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finished it, thank god. will paste the first bit.

From Legends of the Bengali Traveller: Part Four (2004, Banamali Naskar Publications)

10th November, 1871. A hill outside Ujiji on Lake Tanganyika, deepest Africa.

Famous scholar-explorer Henry Morton Stanley enters a tent, where he meets a dapper gentleman sipping tea and reading The Statesman.

‘Dr. Livingstone, I presume?’ he asks..

The gentleman puts down his newspaper and Stanley suddenly realizes that his brown skin is natural, and not the result of too much time spent in the sun.

‘It’s Dr. Lahiri, actually,’ he says. ‘Livingstone’s in that tent over there. May I tempt you with a biscuit, old chap?’

Dr. Lahiri of this tale, while exceptional, was by no means an aberration – the Bengali traveller is one of the hardiest species on the planet, and found in the unlikeliest places. Armed with map, muffler and monkey-cap, Bengalis rival even the Japanese in their endless quest to tread every inch of the world map and comment on how nothing is even remotely comparable to Calcutta.

And the twin pillars of Bengali-traveller respectability, the shallow pools in which they make their first waddling forays before they swim the ocean of discovery, are Darjeeling and Puri. No Bengali is a true Bengali, let alone a traveller, unless he or she has set foot on these scenic spots.

I am, alas, a blot on the face of Bengal, but a humble, penitent blot trying to erase itself. I had been to neither of these must-visit spots before this trip – and I still cannot call myself a true Bong until I have made that trip to Darjeeling. But that is a tale for another day. Today’s saga is one of sun, sea and sand, of a sacred city in Orissa loved with an almost religious fervour through the centuries by generations of intrepid travelling Bengalis.


About Samit Basu

Novelist. Best known for fantasy and science fiction work. Most recently, The City Inside (Tordotcom)/Chosen Spirits (Simon and Schuster)


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Copyright (c) Samit Basu. Images copyright respective holders.
December 2004


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