This collection of essays, supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, brings together 16 writers, young and old, starry and less well-known, to explore the subterranean and often suppressed worlds of Indian HIV and AIDS sufferers—worlds that are sometimes quite closely linked to the realms that ‘normal, healthy’ Indians believe themselves to inhabit.
Data on the prevalence of HIV/AIDS is imprecise, and Amartya Sen, in an illuminating Foreword to the book, does his best to construe the available data into something like working figures. As Sen notes, factual claims about HIV/AIDS have resembled an "elephant’s burial ground", and even the most credible current figure of around 2.5 million affected Indians—a figure Sen endorses—is reasoned guesswork. That number might initially appear to be consoling, given India’s population of one billion. But there are at least two important considerations here. Socially, HIV/AIDS has highly disproportionate effects—certain groups of men, women and children are massively over-represented among those afflicted; spatially, it has affected certain regions—particularly the states of Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Manipur—far more than others. In one-fifth of India’s districts, HIV/AIDS affects more than 1 per cent of the population—epidemic proportions.