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British Academy Book Prize for Nandini Das’s Debut Novel

By Medha Godbole

A British-Indian, a historian and a professor of Early Modern Literature and Culture at the University of Oxford – meet Nandini Das, the winner of the 2023 British Academy Book Prize for Global Cultural Understanding. Her debut work – Courting India: England, Mughal India and the Origins of Empire (Bloomsbury, 2023) was declared the winner on 31 October in London. Nandini Das received £25,000 as part of the prize. The book was described as the “true origin story of Britain and India told through England’s first diplomatic mission to the Mughal courts.”

The book offers a pathbreaking account of the first English diplomatic mission, led by the first English ambassador, Sir Thomas Roe in Mughal India. According to the British Academy, her book sheds new light on the origins of empire through the story of the arrival of the ambassador, in the early 17th century. Das makes us question our understanding of this significant pre-colonial period. Literature, the memoirs of the Mughal Emperor Jahangir, the journals and correspondence of Roe, plus the archives of the East India Company – all these and several other rich sources have been used by Das to help the readers get acquainted with the history and its two-dimensional perspective. This is a narrative of how a sense of understanding developed and cultural exchange, as well as mutual learning, happened between Britain and India during the reign of the Mughals.

Professor Charles Tripp, Fellow of the British Academy and Chair of the judging panel heaped praise on Das:

Through her beautiful writing and exceptional research, the judging panel was drawn to the contrast between an impoverished, insecure Britain and the flourishing, confident Mughal Empire and the often-amusing, sometimes querulous exchanges between their various representatives. Moreover, we were reminded through this story of the first ambassadorial mission of the value of international diplomacy, but also of the cultural minefields that surround it in ways that still have resonance today,” (The British Academy, 2023)

After winning the prestigious Award, Das mentioned that she began Courting India as a reassessment of the origins of some of the most fundamental assumptions about cultural differences between Europe and Asia.

Das recieved a Bachelor of Arts in English from Jadavpur University in Kolkata, India, after which she moved to Britain on a Rhodes scholarship to study English at University College, Oxford. She subsequently earned her M. Phil and PhD at Trinity College, Cambridge.


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