An aphorism of life, love and living with AIDS

Captivating the life of people constantly at a risk of coming forth with HIV/AIDS, this book is important to anyone who wants to understand the epidemic. HIV/AIDS is not always about numbers and statistics, writes Akanksha Singh.


‘Journeys in the night- untold stories from India’s best known writers’, is a compilation of short stories based on the subject of HIV/AIDS in India. Originally published as ‘AIDS Sutra’ in 2008, the book was conceived by Avahan, the Indian AIDS initiative of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Calling upon sixteen of the eminent writers to uncover many hidden stories across the country, the anthology is a collection of finely observed pieces of literary journalism.

The book takes a leaf out of the anomalous life of communities and individuals battling with the epidemic of HIV/AIDS in India. It essays the journey of people who, as one of the stories explains, ‘in some sense are living outside the tradition, in a new world where their alliance is paramount. They understand what others cannot. They have made journeys that their families, no matter how well-meaning, cannot comprehend. And perhaps they have changed the world around them, in small and unexpected ways.’

Plainly written in black and white, without any hidden connotation, the book unfolds the world in which people contracted the deadly disease by means of blood transfusion and use of common needles. To most people however, the book explains, HIV/AIDS simply means a consequence of sex and not just any sex, sex that is deadly which can bring bad name to a reputed individual.

Edited by Negar Akhavi
Photographs by Prashant Panjiar
Published by Random House India
Cost: INR 299
Pages: 334

Contributing writers includes names like Salman Rushdie, Kiran Desai, Shobhaa De, Vikram Seth, Aman Sethi, Siddharth Deb, William Dalrymple, Nalini Jones, Sunil Gangopadhyay, Jaspreet Singh, Sonia Faleiro, Nikita Lalwani, Amit Chaudhuri, CS Lakshmi, Siddharth Dhanwant Sanghvi and Mukul Kesavan.

Reading Amartya Sen’s comprehensive foreword on ‘understanding the challenge of AIDS’ is an added privilege for the readers. As explained by the Nobel Laureate himself, these essays are concerned with the more complex problem of HIV/AIDS in India- knowledge and conception rather than mere figures and statistics.

One cannot help but notice the meticulous work done by these writers who might have traversed down the unfamiliar roads of the country to articulately pen down each and every story for their readers.

You won’t remember these stories for their writers, but you will remember it for the person you have just read about and for the inglorious fact that people are beaten up, exploited and hounded for their HIV status even today. The writers have not tried to stamp their mark. Instead they have acted as a medium, giving a voice to the sufferers. From Nagaland, comes the story on a man who took on the Supreme Court for the latter denying his right to get married. From Manipur, comes an insight into the dark trappings of drug culture.

It will take you to the forbidden lanes of Bengal’s red light area to Andhra Pradesh’s historical village of sex workers and into the lives of the Devadasi’s of Belgaon. From talking about the fate of star-crossed lovers to children living with HIV/AIDS, the stories will engage you, inspire you and question your sanity.

These stories are all about the discoveries that people like us never suspect will cast its long shadow so inexorably that it will threaten to colour our whole life.

Each one of these stories is uniquely different but they are all unified by a single message of how, if we are going to stop AIDS, we should have to embrace each one of those suffering from it. The book shows the human side of this disease regardless of social class, the line of work or circumstance including those who are more vulnerable such as sex workers and their clients, the transgender and injecting drug users. Additionally, Prashant Panjiar’s vivid collection of photographs forms an integral part of this book. Starting from the book cover itself, each of his photographs has its own story to sharea story of thousand words or may be more.

Though the stories are insightful, few segments can leave you exhausted. The prejudiced may well get reformed.