Supriya Chaudhuri

Published On


Page Range

pp. 31-66

Print Length

35 pages

1. The Traveller as Internationalist

Syed Mujtaba Ali

  • Supriya Chaudhuri (author)
Syed Mujtaba Ali’s Deshe Bideshe (At Home and Abroad), the record of a year’s stay (1927-28) in Afghanistan by a scholarly Bengali, born in Sylhet and educated in Tagore’s Visva-Bharati, was published after India’s independence in 1948. The book is deservedly well-known as a travel narrative in Bengal (it has also been recently translated into English), and its author is celebrated for his cosmopolitanism, wit, scholarship in many languages, and peripatetic career across national boundaries (he taught and studied in India, Afghanistan, Germany, Egypt, Pakistan, and Bangladesh). Like certain other Bengalis of his generation, Mujtaba Ali has also achieved some notoriety for having hoped for a German victory in World War II to rid India of colonial rule, though he was not a fascist sympathizer. This chapter focuses on the time of publication – 1948 – of Mujtaba Ali’s record of his Kabul experiences, dating from nearly two decades earlier. The narrative itself records a political crisis in Afghanistan’s history: the attempt in 1928 by its ruler, Amanullah Khan, to introduce social reforms including a measure of emancipation for women, followed by a violent tribal revolt that led to his abdication. Mujtaba Ali’s account was published just the year after the Asian Relations Conference in Delhi in 1947, where the seeds of the Non-Aligned Movement had been sown. Syed Mujtaba Ali himself was the first director of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (from 1950), and in charge of publishing its journal. The chapter examines these conjunctions of politics and print – especially in the light of Naeem Mohaiemen’s recent three-screen film on the Non-Aligned Movement, Two Meetings and a Funeral, shown at Documenta 14 in Kassel and nominated for the Turner Prize in 2018.


Supriya Chaudhuri