SOAS University of London

South Asia Section, School of Languages, Cultures & Linguistics

South Asian Lives (PG)

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2020/2021
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 1 or Year 2
Taught in:
Term 2

A module on biography and autobiography that explores the various ways in which life histories are constructed and related. Students will be introduced to selected theoretical works on hagiography, (auto)biography and subaltern studies. They will then study a selection of biographical and autobiographical texts from India and Nepal that were either written in or translated into English.

This module is also available as an open option. 

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

This module is designed to deepen the understanding of South Asia through introducing individual life stories in a variety of literary forms.

  • A critical understanding of texts and the ability to situate source material in social, political and cultural contexts,
  • An advanced understanding of ways in which people’s life histories can be utilised by others for political purpose or to influence public opinion.
  • An understanding of issues related to life cycle and ageing.
  • An advanced knowledge of key literary genre related to the telling of individual lives.
  • The ability to develop research, verbal and written expression as part of transferable skills across academic disciplines


Total of 10 weeks teaching with 2 hours classroom contact per week

One 2 hour project supervision session

Scope and syllabus

  • Theory and introduction
  • Hagiography
  • Political biography
  • Gendered lives
  • Subaltern lives
  • Elite Lives
  • Literary lives
  • Activist lives


Method of assessment

  • Writing a profile (800 words) to be submitted on day 5, week 5, term 2 (20%)
  • Writing a life history (2500 words) to be submitted on day 5, week 11, term 2 (40%)
  • One essay (2500 words) to be submitted on day 5, week 1, term 3 (40%)

Suggested reading


  • Arnold, David and Stuart Blackburn (eds) 2004. Telling Lives in India: Biography, autobiography and life history.  Delhi: Permanent Black.


  • Crapanzano, Vincent 1984.  ‘Life Histories’ American Anthropologist 86: 953-60.
  • Hoskins, Janet 1998 Biographical Objects: How Things Tell the Stories of People’s Lives. Routledge
  • Mattingly, Cheryl 1998.  Healing Dramas and Clinical Plots: the narrative structure of experience.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

[A subaltern studies reading on life histories]

  • Nayar, Pramod K. 2012. The Poetics of Postcolonial Atrocity: Dalit Life Writing, Testimonio, and Human Rights. In Ariel: A Review of International English Literature pp 237-264.
  • Okely, Judith and Helen Callaway 1992. Anthropology and Autobiography. Psychology Press. Chapter 1 Anthropology and autobiography Participatory experience and embodied knowledge.
  • Poletti, Anna and Julie Rake eds. 2013 Identity Technologies: Constructing the self Online. Wisconsin Studies in Autobiography. University of Wisconsin Press.
  • Smith, Sidonie and Julia Watson 2010.  Reading Autobiography: a guide for interpreting life narratives.  University of Minnesota Press.
  • Srivastava, Neelam 2017 A Multiple Addressivity: Indian Subaltern Autobiographies and the Role of Translation. Indian Literature and the World pp1005-134. Heidelberg: Springer.

Additional Reading 


  • Khilnani, Sunil 2016. Incarnations: India in 50 Lives. London: Allen Lane, Penguin Random House.
  • Selections from Incarnations, including: Ashoka, Gautama Buddha, Ambedkar, Gandhi

Political biographies

  • Raj, Yogesh 2010 History as Mindscapes : A Memory of the Peasants’ Movement in Nepal. Kathmandu: Martin Chautari

Krishna Bhakta Caguthi

  • Fisher, James F. 1998. Living Martyrs: Individuals and Revolution in Nepal

Thanka Prasad Acharya

Rewanta Kumari Acharya

  • De Sales, Anne 2013 The Biography of a Magar Communist. In David Gellner Varieties of Activisit Experience: Civil Society in South Asia. Sage.

Barman Budha Magar

Activists lives

  • Aziz, Barbara Nimri 1993. Shakti Yogmaya: A tradition of Dissent in Nepal. Kathmandu: CNAS
  • Aziz, Barbara Nimri 2001. Heir to a Silent Song: Two Rebel Women of Nepal. Kathmandu: CNAS
  • Shrestha, Tina 2008. The Life and Work of Yogmaya Neupane: A Representation of a Historical, Non-secular and Political Subject. In Social Sciences in a Multicultural World, edited by K. N. Pyakuryal, B. K. Acharya, B. Timseena, G. Chhetri, M. Uprety, and D. P. Chapagain, 206–218. Kathmandu: SASON.
  • Hutt, Michael 2013. The disappearance and reappearance of Yogmaya: Recovering a Nepali revolutionary icon, Contemporary South Asia, 21:4, 382-397.

Yogmaya Neupane

  • Kapur, Shekhar 1994. Bandit Queen (film)
  • Roy, Ashok 1985 Phoolan Devi (film)
  • Sen, Mala 1993. India’s Bandit Queen: The True Story of Phoolan Devi.
  • Phoolan Devi with Marie-Therese Cuny and Paul Rambali 1996. I, Phoolan Devi: The Autobiography of India’s Bandit Queen. Robert Laffont

Phoolan Devi

  • Dwivedi, Richa Mishra 2012. Tradition of Confessional Poetry in Indian Writings: With Special reference to poems of Kamala Das.

Kamala Das, Sarojini Naidu, Toru Dutt

Subaltern lives

  • Valmiki, Omprakash 2003 Joothan: An Untouchable’s Life. New York: Columbia University Press

Omprakash Valmiki

  • Hutt, Michael 2005. Dil Maya: Fragments of a Life. In Michael Hutt Unbecoming Citizens pp231-255.

Dil Maya

  • March, Kathryn 2002 If each comes halfway. Ithaca: Cornell University Press

Mondzom, Nhanu, Jyomo and Sukumaya

Elites autobiographies

  • Chaudhari Binod 2016. Making it Big: The Inspiring Story of Nepal’s first Billionaire in His Own Words.

Binod Chaudhari

  • Ishwari Prasad 1996 (fist edition?) The Life and Times of Maharaja Juddha Shumsher Jung Bahadur Rana.

Juddha SJB Rana

  • Gayatri Devi and Santha Rama Rau 1976. A Princess Remembers: The Memoirs of the Maharani of Jaipur. University of Michigan.

Gayatri Devi (Maharani of Jaipur)

Literary lives

  • Jalal,  Ayesha 2013 The Pity of Partition: Manto’s Life, Times, and Work across the India Pakistan Divide. Princeton: Princeton University Press

Saadat Hasan Manto

  • Rubin, David 2015. Nepali Visions Nepali Dreams: The Poetry of Laxmiprasad Devkota

Laxmiprasad Devkota

  • Assessment: one set essay, one South Asian life history

Intellectual Lives

  • Tseten, Kesang 2017 Castaway Man (film)
  • Dor Bahadur Bista


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules