• Ananya Ak

On a Truck Alone to McMahon is a Travelogue of a Woman With Gumption


A green paper truck, on a thin black paper road, facing the book, On a Truck Alone to McMahon, which is kept upright. On the road in front of the truck is a small paper suitcase. The entire setup is in a backdrop of grass

Sometimes, articulating my thoughts comes out as a random jumble of words. Writing letters to the authors helps, I've found. So...here you go!


Dear Nabaneeta aunty,


Is it okay if I call you aunty? I hope it is! Even before I read about your shenanigans, my friend Sneha had described your writing as a story narrated by a cool aunt.


That image stuck in my head, and when I read what you had written, I imagined you buying me a cup of tea in a chai tapri, telling me about your adventures, making me laugh and smile and wish I was you.


Because I did!


Every page I read, I admired your spunk, aunty. Your sense of adventure, your spontaneity, your carefree nature…these are qualities I sort of envy; qualities I dearly wish to possess.


I imagined your friends and relatives saying, “Oh, Nabaneeta? She’s crazy. But we love her”, they would say, shaking their heads, but smiling all the while. That is who I want to be.


It’s an odd sort of wish, isn’t it? To be the eccentric aunt who brings back exotic gifts for her nieces and nephews, who whisks them away on random getaways…whom people cannot speak about without shaking their heads lovingly. I want to be that aunt whom every grown-up secretly envies because she’s so carefree, just randomly climbing on trucks to go to far-flung places.


It’s the dream for any travel bug, isn’t it?


Or maybe not. Maybe it’s just me.


But I do so want to experience what you did! I want to hear about a random place in an unrelated conversation and suddenly get it into my head that I just need to go there. I want to convince everyone around me to help me with my haphazard plans, and finally end up going in a truck without fearing that I’ll get kidnapped or something.


I want to meet kind people who think I’m strange for doing such a thing, and have adventures I can write books about.


And honestly, aunty, that might even be possible in this day and age, dangerous as it still is.


It is amazing how you did all that I described and more in the 1970s. How did you grow up such a firecracker in those regressive times? How did you just put aside any worries about what people will think and do exactly what you want?


I worry about what people will think; and more importantly, I worry about the dangers a random journey presents to a lone woman. How did you get past all that to the “I don’t give a shit” stage?


Teach me that, aunty.


Teach me that.


Lovingly, An adventurer-to-be


Thoughts and ramblings


I didn’t mean for the caption to be so wistful! I wanted to write something special about this book, and somehow, oddly enough, this wistful note just…popped out.


The book itself is not as serious as my little letter. Not at all, in fact. If you’re one of the people who’s read my stories when I was gushing about the book, you’d know that Ms. Nabaneeta Dev Sen is an absolute riot!


If you’re one of the people who were so convinced by my stories that you bought off the book, well then, you already know. (Thank you for telling me my gushing convinced you, by the way. Words can’t express how amazing it feels to know people trust your opinions enough to spend money based on your gushing).


Anyway, apart from the fact that I adore this woman for being such a spontaneous firecracker, a woman to be reckoned with, way back in the ‘70s, I don’t have much to say.

(To see quotes from the book, head over to my Instagram post)


About the author:

A headshot of the author, Nabaneeta Dev Sen
Nabaneeta Dev Sen

Nabaneeta Dev Sen was an Indian writer and academic. Born in Calcutta in 1938 to the poet-couple Narendra Dev and Radharani Devi, she was named by Rabindranath Tagore himself. Literature was written in her blood, it seems.


Her childhood experiences included sad things like World War II air raids, the Bengal famine of 1943, and the impact of refugees arriving in her hometown after the partition of India. She received her BA in English from Presidency University, Calcutta, and received her MA with the inaugural batch of the Department of Comparative Literature at Jadavpur University. She obtained another MA in comparative literature from Harvard and then did a doctorate at Indiana University.


In 1959, she married Amartya Sen (who later won the Nobel Prize for Economics) and moved to Britain with him, where she completed her post-doctoral research. After her divorce in 1976, she returned to Calcutta with her two daughters Antara Dev Sen and Nandana Sen, and her adopted daughter Srabasti Basu.


Her hobbies included reading, records, and travelling (as is evident from this book). In addition to Bengali and English, she could also read and understand Hindi, Oriya, Assamese, French, German, Greek, Sanskrit, and Hebrew (!!!!!)


She has written more than 80 books in Bengali in a variety of genres: poetry, novels, short stories, plays, literary criticism, personal essays, travelogues, humour, translations, and children’s books. She was awarded the Padma Shri in 2000 and the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1999.


About the Translator

A headshot of the translator, Arunava Sinha
The translator, Arunava Sinha

Arunava Sinha is a Bengali-to-English translator of classic, modern and contemporary Bengali fiction and non-fiction. He is also an associate professor of practice at the Creative Writing department of Ashoka University. Born and brought up in Kolkata, he now lives and writes in New Delhi.


61 of his English translations have been published so far, in India, the UK and the US. They have also been published in several European and Asian countries through further translation. His translations have won several awards, including the Crossword Translation Award (twice – for both Sankar’s Chowringhee and Anita Agnihotri’s Seventeen), and the Muse India translation award for Buddhadeva Bose’s When the Time is Right.

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