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Nandini Das, India-Born Author, Clinches the 2023 British Academy Book Prize for Global Cultural Understanding with ‘Courting India’

01-11-2023 : India-born author Nandini Das has achieved a significant literary milestone by winning the prestigious 2023 British Academy Book Prize for Global Cultural Understanding, a renowned international non-fiction accolade that carries a substantial reward of £25,000 ($30,382). Her acclaimed work, “Courting India: England, Mughal India and the Origins of Empire,” is described as a compelling narrative that unravels the authentic genesis of the relationship between Britain and India.

The announcement of Nandini Das’s victory was made during a ceremony held at the British Academy in London on a Tuesday evening. This victory marks a momentous achievement in her career, particularly as it is her debut work in the realm of non-fiction literature.

Nandini Das, a 49-year-old academic who holds the position of Professor in the English faculty at the University of Oxford, has skillfully offered a fresh perspective on the origins of the British Empire. Her narrative revolves around the arrival of the first English ambassador in India, Sir Thomas Roe, during the early 17th century. Through meticulous research and the use of contemporary sources from Indian and British political figures, officials, and merchants, Das brings to life the early encounters between these two cultures. Her work captures the misunderstandings that occasionally jeopardized the entire diplomatic effort.

Professor Charles Tripp, the Chair of the prize jury, lauded Nandini Das’s writing for its exceptional quality and her research for its depth. He highlighted the contrast between an economically challenged, insecure Britain and the flourishing, confident Mughal Empire, which is a central theme in her book. Additionally, the narrative humorously delves into the exchanges between the various representatives of these two worlds, offering insight into their interactions and sometimes querulous discussions.

Tripp emphasized that Nandini Das’s work underscores the enduring value of international diplomacy and highlights the cultural complexities that continue to be relevant in contemporary global relations.

The British Academy Book Prize, previously known as the Nayef Al-Rodhan Prize, was established in 2013 with the purpose of recognizing and celebrating exceptional non-fiction works that demonstrate originality and scholarly rigor. These works are also expected to contribute to a broader public understanding of different world cultures and their interactions.

Professor Julia Black, the President of the British Academy, underlined the importance of such books in fostering cross-cultural understanding in an increasingly interconnected world. She emphasized the significance of well-researched books that use the power of storytelling to shed light on the complexities of global interactions.

As the winner of this esteemed award, Nandini Das will receive a prize of £25,000 ($30,382). Additionally, each of the shortlisted works, including “Black Ghost of Empire: The Long Death of Slavery and the Failure of Emancipation” by Kris Manjapra, “Red Memory: Living, Remembering and Forgetting China’s Cultural Revolution” by Tania Branigan, “The Violence of Colonial Photography” by Daniel Foliard, “Papyrus: The Invention of Books in the Ancient World” by Irene Vallejo, and “Ritual: How Seemingly Senseless Acts Make Life Worth Living” by Dimitris Xygalatas, will receive a prize of £1,000 ($1,125) each.

The 2023 judging panel for the British Academy Book Prize for Global Cultural Understanding comprised esteemed individuals including Professor Madawi Al-Rasheed FBA, Professor Rebecca Earle, Fatima Manji, and Professor Gary Younge Hon. Their collective expertise and discernment played a crucial role in identifying Nandini Das’s outstanding contribution to the world of non-fiction literature.