This two-volume collection of eclectic essays on Kolkata seeks to explore areas not covered in the earlier works on the city, in terms of both topics and time. Contributors from India, Germany and beyond have used both academic research and lived experiences to reveal the dynamic process of Kolkata's urbanity rooted in its colonial history and constantly reshaped by its politics, economy and changing socio-cultural norms. The first section of Volume 1 indicates how the city has negotiated space from its formative years right up to the crucial juncture it seems to have reached recently as a result of the drastic shift towards mega-urbanity. The second section provides glimpse into the city in time, through the two global wars in the twentieth century, the Naxalite movement, the rule of the Left Front and beyond. The book seeks to understand the city not only in space and time, but also in imagination, which is highlighted in the second volume. While recognizing that the colonial rulers did play a vital role in the making of the city, the book is primarily about the active native participation in the process of Kolkata's urban transformation. It highlights the ordinary and the everyday, with special attention paid to the underclasses of the city. It uses a polyscopic perspective and presents the city as a fascinating heterotopia based on a coexistence of the haves and the have-nots, of the old and the new, of formality and informality.
Anuradha Roy is Professor, Department of History, Jadavpur University. Her research is focused on intellectual and cultural history, with special reference to the life of the Bengali bhadralok and bhadramahila (men and women of the educated upper and middle classes). She has authored/edited a dozen books in Bengali and English, most of which are related to the nationalist and communist culture in Bengal. Among the books authored by her are Nationalism as Poetic Discourse in Nineteenth Century Bengal (2003); Cultural Communism in Bengal, 1936-1952 (2014); Bengal Marxism: Early Discourses and Debates (2014), a monograph on the women novelists of nineteenth-century Bengal and a collection of essays titled Itihaser Harek Gero (Different Knots of History, 2019).
Melitta Waligora is Assistant Professor at the Seminar for South Asian Studies, Institute for Asian and African Studies, Humboldt University, Berlin. She teaches topics related to South Asia, focusing mainly on Bengal: Bengal Renaissance, its intellectual and cultural history, social structures, gender relations and urban history She has recently published a book about the city of Kolkata titled Kalkutta: Eine Moderne Stadt am Ganges (2015), and a collection of portraits of women living in Kolkata, based on interviews with them, titled Ich wollte nie so leben wie meine Mutter (2017). She has also edited a book about gender relations titled Draupadi und Kriemhild: Frauen, Ehre und Macht im Nibelungenlied und Mahabharata (2008).
This book titled Kolkata in Space, Time, and Imagination has emerged from a research-cum-publication project based on a formal tie-up between Humboldt University and Jadavpur University. The project was entrusted to two editors, one from each university. One of the editors, having spent all her life in Kolkata, is tied to the city through a sort of primordial bond and this serves as one of the essential foundations of her identity. The other one, a German and a Berliner, has come to know Kolkata and developed a fondness for it primarily through a conscious academic interest. The Calcutta-born editor loves the city for the intense life and love she has found here as much as she hates it for all its wickedness, discriminations, corruptions, pretensions, and its frantic efforts towards superficial and hypocritical glosses (which is becoming increasingly prominent day by day). The German editor, having been compelled to adjust her identity through the division and reunification of her country and her city, perhaps feels the fleetingness of identity more strongly and is more open about its spatial determination. This has gradually helped her to make Calcutta a part of her identity, maybe a comparatively small part, but genuine and sincere nevertheless. And because thoughtful identities generate both love and criticism (in contrast to blind and bigoted identities), she too loves and critiques the city simultaneously. She loves it because it is a source of intellectual and emotional gratifications for her, and critiques it for its often mindless and self-destructive ways that reminds her of her own country and city (though, the context and nature of these ways may be very different). We begin this foreword on a personal note, because we think this will help explain our planning of the book that is caring, critical, and above all, motivated by an urge to know the city in depth which is actually an urge to know ourselves. Alongside, we do hope that this endeavour will contribute not only to a better understanding of Calcutta, but also to a mutual understanding of different people across countries and thus, to the making of a better world.
Even within the limits of academics with its claim of objectivity (though not detachment), we feel that scholars and intellectuals must try and understand each other at the international level. Even if it is a regionally or locally limited subject, just one city in this case, it should interest scholars far and wide and they should engage with some general questions and methodology to understand it. They should also try and develop some common ideas and theories in the process (preferably through 'a healthy give and take). After all, it is not that an idea or theory based upon a certain experience would describe only that one experience; it should be able to explain other experiences, at least up to a point. While experiences are not identical world over, they have some definite similarities. Urban experiences certainly do have similarities; so do colonialism, modernity, class disparities, gender, the rage for 'development' in today's neoliberal globalized world order, and some other phenomena that have to be understood for understanding Calcutta. At the end of the day, humanity is universal and amenable to a remarkable convergence in several crucial aspects. Such convergence requires academics to develop a common epistemology, and thus, strengthen and consolidate their intellectual pursuits to ensure excellence. This book project, involving scholars from India, Germany, and beyond is a small attempt in this direction.
**Contents and Sample Pages**
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