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A note on the issue: Hidden histories of our cities

This week we travel deep inside Mumbai’s Sanjay Gandhi National Park to Kanheri, a network of caves that tell of the rise and decline of Buddhism

Kanheri’s hilltop with the Mumbai skyline.
Kanheri’s hilltop with the Mumbai skyline. (Bibek Bhattacharya)

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Every city has a past of which we rarely think, caught up as we are in its gridlocks, hustle, congestion and exhaustion. In some cities, like Delhi, the past is evident, present as monuments standing on street corners or visible from a flyover. In others, like Mumbai, the more recent colonial history overtakes the far older stories that exist beneath. In this issue, we undertake some urban time travel and look beyond the stories we usually experience or that are told about cities.

Also Read: How the Kanheri Caves tell us a forgotten history of Mumbai

Deep inside Mumbai’s Sanjay Gandhi National Park—yes, the one known for leopards that pop into nearby neighbourhoods—are the remains of one of India’s oldest Buddhist communities. Locals know of Kanheri—a network of beautiful caves with inscriptions and artwork that tell of the rise and decline of Buddhism—and non-Mumbaikars may have heard of it but it’s rarely explored in depth—and this is what we do in our cover story. These 102 caves are hewn from a single hill and tell us of lives of the past. It’s hard to believe that you could look out from one of those huge glass towers in north Mumbai in the general direction of a site that was a hive of bustling activity from the first to the 11th centuries. This history of Buddhism and spirituality is a side of Mumbai one rarely considers, hidden as it is beneath the city’s famed hustle and can-do attitude.

Also Read: Lost in the greens of Mizoram's Murlen National Park

Cities and their stories are a running theme in this issue. One of our columnists, while paying tribute to author and foreign correspondent Dominique Lapierre, who died recently, contemplates the stereotypes that typify Kolkata, including the tag “City of Joy” that it has acquired from Lapierre’s book title. In another piece, we look at what it would take to turn Varanasi, with a centuries-old musical heritage, into a music destination along the lines of Nashville or Vienna.

Cities are also home to wildlife that we forget about—Mumbai’s leopards, Bengaluru’s slender loris, Chennai’s deer, and in towns in Uttarakhand, tigers. Neha Sinha writes of an India not always visible to us, and the fear that wildlife in “our city spaces” evokes. Elsewhere, we take a look at Bengaluru’s three-year-old Museum of Art and Photography (MAP) and its ongoing efforts to democratise art by digitising its art. Taken together, it is an exploration of the complexity and vitality of cities.

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Also Read: ‘City of Joy’: once ironic, now a cheery tourist slogan

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