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Abstract

Though scholarship abounds on early modern Europeans’ first encounters with India and its people, any scholarship in general, and particularly in the English language, on their contemporary Indians’ first encounter with Europe and Indians’ view of the West is limited. The article discusses three 18th-century Indian travelers’ travel narratives about Britain, Life and Adventures of Joseph Emin, 1726-1809 by Joseph Emin; The Wonders of Vilayet: Being the Memoir, originally in Persian of a Visit to France and Britain in 1765 by Mirza Sheikh I’tesamuddin; and Westward Bound: Travels of Mirza Abu Taleb by Mirza Abu Taleb Khan to show that a two-way flow of communication and representation existed between 18th-century Britain and India. An analysis of these travel accounts reveals that depending on the shifting cultural point of view and geographical location of the Indian travelers, “home,” and the foreign or “vilayet” as it is called in Persian (Farsi), was a shifting perception for the writers. The writers found that Britons living in Britain had a more positive response to them than the condescending attitudes, a result of power and political dynamics, which the British living in India had toward Indians, thus revealing an important heterogeneity in British attitudes toward Indians in the 18th century. The writers’ exploration of gender and sexual relations and religious attitudes in Britain was both an important means of defining “home” and self identity as well as marking differences from Europeans. Identifying gender and religious differences with British culture through comparison provided the writers a means to assess and critique Indian culture.