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Editorial

Towns, cities and metropoles tend to become integral parts of the people who inhabit them.
Metropolis Musings
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Guest Editors: Anuradha Mazumder & Sacaria Joseph

Since the time of Plato – who described the ideal city or ‘polis’ as one based on human virtue and justice, and who outlined the physical designs of the ideal city in his legend of Atlantis – the city has been an object of keen philosophical interest and cultural inquiry. Cityscapes have long played an important role in literature even where the city is not explicitly thematized; works of literary modernism, for instance, bear the marks of their origins in the modern city, because the city constitutes the space in which the conditions of modernity are experienced most intensely. From serving as backdrops for writers to explore various themes to becoming characters in their own right in works of fiction, the role of the city in literature cannot be overestimated.

An organized concentration of population with diverse habitations and social arrangements, a city may be defined as an urban community of greater size or standing than a village or town that occupies a geographical site, has economic importance and cultural significance. And yet, in its fundamental characteristics and essential functions a city is hardly distinguishable from a town, since mere size of population, or settlement density, or surface area are not in themselves adequate criteria of distinction. It is tricky to distinguish a city from a metropolis for the same reasons; one could, perhaps, use the rather comprehensive Britannica definition of a metropolis: “a major city together with its suburbs and nearby cities, towns, and environs over which the major city exercises a commanding economic and social influence.” The town-city distinction, or the city-metropolis divide is thus, at best, vague; they only underscore the arbitrariness of attempts to define and categorize human habitations. Subverting the tropes of the urban metropolis in a city there exists a constant tension between cosmopolitan forces and provincial characteristics that tend to disrupt any fixed idea of the city or the metropolis.

Towns, cities and metropoles tend to become integral parts of the people who inhabit them. On the one hand they shape the lifestyles, mindsets, and behaviours of individuals; on the other they act as mirrors reflecting an individual’s memory and history, shaping their identity. Cities deeply influence our sense of self and belonging; and it is this relationship between people and the cities they are born in, or settle in, or leave that becomes the point of intersection of this web anthology of essays titled Metropolis Musings: Anecdotal Cityscapes. The anthology aims to depart from formal academic analysis, prioritizing personal observations and reflections on events, situations, and individuals encountered within urban environments. By placing an emphasis on genuine encounters and real-life narratives, the anthology encourages thoughtful storytelling. The essays in this collection delve into the social, cultural, religious, and economic dimensions that define and shape the modern metropolis vis-à-vis the authors’ personal experiences of and reflections on urban environments of varying kinds and sizes.

As the reader travels through the sleepy, ‘small-town’ Kharagpur of Annapurna Sharma’s childhood, or the bustling markets of Old Delhi that continue to populate Champa Ghosal’s dreams; after the reader has feasted on Neel Bhattacharya’s ‘insider’s bite’ on life in the hill-town of Darjeeling, or Vernon D’Souza’s mini bildungsroman unfolding in Mumbai, or Paushali Bhattacharya’s splendid romance with Atlanta in the U.S., they come home to the quiet celebration of the mystique of Kolkata in the seven other essays. While Sneha Das muses fondly on the homely charms of Kolkata, and while Rohit Prasad reads the city as an amalgam of the stories of its people who teach him empathy and resilience in the face of life’s onslaughts, Paromita Sengupta’s essay attempts to unravel the paradox of how her frequent departures from Kolkata to set up homes in other cities across the world have only brought her closer to Kolkata. Two essays in the collection problematize the romantic view of Kolkata without quite falling out of love with the city: Sukanti Dutta time-travels to a sepia-toned Calcutta of yore, in an imaginative act of ‘reverse evolution,’ just to be able to breathe some fresh air; Sacaria Joseph fleshes out the contradictions inherent in the city with unflinching clarity and insight – one learns, with him, that Kolkata, like any metropolis in the world, teems with narratives that blur the line between scepticism and compassion in our hearts. Anupam Basu, an early modernist by training, finds striking similarities between early modern London and the Kolkata in which he grew up: he observes how the two cities, worlds and centuries apart, are united in their remarkable capacity of turning chaos into nostalgia. Anuradha Mazumder interprets her sense of unease with Kolkata’s railway networks as reflective of her fear of liminal spaces, only to be jolted into an acknowledgement of the liminal nature of human existence through a strange and sublime incident that unfolds on a railway platform in the city.

Each essay is coloured by the unique perspective of its author that illuminates, explores, and critiques the prevailing ideas of the city in our time.


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