In a paradoxical comparison of understanding with distance, Amitav Ghosh’s collection of three essays- Dancing in Cambodia, At large in Burma- drives home questions of political boundaries and history. Quoting someone very knowledgeable he says, there are two constructions of the modern world which have become instruments of surveillance in a strange way- history and science. His first person accounts of his travels across South Asia, primarily Burma and Cambodia, resonates of travelers from a past that didn’t know of The Age of Machines. And yet a historical awareness peculiar to his writings makes the narrative very contemporary.
It’s one thing to look at some one you know through a stranger’s eyes, and another to look at someone you don’t really know through a stranger’s eyes, in both cases we seldom fully comprehend the person being made intelligible to us.
It’s a happy coincidence for me that I came across these collections in library of a residence hall which was very dear to someone he writes about. I wonder if she was always unapologeticlly her, laughing uproariously as she does to this day. I wonder if there were always flowers in her hair, or if sometimes she sheepishly picked some from the lawns. I don’t know her, I have seen her walk through corridors that I have been running through for the past two years, but I don’t know her. And yet. For me, like so many others who have been part of this college, she remains a source of hope.