizations and germination points of prospective future.

These travelogues will take a reader to the beautiful journey of the river Narmada and its curved flow. Another passionate, professionally a photographer, Mr. Jogesh Thakar journeys and captures the Narmada on his canvass amazingly. He often writes in Gujarati literary magazines about his various travels to the river. (For more you can read Navneet Samarpan, April 2015, pp 27-34.) I am happy that such magazines also provide scope and space for such writings.

My reading of these travelogues lead me to read few other Gujarati travelogues of different times and themes and I feel Gujarati literature has such a valuable treasure with it which can enrich the knowledge and experiences of number of students, researchers and readers. 

Keep reading, knowing and growing. Keep travelling!! 

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