Mister X versus Hospital Y
I am with him in his workspace, a narrow box of a room, as he talks. The room is clean, fresh and comforting; controlled, yet welcoming. As there are very few objects in the room, I wonder if these defining characteristics are coming from Toku himself. He is seated at his desk in the corner, a doctor in his early forties, of northeast Indian origin, with very clear skin the colour of light pine, high cheek-boned, hair arranged with a tidy side parting, silver-framed spectacles. His face, which has a certain ‘do not disturb’ quality at rest, creases confusingly with the very opposite quality when he smiles. ‘People call me Toku,’ he says, when I refer to him as Dr Tokugha.
There is a knock behind me. I get up quickly to allow the door to open—my chair, by his desk, takes up most of the free space in the room. Toku engages warmly with the patient who enters—a slight, quiet man in his thirties with patchy white bristle on his cheeks, dressed in a dark work shirt and slacks that roll up to reveal bare feet. They speak in Tamil, but I can sense that they are talking about medicine and treatment. The phrases ‘three times a day’ and ‘after food only’ form part of the conversation. As the patient leaves, Toku gets up to follow him out. ‘Be comfortable,’ he says, noting my nervous, slightly tense posture. ‘Be my guest.’
He flashes a modest smile of impressive teeth before exiting. I look around the room for more clues. To my right, a makeshift bed has been formed from a sheet and pillow laid on top of a chest of drawers. On the wall is a poster for a twenty second general conference of some kind, entitled ‘Enduring Beyond’. The image is of a warrior ready for battle. Above that, a few trophies in a glass cage. To their left, a picture of a park in eighties film colours—heightened greens and flushed fuchsia blooms. ‘God Bless You’ is inscribed on a wooden plaque on the top shelf, below a rusty air cooler, set into the wall, which touches the ceiling. A Bugs Bunny peg near the door, for a coat. A sink, with Dettol handwash at the back. His name written in faded gold on a thin length of wood by the computer.
What am I looking for? I am confused by my desire to document these objects. Why do I imagine that I can find something intimate in them? Maybe it is because Toku seems so contained that it is difficult to imagine that our meeting is going to reveal anything that has not already been written down somewhere, by someone else. I think of the newspaper cuttings that I have seen, in which his story was appropriated and printed without his consent. I think of the case study I have received from the Lawyers Collective in Delhi, in which the ramifications of his battle for justice are meticulously detailed.
‘How can I help you?’ he asks when he returns. I decide to be as straightforward as possible. It is the only way to avoid the fudge of possible meanings. ‘How did you discover that you were HIV positive? What was it like, the… discovery?’ The words come out of my mouth, and I feel their inadequacy. They are too vulgar, hanging in the air without context, like underwear on a washing line. We look at each other. We both know that Toku’s story is out of the ordinary. That he has suffered key abuses of the kinds of human rights that many of us take for granted, most notably the loss of privacy. I am, of course, part of the fallout from those abuses. I know his public story. That is why I am here, trying to understand his private space.
‘First of all, I need to tell you something,’ says Toku. I nod. ‘I have a very painful tooth. I have had three root canal operations. I am disheartened. So I may not be in the mood to talk. I may feel, how to put it… withdrawn.’
I nod again. Of course. ‘It is understandable,’ I mumble. ‘The root canal is a very tender and exposing operation, isn’t it?’
‘But this is how it was…’ And then, just like that, Toku begins at the beginning, and tells me exactly what it was like.
‘In 1995 I used to work in a Nagaland hospital as an eye consultant. It was the biggest hospital in the state. My father was the village headman, I had finished my studies and was an eligible bachelor. Everyone has to settle down, and it was time. I’m forty two now, then I was thirty. A few suggestions were made to me, and I had a couple of ideas myself. Then I proposed to a girl.’ ‘So, would you say it was arranged?’ I ask. ‘Not really,’ he replies. He met her three or four times, and decided to propose. He liked her. His family was also keen for the match. His brother-in-law, his cousin’s husband, especially encouraged it—he was a government minister, just like the girl’s uncle. They set a date for the wedding to take place just weeks after the engagement.
