The Shakti Bhatt Foundation on Friday announced author Sujatha Gidla’s Ants Among Elephants: An Untouchable Family and the Making of Modern India the winner of the Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize, 2018. The literary award celebrates debut writers and is curated by writers Jeet Thayil and Arshia Sattar.
“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.”
This year’s judges – Sampurna Chattarji, Raghu Karnad and Githa Hariharan – chose Ants Among Elephants from a shortlist of six titles – four works of non-fiction and two novels.
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.
Gidla was raised in the Dalit community of Kazipet in Telengana, the Shakti Bhatt Foundation said. 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, and moved to the United States at the age of 26. She is currently employed as a conductor on the New York City subway system.
The award is currently in its 11th year and comes with a cash prize of Rs 2 lakh. Entires across poetry, fiction, graphic novels, creative non-fiction (travel writing, autobiography, biography and narrative journalism), and drama are accepted.