Leaving on a jet plane

The Marchioness of Ely aboard which Fanny Parkes made her journey to India in 1822

The Marchioness of Ely aboard which Fanny Parkes made her journey to India in 1822

I face the next twenty four hours with mixed emotions. On the one hand I am looking forward to arriving tomorrow evening in Bangalore ready to meet up with old friends and new. On the other, the thought of long cramped hours in an economy class aircraft seat trying to get some sleep and being away from my home and family is always a daunting prospect. To be fair, the cabin crew on Emirates flights are always friendly and considerate, and at least there is an opportunity to stretch legs at Dubai airport when breaking the journey. So, the prospects of passing the time reading and probably catching up with films I missed at the cinema should not be regarded with anything other than resignation.

Contemplating the journey ahead, last night I reached for the diary of a remarkable woman, Fanny Parkes who recorded her experiences in India in the first half of the nineteenth century. Unlike so many English ladies who ventured to India at this time, and indeed since, Fanny Parkes committed herself to understanding the country and its people, learning languages, playing the sitar and getting to grips with the traditions and religions of the land. Her journals, which lingered far too long in obscurity were revived by the writer and historian William Dalrymple and published in a collected edition in 2002*. For anyone who wants to gain insights into life in northern India during this period they make fascinating reading.

It was whilst contemplating my own journey over the next day or so that I decided to remind myself of Fanny Parkes’ departure from England aboard the Marchioness of Ely and her eventual arrival along the estuary of the Hoogly river into Calcutta. Fanny left the Kent coast of England on June 18th 1822 arriving in Calcutta on November 13th. In her journals she describes watching whales and turtles, catching a sea snake and enjoying magnificent seascapes and sunsets. She also writes of the time when the ship was becalmed for eighteen days and when the wind returned being blown at seven knots in the wrong direction.

Travel at the pace with which Fanny Parkes journeyed to India on the Marchioness of Ely, must have many positive aspects. Though I suspect that she endured many discomforts and inconveniences along the way. I suppose her experiences watching the natural fauna and the changing seascapes are the equivalent of today’s inflight entertainment systems. Whilst it would be enjoyable to travel to India in a leisurely manner, it would hardly be practical in terms of providing two weeks of teaching!

It is with such contemplation that I will pack the final few items in my luggage and head off to the airport in anticipation of renewing my acquaintance with the sights, sounds and smells of Bangalore. In a few days’ time I am sure that it will feel like I have never been away, as I share new learning experiences with long established friends and students and a new cohort joining the MA in Special and Inclusive Education. I have no doubt there will be much to report over the coming days and weeks.

* William Dalrymple (2002) Begums, Thugs and White Mughals. London: Eland