‘I made a trip with my fiancée and her mother to get the wedding dress stitched. They wanted to go to Hong Kong or Bangkok. The marriage was the big talk of the town, you see. In the end, we decided on Kolkata. We commissioned the dress—both being Christian, it was a long white dress with a veil—and two weeks later I went back to pick it up along with the invitation cards. I got it in a closed box—the tailor said it was very important that I did not see the dress before the wedding, I remember that.’
‘Did you look at the dress?’ I ask. ‘No,’ he replies, smiling. He knew not to do that.
‘I flew back to Nagaland, and descended from the plane. Normally, if I returned from a trip, quite a few family members would come to pick me up from the airport—come along for the ride, help with the luggage. This time it was just my sister. As I approached her, I could see she was very sad.’
Toku lists the fears that entered his head. They are the same worries that haunt us all when away from loved ones: mostly touching upon the vacuum of unexpected deaths. His mother? His fiancée? A car accident? But his sister would not reveal anything on the journey home.
‘I arrived at the house to see all of my family assembled there, maybe twenty people. My brother stood up in the centre of the room and said, “Your wedding has been called off because you have AIDS.”’
He smiles again, and pauses for me to laugh out loud, should I feel like it. The drama of the scene is both chilling and faintly absurd.
‘That is how I found out.’ Six months prior to this, Toku had travelled with his brother-in-law, the minister, to Chennai to help him organise an operation. His brother-in-law’s uncle was ill and needed to get to a large hospital, for the treatment of his abdomen. Toku discovered that the patient needed major surgery, and a blood transfusion. They needed a donor urgently, and so he volunteered to give his own blood.
‘I didn’t know whether it would be the right blood type, but I said “Look, I will give my own blood.” I don’t know whether they used it, but I stayed for the whole thing and went into the operation theatre with him. I was very pleased that the surgery was successful. The minister left and I stayed back to help with the aftercare—remove the sutures of the patient, keep an eye on him.’
Toku has become more agitated. He speaks quickly now, leaning forward in his chair. ‘The doctors there ran tests on my blood and found that I was HIV positive. But they disclosed my HIV status to the minister, my brother-in-law, instead of to me. And then, he chose not to disclose it to me until six months later. After encouraging me to get engaged and helping me decide on marriage, he waited till the day I returned with the wedding dress and gathered everyone I knew, to make the announcement.’
When he went back to the hospital to confirm the rumours, Toku says he was treated with disdain by the doctor who tested him. He was told that he would die soon, that there was no cure, and was asked to leave the room after a few brief questions about his sexual behaviour. He tried to find someone in the hospital who could tell him how the information had been leaked, but no one would give him an appointment, or listen. Finding himself on the other side of the doctor–patient divide, and with a disease that aroused disgust and moral judgement in his wider circle, Toku lost his voice overnight.
‘I had many thoughts on my mind. I will die soon. How will I face my father? What about the shame? Of course, I withdrew from the wedding myself. After checking the results with another test, I told my fiancée that we had to call it off. She cried. I was in shock. Everyone knew. But it should have been my decision. I would not have searched for a girl and proposed if I had known. Why did the hospital tell the minister, and not me? This was a breach of confidence. And that it was my brother-in-law. I donated my own blood for his uncle—I gave my own blood for him.’
I ask if he knows the reason behind the betrayal. He shakes his head. Even now, 12 years later, Toku says he is not going to dig it up. He has his suspicions. It could have had to do with his brother-in-law’s career, rivalry with his fiancée’s family, who knows? But his brother-in-law’s betrayal is irrelevant compared to the actions of the hospital which disclosed his secret.
‘With AIDS, there was such a stigma then. People didn’t understand the issues. He was a big minister, but I had just become someone with AIDS. Who was going to listen to me? They all knew my status in Nagaland.’
