This issue focuses on cities in South Asia, not as a generic category but rather as a symbolic and political constellation loaded with complex histories and contemporary dynamics
It’s been a while. When we set out to produce this issue in early 2016, we hadn’t quite anticipated what a journey it would be. Naively, we had thought it was a simple task: we would compile an issue on “urban Asia”. It quickly became apparent that this oversimplification was unproductive. Following a series of conversations with various colleagues in several cities from Jakarta to Delhi and Dhaka, it was clear that we were exhibiting the same misunderstanding of a continent that we have constantly fought against in this publication—generalisations in reference to “Africa”—as if an entire continent (let alone its cities) could be lumped into one category and be understood. Confronting our hypocrisy was liberating, and led to this issue, which we have produced in collaboration with the Indian Institute of Human Settlements’ WordLab Collective, a partnership we plan to continue.
This issue focuses on cities in South Asia, not as a generic category but rather as a symbolic and political constellation loaded with complex histories and contemporary dynamics. The stories we selected illuminate a diverse region gripped by political and cultural upheavals, and bounded by stereotypes. South Asia is experiencing enormous shifts, particularly as its inhabitants become overridingly urban. The region exhibits a complexity that no single story can or should seek to capture. It is in the juxtaposition of this issue’s content that the full nature of relationships and life within and between the various cities profiled emerges. Highlights include Maryam Azwer’s fascinating piece on the multi-billion dollar remodelling of Hambantota in southern Sri Lanka. It tells a familiar story to many in various parts of the African continent: a politician’s hubris led to a white elephant development that serves little purpose other than as a monument to political folly. Ikhtisad Ahmed’s story from Dhaka grapples with Bangladeshi liberalism in a city jolted by cultural intolerance and anti-intellectualism. In Dhaka, this has had a direct bearing on how the city is developing and how people live and share space.
The remarkable legacy of Kathmandu-based Himal Southasian, an independent news magazine that suddenly closed in November 2016, is assessed by Puja Sen. It’s not just about foreboding content in this issue. Rapuleena Bose writes about Calcutta’s post-independence musical heritage; it provides a glimpse into a period of intense cultural experimentation. Rekha Ragunathan looks at the reclamation of Bangalore’s lost waterways, and Zeeshan Khan chats to Shahidul Alam about his stellar career in photography, education and social activism.