Inaugural BASAS Book Prize: Winner Announced

The prize panel met in November 2021 and March 2022 to choose the winner from an impressive and wide-ranging pool of submissions to the inaugural BASAS book prize, testament to the vibrancy of our fields of study. We considered the extent to which the book makes an original and/or challenging contribution to the study of South Asia, its contribution to knowledge in relevant disciplinary fields, the level of rigour and innovation within the research methods used, the richness of the book’s empirical data and the clarity of the book’s narrative and argument. While it was challenging to choose, we ultimately decided that Usha Iyer’s “Dancing Women” most closely meets these criteria. The inaugural BASAS prize for a first book published in 2020 therefore goes to

Usha Iyer: Dancing Women. Choreographing Corporeal Histories of Hindi Cinema. Oxford University Press, 2020.

This delightful book, which offers complementary video resources online, pushes the analyses of dance in South Asian film (from its inception until the 1990s). It incorporates innovative analytical approaches, that allows us to recognize and categorise different genres and functions of dance sequences, and draws our attention to the dancers themselves, showing us how the skills of women performers shaped films, rather than serving as mere props to the main storyline and characterisation. The research is rich and reveals the careers now-forgotten women dancers-actors. The analytical language used is sometimes difficult, but is rewarding on careful reading.

Our warmest congratulations to Usha Iyer, who was able to join us on our annual conference to accept the prize. We will celebrate her book with an upcoming symposium organised by our GEC network and a book forum, to be published in due course in South Asian Studies. “Dancing Women” is joined by the following four runner-up entries, listed in alphabetical order, that made the shortlist for the prize as announced earlier this year. Our congratulations to Jyoti Gulati Balchandran, Dwaipayan Banerjee, Dipti Khera and Maria Rashid:

Jyoti Gulati Balchandran: Narrative Pasts. The Making of a Muslim Community in Gujarat, c. 1400-1650. Oxford University Press, 2020.

Balachandran analyses Sufi writings from pre-Mughal Gujarat, and their contribution to the shaping of regional and religious identities. Her ground-breaking research uncovers rare manuscripts and combines these with archaeological study to trace the growth in regional status of certain saints and their disciple networks, in communication and tension with political powers.  The book is a testament to Balachandran’s immense tremendous archival and linguistic ability and a pleasure to read. It is of relevance beyond the study of South Asia and has the potential to contribute to the wider field of memory studies.

Dwaipayan Banerjee: Enduring Cancer. Life, Death, and Diagnosis in Delhi. Duke University Press, 2020.

A rich and sensible ethnography that very well supports its arguments across a broad breadth of topics including familial care arrangements, the role of AIIMS and cancer NGOs in Delhi, and the cultural representation of cancer. Interweaving vivid ethnography with recent advances in health anthropology as well as gender studies, the book provides a new inroad to the study of suffering.

Dipti Khera: The Place of Many Moods. Udaipur’s Painted Lands and India’s Eighteenth Century. Princeton University Press, 2020.

This is a vivid and innovative book that pursues the themes of place, emotion and aesthetics in eighteenth century Udaipur. The analysis combines an analysis of paintings and examination of the place of the painters in courtly cultures set within a sustained (and profoundly spatial) discussion of the economic, environmental and cultural histories of Udaipur.

Maria Rashid: Dying to Serve. Militarism, Affect, and the Politics of Sacrifice in the Pakistan Army. Stanford University Press, 2020.

A rich and rigorous ethnography grounded in unique field access, skillfully extending what we knew historically about the colonial state and its relation to ‘army villages’ to contemporary times. Unlike other studies of the Pakistani army and its role in the nation state, this book centers the lives of ordinary soldiers killed in battle and the families mourning them, demonstrating how personal grief gets intertwined with technologies of rule.