I nod. Sitting in his office, and listening to him, it is difficult to imagine Toku commanding anything other than respectful attention. But it is a reminder of what we are doing here together, a small paper cut of sharp feeling when it comes to thinking about how we name and identify each other with regard to this particular illness. He is talking about something that happened a decade ago, but of course I have asked him to tell me his story because he is HIV positive.
Whenever he uses the word ‘status’ to refer to the result of the blood test, it feels so collapsible as a word. In effect, because of how he has told the story, I have an idea of his ‘status’ in society before he found out that his blood was marked in this way. He has used the same short cut signs and signifiers most of us use—his vocation, age, location, familial background, the impending union with another person and their family. After the revelation of the blood test, in this narrative of his life, just as in the hospital where he supervised an operation, those indicators become irrelevant—he becomes a man whose whole status is HIV positive, and nothing else. Even now, as he talks, he seems aware of this fact. He is a little louder, more insistent than before, as though the danger of being dismissed is never gone once the labels come out of the bag.
‘Then it begins. I can’t sleep, nothing. They all know my status in Nagaland. And there is such a stigma, so much shame; I know I have to leave there. I don’t have my job any more. People are criticising me. Then I start thinking I want to disappear. I think it is very difficult to disappear. I start to question myself—how to disappear.’
He closes his eyes and frowns almost indiscernibly.
‘I think, is it a dream? I pinch myself.’ Silence. He opens his eyes and presents the impossible nature of the question to me, throwing his hands into the air with sudden vehemence.
‘How to disappear? How is it possible to disappear? I think maybe I’ll go to the jungle, live there, or go to another state and live quietly. But if people know I am a doctor, they will wonder why I am so quiet, with no ties. They will find out, and I will have to leave again. I thought maybe I would go to Nepal; help people who have no hospitals. But then I would need a visa, medical tests—it becomes difficult. Where to hide?’
There is an impasse between us. It is as though he genuinely wants an answer to the question, and I am with him, trying to imagine how I would act if thrust so suddenly into such a fugitive skin. Having been silenced internally, I would of course, like him, want to erase my outer, visible self—it would be a matter of survival.
He registers my stasis and laughs, urging me to join him. ‘It is not so easy to disappear, you know?’ he says. I concur. My chest feels tight. No, it is not so easy to disappear. Anand Grover, the lawyer who sent me to meet Toku, has likened human rights to the green leaves on a tree:
If a fire is lit in the forest, which of the trees will catch fire and perish? Obviously, the one without the green leaves. The one with the green leaves, with the rights, will survive. Those without rights are therefore most vulnerable.(1)
(1) ‘A Tryst with Dominic’, Lawyers Collective, March 1 2001, www.lawyerscollective.org/content/tryst-dominic-0
Grover, who met Toku in 1996, has been at the centre of the battle for human rights for people affected by HIV, for the past two decades. A charismatic and provocative man, known for being fearlessly outspoken on issues of personal freedom, Grover is one of the directors of the Lawyers Collective, a group of legal professionals and activists, who donate their time together in the form of legal aid and lobbying for legal reform. Much of the work of their HIV/AIDS unit centres on marginalised groups—women who are evicted from their family home, or separated from their children when discovered to be HIV positive, drug users, sex workers, and the large number of positive people who are impoverished—having very little money and, therefore, very little access to treatment, information, or the courts.
After confirming his HIV status, Toku stayed in Chennai without knowing how or what he would do to survive. He met with an old college friend, who expected him to be on his honeymoon. ‘He wanted to know where my wife was,’ says Toku, with a laugh. ‘I said, “Oh I am in big trouble.. My marriage is cancelled because I am HIV positive.” He was shocked when I told him, and very supportive. He said he knew of just one place that gave help to positive people, and we searched for that place for two days. No one seemed to know where it was.’
The place turned out to be the YR Gaitonde Centre for AIDS Research and Education, the hospital in Chennai where we are now sitting, host to over 11,000 patients a year with HIV and AIDS related issues. The director of the place, Dr Suniti Solomon, would become his future boss. ‘She changed my life,’ he says. ‘She said she would respect me as a doctor, not just see me as an AIDS patient. And incredibly, she said she would hire me.’
