Sujatha Gidla’s Ants Among Elephants: An Untouchable Family and the Making of Modern India (Harper Collins) is the winner of the Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize 2018.
Sujatha Gidla was raised in the Dalit community of Kazipet, a small town in Telengana. After high school she enrolled in a Master’s program in physics. She worked as a researcher in the department of applied physics at the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, then moved to the United States at the age of 26. She is currently employed as a conductor on the New York City subway system.
This year’s panel of judges, Sampurna Chattarji, Raghu Karnad and Githa Hariharan chose Sujatha Gidla’s Ants Among Elephants from a shortlist of six “because of its urgency, its revelations and its understated but seamless match of form with content.”
The other books on the 2018 shortlist were:
We That Are Young, Preti Taneja (Penguin/Hamish Hamilton)
Temporary People, Deepak Unnikrishnan (Penguin Books)
Remnants of a Separation, Aanchal Malhotra (Harper Collins)
The Sensational Life and Death of Qandeel Baloch, Sanam Maher (Aleph)
How to Travel Light, Shreevatsa Nevatia (Penguin Books)
The judges said:
“It is a marvel how, with so little friction or strain, Ants absorbs readers into undramatized lives of poverty, patriarchy, and rebellion, and the encounter with subaltern Communism. But quite apart from the rarity and necessity of the subject—Dalit lives—the book is admirable for its clean skill and technical execution. With no authorial flourishes, it allows the story's innate passion and gravitas to display themselves.
“Ants is a book that teaches, reveals, reminds and remembers. It bears witness, it listens and asks to be listened to; with all these qualities in mind, we'd like to recommend it for this year's Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize.”
While announcing the shortlist in August, co-curator Arshia Sattar wrote: “Sujata Gidla’s searing memoir Ants Among Elephants blows the lid off any illusions we might have had about the diminishing importance of caste in the 21st century, even in such aspirationally egalitarian spaces as the movements of the political and social Left. Gidla’s freedom lies in her escape from the existential destitution that such systemic discrimination can induce for Dalit castes in India.”
About the 2018 judges
Githa Hariharan has written novels, short fiction and essays over the last three decades. Her work includes The Thousand Faces of Night which won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book in 1993, the short story collection The Art of Dying, the novels The Ghosts of Vasu Master, When Dreams Travel, In Times of Siege and Fugitive Histories, and a collection of essays entitled Almost Home: Cities and Other Places. She is one of the founders of the Indian Writers Forum. For more on this Delhi-based author and her work, visit githahariharan.com
Raghu Karnad is a writer and journalist, and co-founder of theWire.in. His book Farthest Field: An Indian Story of the Second World War (2015) was awarded the Sahitya Akademi Yuva Puraskar and shortlisted for the UK PEN Hessell-Tiltman Prize for historical non-fiction in 2016. He has been editor of Time Out Delhi and written for Granta, The New York Times, The Financial Times, n+1, and Caravan magazine.
Sampurna Chattarji is a poet, fiction writer and translator. Her fifteen books include her poetry titles Absent Muses, The Scorpion, and Space Gulliver: Chronicles of an Alien; the novels Rupture and Land of the Well; a short-story collection about Bombay/Mumbai, Dirty Love, and a translation of Joy Goswami’s Selected Poems. She has co-authored Elsewhere Where Else/ Lle Arall Ble Arall with the Welsh poet Eurig Salisbury and is currently Poetry Editor of The Indian Quarterly. You can find her online at sampurnachattarji.wordpress.com and on Twitter @ShampooChats