Ants among Elephants
An Untouchable Family and the Making of Modern India
Farrar, Straus, and Giroux 2017
New Books in HistoryNew Books in Human RightsNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in SociologyNew Books in South Asian StudiesNew Books in World AffairsNew Books Network November 26, 2017 Madhuri Karak
In her searing book Ants among Elephants: An Untouchable Family and the Making of Modern India (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017), Sujatha Gidla traces her family’s history over four generations in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh. From their conversion into Christianity by Canadian missionaries and her grandfather’s stint in the British army; her uncle Satyamurthy’s rise as a revolutionary poet, labor organizer and eventual founder of the Maoist People’s War Group (PWG) and her mother Manjula’s struggles raising three children in the face of everyday caste discrimination, to her own involvement with the PWG’s radical student wing that ended with brief imprisonment, it is the impossibility of transcending caste even in “modern” India that she circles back to. She writes, “Your life is your caste, your caste is your life.” Her book has been reviewed to critical acclaim in the New York Times, BBC, and Slate among others. Gidla lives in New York City and works as a subway conductor for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
Madhuri Karak is a Ph.D. candidate in cultural anthropology at The Graduate Center, City University of New York. Her dissertation, titled “Part-time Insurgents, Civil War and Extractive Capital in an Adivasi Frontier,” explores processes of statemaking in the bauxite-rich mountains of southern Odisha, India. She tweets @madhurikarak and more of work can be found here.