Dr Solomon, who documented the first AIDS case in India, in 1986, has since pioneered major breakthroughs in AIDS research and education. In 1996, when she heard that Anand Grover was in town, conducting a workshop on HIV and human rights, she sent Toku to attend. Grover remembers meeting Toku at the end of the workshop.
‘He was very sincere and well mannered,’ he says. ‘His story evoked empathy on my part. He wanted to take legal action, which surprised me—I was apprehensive as the issue raised was an untested area of law in India.’
Inspired by Toku’s story, Grover took his case to the National Consumer Redressal Forum (NCRF), which deals with cases of consumer protection, in an attempt to sue the hospital that had leaked Toku’s HIV results. But the NCRF was not interested in the confidentiality issues around testing for HIV.
‘Their attitude was that if you are positive, the whole world should know about it,’ says Grover. ‘After a lot of hostility towards HIV positive people, the Forum decided that it was not the appropriate forum to decide the issue.’
Unwilling to settle for this, Grover took the case to the Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, Toku began to write, and campaign on the newly emerging issues around AIDS. After a trip to the XI International AIDS Conference in Vancouver, he got involved in the creation of a network for people living with HIV in India. INP+ was founded in 1997 by Toku and 11 other HIV positive people, and now has over 100,000 members, with a network in almost every state in India. Back in those early days of dialogue and awareness, he went to a workshop near Pune to take part in discussions.
‘It was in the jungle,’ he says. ‘It felt like it was far from anywhere, an isolated place. The place was full of HIV positive people and representatives from NGOs. So imagine this… Early in the morning, first thing, on the first day, I meet a woman.’
He laughs. ‘I meet her, and immediately tell my whole life story to her. Just standing there. It was 7:30 am.’ I look up at him from my notepad. Is he saying what I think he is saying? He laughs again. The sound is relaxed. But careful. It feels like it contains something valuable. ‘The whole thing. I don’t know who she is. Whether she is positive or negative. But I just meet her, and straightaway I tell her my life story.’
He shrugs his shoulders. He seems pleased that this is inexplicable, and I am moved by the simple warmth and thrill that her introduction into the story seems to bring. It is so unexpected. ‘Did anything happen?’ I ask. ‘Why do you think you told her everything?’ He acknowledges my questions with a grin, and brushes them away.
‘Wait! After three or four days we have become close friends. She is back in Goa then, where she is from. We like each other, but marriage is not in my mind, for many reasons. Then we begin to write to each other. We start to meet often, but we do not know if we are making the right decision. We understand the feeling, but we can’t tell each other that this is in our minds. Then gradually, we talk. First, there is this: I am living with HIV. I can give her no children. She herself is negative. People will think that she is mad, marrying an HIV positive person. I was worried. How could I expect her to cope with these things?
‘She was very supportive. She said we could have an adopted child. “Life is in the hands of God,” she said. “What is short or long? It is the sweet memories that matter. You can have a hundred years of bad times. Or some good ones.”’
‘Why was she at the workshop?’ I ask. ‘She was a psychologist with an organisation for positive people. But still, I was worried. We thought that we would seek different opinions from different NGOs. We may be biased, we thought, and they can help. They were all supportive. They said, “As long as your own mind is clear, you should proceed.” Still, it is very difficult to know what is right. So we decided to break off, and give ourselves time to think.
‘This was at the end of 1996. The plan was to have six months with no phone contact. If we could forget each other, then fine. If not, then… well, let’s see, we thought.’
He smiles, eyes mischievous. ‘After almost four months, I phoned her. I couldn’t help it. I was supposed to go to Bangkok for a work trip. My supervisor told me to take a team. I thought to myself, maybe she can come.
‘I call her and tell her that. But she says “We are not supposed to talk about this for six months,” and then she puts the phone down. Tak! Like that, she bangs it down!’
He shakes his head. ‘Oh no, I thought. Oh dear. Then I waited. And after six months, I called her on the appointed day, and she said she still felt the same. We met, and well… on October 10, 1998, we got married.’
