Home / Mint-lounge / Features /  Time travel: when past is place

How much of a place is its history? For the purposes of this issue, we say it is the sum. Places—cities, towns, hills, coasts, palaces and photographs—transform into Narnian closets and we step through them to arrive in...where do we arrive? Is a place that was, the same as the place that is? How much of a period can you claw back in travel, how much peeling does it take to reach back and find what came before in what is before us now?

Our contributors for this issue have turned these questions into maps of a journey, wandering off into lost time. Raghu Karnad walks along the Calicut seafront, looking out on to a horizon obscured by the morning “burqa regatta" but inscribed with the history of the Calicut Parsis. Devdutt Pattanaik hikes up the Samanar Malai in Madurai and measures its height in 2,500 years of Jain history in Tamil Nadu, challenging several dearly held contemporary notions. On another hill, near Hirebenakal in Karnataka, Srinath Perur goes farther back, to the Iron Age, and standing in the middle of a megalithic necropolis, wonders about the elemental longing of human beings to persist in time. Manu S. Pillai wanders about Thiruvananthapuram’s ammaveedus and traces the matrilineal legacies of the city’s royal past in the ironic lives of its descendants. Rana Safvi imagines the escape of Delhi’s nawabs in the aftermath of the Great Mutiny of 1857, while Aanchal Malhotra meets a woman who left Karachi for Bombay in January 1948 and finds that journey stored in the things that carried over. Inside a 500-year old structure that was once the inner chamber of an army general’s quarters in the 14th c. Vijayanagara Empire, Samhita Arni ponders upon the space between desire and empire. Priyanka Borpujari pokes her head into Frida Kahlo’s home in Mexico City to see how history mirrors the life of one of the world’s most iconic artists, and Charukesi Ramadurai flies over the pre-Incan Nazca Lines in Peru to decode their mystery. I go to a palace in Mandalay and stamp about barefoot on its centuries-old teak floor, as the king would have liked. And two brothers, whom we shall not name, undertake a risky expedition from Nepal to Lhasa to survey a unique and difficult terrain.

Chandni Chowk, Delhi, 1858.
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Chandni Chowk, Delhi, 1858.

At a time when we are allegedly becoming ahistorical, with all the insta-emphasis on the here and the new, we also find that histories are becoming more contested than ever before. The cynic would say one leads to the other, and maybe there is some truth in that. But equally, a different filter on history, say, for example, one grounded in travel, could offer more ways of looking back.

Abhijit Dutta, issue editor

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