Combining archival research with ethnographic fieldwork, my new book, The Boundary of Laughter (OUP, 2021) explores how spaces of popular performance have changed with the emergence of national borders in modern South Asia. Drawing on a rich and hitherto unexplored archive of Gambhira songs and plays, I trace the making of the popular theater form called Gambhira by Hindu and Muslim peasants and laborers in colonial Bengal, and explores the fate of the tradition after the Partition of the region in 1947. In this talk, I will share some parts of my book in an attempt to rethink our analytical tools for studying religious faith and identity in colonial India, particularly in relation to Hindu-Muslim relations. I hope to work towards a new approach for studying popular performances as shared spaces that can accommodate peoples across national and religious boundaries.
Aniket De is a PhD Candidate in History at Harvard University, USA. His academic and research interests include the political and economic history of the British Empire, the intellectual history of Indian nationalism and cultural history of colonial Bengal. He is keen on inquiring how the idea of the “frontier” developed in British India over the nineteenth century, especially with relation to imperial political economy, colonial anthropology and nationalist thought.