Ants Among Elephants - An Untouchable Family and the Making of Modern India

I came across Ants Among Elephants via this Slate interview a few weeks ago. In it, Isaac Chotiner, who is among the better read web-writers on India, spoke highly of the book, its subject matter, and the fascinating journey the author took that landed her as the first Indian-American subway conductor in NYC. This follow up interview with Tyler Cowen is also a good addendum.

Gidla’s book is very important but I don’t think it is very easy to read. Gidla’s strengths are in recounting difficult times her family has faced. About describing social and political forces that shaped modern India. But not exactly in story telling. Her writing often felt overburdened and unable to manage details, characters, and larger themes.

With that warning out of the way, the content of this book was fascinating. The balance between politics, the rise of the Naxalite movement, personal stories that track the journey India has been on since Independence, and the complex ways in which caste in India mirrors race elsewhere (and the ways in which it doesn’t) were all interesting to consider. The ways in which caste intersects with every structure of life – politics, economics, personal well being, personal identity – it possibly holds the most explanatory power of how or why people’s lives are the way they are in India.

I have and will continue to highly recommend this book to any interested reader of India. I wish it read better. But it is important enough to read none the less.