Organized Panel Session
Travel writing underwent a renaissance in 1970s Pakistan. The genre reinvented itself as ‘truthful’ storytelling, and its popularity mushroomed, even as cultural elites determined that the travelogue now constituted literature proper. Much of this newfound popularity can be traced to a single author, Mustansar Husain Tarar (b. 1939). Tarar’s early travel writing was highly suggestive, and he was both extoled and decried for titillating readers with descriptions of beautiful European women eager for intimacy with South Asian men. Historically speaking, this was nothing new. Tarar’s writing builds on an (almost exclusively male) 200-year old Perseo-Urdu tradition of the erotic gaze, fantasy, and the ‘foreign’ woman as a locus for fashioning new desires, identities, political discourses and subjectivities.
Despite the centrality of erotica in Islamicate travel writing in South Asia, the topic has only met with limited study, and that too restricted to the moment of ‘colonial encounter.’ This paper will trace the genealogy of Perseo-Urdu travel writing’s engagement with the ‘foreign’ and ‘licit transgressions,’ with a particular focus on how positionality – both social and geographical – determines the ethics of sexual encounter in this literature. Focus is given to the invocation of sexual pleasure outside the colonial and European contexts with an eye to opening new fields of inquiry, but also, to inflecting existing studies of colonial sexual politics. To this end, the paper will pay particular attention to unstudied texts on South Asian travelers in fin-de-siècle East Asia, Japan especially.