The Journey of the “Russian Columbus” from Victorian England to Bollywood

A Lecture by Anindita Banerjee, Cornell University
Tuesday, February 14, 2012
7 PM
Sulzberger Parlor, Barnard Hall

In 1469, Russian merchant Afanasy Nikitin sailed to the Indian subcontinent on a commercial expedition. His account of his travels, Journey Beyond Three Seas, features an amalgam of Arabic, Persian, and Turkic invocations to Allah and the Prophet Mohammed, which vie with and threaten to overwhelm the use of his native Russian in the text.

Centuries later, two translations of Nikitin’s travelogue — one published by the Hakluyt Society of London in 1857, the other, a 1957 film adaptation and the first collaboration between Bollywood and the Soviet studio Mosfilm — transformed him from an obscure traveler into a “Russian Columbus.” Professor Banerjee will discuss how both Victorian English and Bollywood cinema, in their effort to translate Nikitin for a global audience, normalized his heterogeneous voice into unified constructs of national, linguistic, ethno-racial, and religious identity commensurate with the modern contexts of its translation.

Anindita Banerjee is Associate Professor of Comparative Literature at Cornell University. She works on literary and media cultures of Russia and the Indian subcontinent.

This lecture is presented thanks to a grant from the Mellon Foundation. Free and open to the public. No registration or reservations are necessary.

Download the poster (.pdf, 3.2MB).


Film screening:

“Journey Beyond Three Seas” (“Хождение за три моря”), will be shown on Sunday, Feb. 12, 5-7:30 p.m., in 328 Milbank Hall on the Barnard College campus. Free and open to the public.

Mosfilm, 1957; running time 143 minutes. In Russian with English subtitles. Directed by Khwaja Ahmad Abbas and Vasili Pronin. With Oleg Strizhenov, Nargis Dutt and Prithviraj Kapoor. Nominated for the 1958 Cannes Palme d’Or.

Directions to campus


Feb. 14, 2012 - 7:00 PM