From my childhood, I have always been fascinated by travel literature. So, when a few of us decided to create a list of must-read Odia books across genres, I insisted and ensured that we include travel literature as a separate genre. That was the easier part. When we actually started, I did not have any name beyond Dura Durantara by Manoj Das, and Deshe Deshe by Barrister Gobind Das to add—to the list of the must-read books. Many wondered if there would be even be 50 travel books in Odia!
That is how the idea of compiling a list of such books started. Having read a couple of dozens of such books myself, I was more than sure that the list would be much longer. I approached noted writer, educationist and scholar Dr Subhendu Mund, with whom I had some interaction on email earlier, to seek his advice and guidance. He confirmed that there are indeed hundreds of such books and encouraged me to go ahead in creating the list.
Once I started, I realized that to make it really usable in future and providing some value to researchers, I need to add a few more basic information, such as name of the publishers and the year of first publication. To make it a little more fun, the journalist in me added one more parameter: the geography (travel destination) covered in a particular book. Thus continued my journey of creating what a friend in academics termed as “a bibliographic index of travel writing in Odia.” Sounds heavy? To me, it does, for sure. But let’s not bother about the nomenclature too much.
Today, after about a year, in which I have devoted my free time to search for such books, I have more than 150 names (158 to be precise). The sources of information have been
- Secondary research on Internet including library searches
- Articles/research papers/proceedings of some seminars
- Search in various libraries in Odisha (limited, because of physical limitations of being outside)
- Catalogues of major publishers
- Friends and acquaintances on social media
This has become, for me, a continuing exercises. I have, in the course of this one year, learnt a lot about such books; bought and read a few such books. Yet, I must clarify in no uncertain terms that it still does not make me eligible to comment on this genre or its evolution. As I continue with the journey, I, however, thought of sharing some facts with my readers. These are no analysis or insight, but plain “facts”.
- Odia travel literature, without stretching its definition, started in the early days of modern Odia literature, with both Vyasakavi Fakir Mohan Senapati and Kavivara Radhanath Ray having tried their hand in this genre. Fakir Mohan wrote a book called Waltiar Darshan and while Radhanath wrote Bhramanakarira Patra.
- It was Shashibhushan Ray, son of Radhanath, who actually started a definite genre, having written multiple books on his travel experience within and outside Odisha. Many say his Dakshinatya Bhramana was a trendsetter.
- Most Odia writers of repute have tried their hand in travel literature. The list includes Surendra Mohanty, Kunja Bihari Dash, Golak Bihari Dhal, Mayadhar Mansingh, Chittaranjan Das, Radhanath Rath, Manoj Das, Krushna Prasad Mishra, Bibhuti Patnaik, Sitakanta Mohapatra, Prativa Ray and Susmita Bagchi.
- Many professionals in other fields who have traveled outside for professional work have also tried to add to the the genre by narrating their experience. Such luminaries include Gokulanand Mohapattra (scientist), Biju Patnaik (industrialist and chief minister), Akshaya Mohanty (composer and singer), Dinanath Pathy (Artist) and Baidyanath Mishra (economist)
- Many of the works are not strictly travel experiences but the overall experience of the writer staying at a place for a fairly long period.
In addition, here are some of the numbers that are derived from the list.
Period of Publication: Except for the 70s, there has been a fairly uniform spread of new travel books. But that means their share as a percentage of total books published may have gone down.
Top Areas: Most of the travel books are on the author’s experience in one or more foreign countries. Out of 148 books for which this information is available, 97 are about experiences in a foreign country, 43 are about experience in Indian locations outside Odisha and nine are about places within Odisha.
Top Destinations: The United States of America, not so surprisingly, tops the destination list. Here is how destinations stack up.
*Europe does not include UK and USSR/Russia. (A book may contain description of multiple locations)
Top Publishers: And here is how the list of top publishers looks like.
The idea here is not to reduce a genre of literature to a few quantitative charts. This exercise is aimed at highlighting this comparatively lesser celebrated branch of Odia literature before an audience that enjoys Odia books but may not have the wherewithal, time or energy to research into different aspects. In short, people belonging to my own tribe.
The work is still in progress. I welcome comments, suggestions and ideas.