The Shakti Bhatt Foundation announced Sujatha Gidla’s Ants Among Elephants: An Untouchable Family the winner of the Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize, 2018 on October 19.
The literary award celebrates debut writers and this year’s panel of judges – Sampurna Chattarji, Raghu Karnad, and Githa Hariharan – chose Gidla’s book from a shortlist of six “because of its urgency, its revelations and its understated but seamless match of form with content”, as per Shakti Bhatt Foundation’s Facebook Page.
The shortlist judges are poet and author Jeet Thayil and author Arshia Sattar, who runs the Sangam House international writers’ residency programme.
— jeet thayil (@jeetthayil) October 19, 2018
As per the Foundation’s social media page, 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.”
“It is a marvel how, with so little friction or strain, Ants [Among Elephants] absorbs readers into undramatised lives of poverty, patriarchy, and rebellion, and the encounter with subaltern Communism,” the panel of judges said. “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.”
The shortlist included We That Are Young by Preti Taneja, Temporary People by Deepak Unnikrishnan, Remnants of a Separation by Aanchal Malhotra, The Sensational Life and Death of Qandeel Baloch by Sanam Maher, and How to Travel Light by Shreevatsa Nevatia.
While announcing the shortlist in August, co-curator Arshia Sattar wrote: “Sujatha 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.”
The Shakti Bhatt Book Prize is in its eleventh year. Submissions in poetry, fiction, graphic novels, creative non-fiction (travel writing, autobiography, biography and narrative journalism), and drama are invited.