Michiko Kakutani reviews ‘Ants Among Elephants,’ a Memoir About the Persistence of Caste

Gidla, who now works as a conductor on the New York City subway, conveys the strain of living in the sort of abject poverty she knew as a child, where some neighbors were skeletal from hunger, and an apple was a precious Christmas treat. She chronicles the horrifying violence that could break out between the police and Maoist rebels, and among local hooligans, hired at election time to intimidate voters. And she captures the struggles of women like her mother to pursue careers in the face of caste and misogynist bias, while raising children and helping to support, in her case, as many as two dozen relatives.

When asked about caste — and in India, she says, “you cannot avoid this question” — Gidla writes that an “untouchable” like herself has a choice: “You can tell the truth and be ostracized, ridiculed, harassed,” or “you can lie.” If people believe your lie, she goes on, “you cannot tell them your stories, your family’s stories. You cannot tell them about your life. It would reveal your caste. Because your life is your caste, your caste is your life.”

In these pages, she has told those family stories and, in doing so, the story of how ancient prejudices persist in contemporary India, and how those prejudices are being challenged by the disenfranchised.

Read it all.

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Posted in Books, India

One comment on “Michiko Kakutani reviews ‘Ants Among Elephants,’ a Memoir About the Persistence of Caste

  1. Katherine says:

    When I lived in India, my housecleaner told me that “caste is everything.” They all know, just from looking or listening, what other Indians’ caste is and behave accordingly. Caste discrimination is officially illegal and but practically speaking it’s everywhere.