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Friday, 29 August 2008

AIDS Sutra: Untold Stories from India Launched on August 13, 2008

by Suzan Abrams

16 Indian writers from the famed and celebrated Rushdie to the untried but highly-talented Nikita Lalwani, longlisted as last year's Man Booker Prize nomination for her first novel Gifted - and the majority of them living in the West - were asked to walk the streets of different regions in India recently for an important collection of AIDS stories.

India is one of the higher-risk countries in the world with almost 3 million accounted for the fatal HIV-positive disease. Later to be published by Random House India, Anchor Books US and Vintage in the UK and produced in collaboration with Avahan, the India Aids initiative of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation with proceeds going solely to children infected by HIV, the writers would first be asked to talk to housewives, homosexuals, drug-addicts, policemen, sex workers and other related sources, for what would make up the crippling factors of this cruel illness. The result is a varied and eclectic collection of stories, launched across India's varied bookstores two weeks ago on August 13.

Sir Saman Rushdie spent a day with enunchs in Western Mumbai. He would later write a tale called The Half-Woman God based on his meeting with Lakshmi Tripathi (pictured above) known to be one of India's most popular transsexuals. She was last seen hugging famous Bollywood actor Salman Khan, on a telly show. The distinquished novelist said that India has always understood androgyny. "The man in the woman's body, the woman in the man's," he reflected. "Yet the third gender of India still need our understanding, and our help," he added.

Shoba De wrote a story of someone she knew personally; her driver dying of aids.

Kiran Desai, Man Booker Prize winner for 2006 travelled to the Andhra coast where she visited a village populated by hereditary sex workers.

Aman Sethi wrote of two homesick truckers Sanjay and Kamlesh who pay for sex to break the dullness of road travel and the consequnces that derived from such restless acts.

Siddharth Dhanwant Shanghvi who won the Betty Trask Award in London in 2005, for his first novel, Last Song of Dusk wrote of the eccentric filmmaker Murad, the toast of Mumbai's bright lights.

The rest of the writers were made up of Nikita Lalwani, Vikram Seth, the British historian William Darylmple who has set up home in North India, Sonia Faleiro, Amit Chaudhuri, Nalini Jones, CS Lakshmi, Sunil Ganguly, Jaspreet Singh, Siddharth Deb and Mukul Kesavan.

The Nobel prize winning economist Amartya Sen, wrote the foreword.