Menmaking and worldmaking on two wheels: Globetrotting cyclists and the recuperation of Bengali masculinity in the interwar years

In the 1920s and 1930s, Bimal Mukherjee (1903-1987) and Ramnath Biswas (1894-1955), two amateur cyclists hailing from the Indian province of Bengal, received worldwide attention with their attempts to circumnavigate the globe by bicycle. The first part of the paper situates their sportive exploits within three important contexts: (a) the colonial discourse of ascribing ‹effeminacy› to Bengali men, thus questioning their capability for self-rule, (b) Indian nationalist projects of self-empowerment through cultivating physical prowess and athletic masculinity, and (c) the mediatised perception of road cycling as a playground for ‹superhuman› athletes.

The paper secondly argues that, apart from their significance for the wider project of ‹man-making› during the height of nationalist agitation in India, the global voyages of Mukherjee and Biswas were also projects of world making. Both sportsmen wrote extensive travelogues and memoirs, in which they described and interpreted European, Asian and African countries and their inhabitants for a non-elite Bengali readership.