Little known histories: The British Library’s South Asia Year of Culture
Until October 2017

South Asian Year of Culture

The British Library’s year-long exploration of South Asia, in particular India, continues with a series of fascinating events showcasing the history of India, Indians and their relationship to the British, as revealed by the Library’s extensive archives of manuscripts, paintings and photographs.

The South Asia Year of Culture programme runs till October, and features traditional and contemporary literature, the politics, art and language of Empire, and tales of migration – all brought to life through music, poetry, illustrated talks and conversation.

Highlights include a talk about the Baburnama, Writing the Mughal Empire: The Memoirs of Babur. Babur was the first Mughal emperor of India, a military commander, and a poet and writer. The memoirs – his personal journal which he kept from the age of 12, record the details of his life, and the lands and the peoples of the Mughal kingdom. They were translated from the original Chagtai Turkish by his grandson the Emperor Akbar and at least one, the largest, of the four manuscripts in existence lies with the British Library.


South Asia Year of Culture

Sugar, Sugar tells the relatively unknown story of the Indian migrants – often the landless poor, left unemployed by the decimation of India’s cotton industry – who were taken to British and European colonies as indentured labourers to work on sugar plantations. The Indian indenture system began at the end of slavery in 1833 and continued till 1920 – and this talk is based on the British Library’s historical archive dating 1838-1917, as well as the testimonies and stories of the descendants of the workers.


O, come, be buried

A second time within these arms

The curious case of the arrival one of Shakespeare’s strangest, and little-performed plays Pericles in South India is discussed in the talk East india Company, Malabar Gold and Shakespeare. A specialist in Shakespeare and South India, Thea Buckley uses the British Library’s historical documents to argue that the export of spices from Kerala and the import of Shakespeare by the East India Company are somehow connected.


South Asia Year of Culture

Author Amit Chaudhuri, whose works often place cities and places at their centre, will be in conversation with writer Deborah Levy talking about his latest book Friend of my Youth. The book focusses on his childhood in, and ongoing relationship with, Bombay.


South Asia Year of Culture - British Library

The ways in which Persian art, literature and language influenced and were absorbed into India are oft-documented. Less is known about the role of Persian as the language of government. The talk on Persian Grammar Books in Colonial Calcutta explores the ways in which British interest in Persian changed the ways in which it was taught and perceived in India.

See the full South Asia Year of Culture programme of events here.


By Seema Khan.


Posted on 29 July 2017

Photos courtesy of The British Library

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