The author William Dalrymple came away with two main impressions from his time spent with Rani Bai, a devadasi in northern Karnataka who was sold as a teenager into a life of sex with strangers.
First, he was struck by her optimism, which remained intact after years of sleeping with eight or so men every day and contracting HIV. Second, he became aware of his own lack of knowledge about HIV/AIDS in India, which he attributed to the lack of meaningful national discourse about the topic.
“One is vaguely aware from the papers that there is a problem,” said Dalrymple, who contributed a chapter about “Rani Bai” to AIDS Sutra, a new book about the disease. “But there is a silence on every level about the scale of the problem and the nature of the problem.”
Dalrymple read from his chapter and took questions from roughly 40 fans and journalists during a Delhi launch event held Wednesday afternoon at Oxford Bookstore in Connaught Place.
Billed as “India's First Charity Book”, AIDS Sutra, which features 16 chapters on populations most susceptible to HIV/AIDS, has two objectives: to increase public awareness of the disease while raising money for children affected by it.
Contributing authors include Salman Rushdie, who reports on Mumbai’s transgender population; Kiran Desai, who chronicles the lives of sex workers in Andhra Pradesh; and Mukul Kesavan, who writes about gay men leading double lives.
The book was produced in collaboration with Avahan, the India AIDS initiative of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
The Delhi launch event on Wednesday coincided with the book's release in Chennai, Hyderabad and Bangalore. It was released in Mumbai and Kolkata on Tuesday. It will be available in the UK in September and in the US in October.