Several of us in Marcellus are the children or grandchildren of those who migrated to India during the Partition. In such families, discussion regarding the ancestral home (or “desher bari” as it is known in Bangla) takes on an almost mythical dimension. An enterprising company in Kolkata has built a business around this yearning that Bengalis have for their lost homeland. Divya Kohli captures this yearning neatly in her article for Conde Naste Traveller: “Barisal, Sylhet, Jessore, Rajshahi, Mymensingh—real places in Bangladesh with the magic power of opening portals into imaginary homelands by mere utterance alone. For many in West Bengal, these are the markers of a home left behind in the aftermath of an en-masse migration. And one remembered through stories told by grandparents evoking bucolic summers, festivities, and feasts… The surviving members of a generation who still remembered the architecture, history, and geography of their familial homes, told their stories to the next generation. With each telling and the passage of time, the desher bari became a myth where both the desh (the country) and the bari (home) were lost to the churn of history. Yet, for successive generations, this imaginary homeland and the home became a way to understand their past and present.”

Ms Kohli goes on to describe the business model of the firm Immersive Trails: “This tour is a research and legacy-based programme conceptualised by Immersive Trails to address this need. The company translates in-depth, ethical research into on-ground and virtual experiences. Founded by two academics—Dr. Tathagata Neogi, an ethnographer plus archaeologist by training and his wife Chelsea Mcgill, a linguistic anthropologist—Immersive Trails takes the rigour of research and brings it into the world of travel. “We wanted to take our training and research-based approach outside the halls of academia into the real world. This was also a chance for students in humanities-based disciplines to have an alternative mode of livelihood as these departments have very little funding,” says Neogi.

Their focused tours around Kolkata include a Bengal Rising Walk which takes guests into the back alleys of Bidhan Sarani to trace the Bengal Renaissance and the beginnings of the armed freedom movement in India…Further afield, Immersive Trails has set up a team in Bangladesh comprising PhD students in anthropology and history and have crafted tours across the country.

The Desher Bari tour is part of this cross-border enterprise which aims to give people a chance to visit their erstwhile ancestral country home. At the very least, it allows a generation of millennials to learn more about their history through the research that is presented to you after you sign up. Once guests enrol, they have several rounds of video calls with researchers on the team where they share information, anecdotes, photographs and snippets of remembered history. This becomes the starting point for the team, which then delves into government archives and travels onward to the places in question to trace these individual histories. Through their network of village unions and local contacts, they pinpoint your ancestral place and create a report of its present status complete with detailed pictures and information. For many, this is sufficient, while others move on to the next phase to plan their trip there. At this point, the company comes on board to arrange all logistics and assigns a team member to enable the journey. The tour is completely bespoke with travel and stay arranged according to budgets.”

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