I am visibly relieved. But he moves on quickly. ‘We began living here in Chennai, and a few months later another bombshell comes—from the Supreme Court case. You know about that, yes?’
Yes. This is the part that I do know about. When the case was finally heard at the Supreme Court, it was entitled ‘Mr X versus Hospital Y’. Grover’s argument was that the hospital had not honoured basic confidentiality rights, and that leaking Toku’s status to the wider community, instead of giving him the information, had resulted in the destruction of the fabric of his life—social exclusion, humiliation by friends and family, the loss of his post at the Nagaland eye hospital, the dissolution of his reputation, and life as he knew it.
In spite of the fact that the hospital had not informed Toku of his condition, and even though he called the proposed wedding off himself, the court ruled against him, decreeing that the hospital’s release of the information to the minister without his consent had ‘saved the life’ of Toku’s proposed fiancée.
The case had an unfortunate and far-reaching side effect. The judge decided to include, as part of his verdict, comments that suspended the right for HIV positive people to marry. The court sought to protect the rights of potential marriage partners who could contract ‘the communicable venereal disease’, unawares. But instead of pinning this to informed consent between parties, the idea that a positive person should declare their status to a prospective marriage partner, thereby allowing them to make the decision and take necessary precautions should they still want to go ahead, the Supreme Court deemed that marriage itself was not appropriate for someone with HIV.
For the first time in judicial history, anywhere in the world, a court had taken away the right of an individual to marry. Newspapers raged with debate under headlines such as ‘Right to marry not absolute!’ Grover was furious. He called for a national campaign against the judgement, expressing the need for public protest. At a meeting organised to rouse support, he argued that a blanket ban on marriage took no account of the fact that many positive people commonly got married with full, free and informed consent of their partner, who might or might not be HIV positive. His speech was reported in The Indian Express:
The restriction on the marriages of HIV infected persons can have serious repercussions. The isolation of such persons will drive the epidemic underground, as doctors and hospitals will not maintain confidentiality with regard to their HIV status. (2)
(2) ‘Lawyer Calls for Protest on SC ruling in HIV Marriage Case’, The Indian Express, September 4 1999, www.indianexpress.com/res/web/pIe/ ie/daily/19990905/ige05033.html.
The right to marry and found a family is a fundamental human right, and recognised internationally—under Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and Article 16 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It is part of the right to life, which is recognised under the Indian Constitution, Article 21.
I sit in Toku’s office, and hear about the throttling legal details of his battle so soon after the simplicity of his love story, and think about how heartening, almost fantastical, it is that the right to marry has ended up as part of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Aside from the obvious links between marriage and stability, or procreation, there is something hungry and romantic about the assumption that this aspect of human companionship is recognised as a basic need, along with the right to liberty and freedom of person.
Toku’s case, however, had inadvertently curtailed these rights for positive people in India. The news of the ruling spread quickly through the HIV community worldwide. This decision must have horrified him, I say. Especially as his case was, of course, about privacy, and not marriage. And he had just got married himself, after so much soul searching. Although the status of his marriage was not officially affected by the ruling, as it had already taken place, the judgement must have shaken Toku and his wife. He frowns, looking down as though he is thinking of a way to encapsulate the magnitude of the feeling it brings up.
‘But of course! I was very upset. For so long we were afraid to get married, and a month after we had done it, this happens. People were reluctant to accept us. “How can you marry a negative woman?” they asked.’
Then, in a perverse and peculiar twist, the case produced exactly the same breach of confidentiality that had led to its existence, and Toku’s personal details were leaked to national and local media. When the story hit the press it was no longer Mr X versus Hospital Y.
‘They published my name and address in every single paper!’ says Toku. ‘They told me that my identity and name would be suppressed. I did not file a case for marriage—it was for confidentiality, and then they themselves abused those rights. All the newspapers published my name. From Nagaland to Chennai, to Delhi. All of them. It was there even in the local papers. Even on the radio.’
He clenches his fist, and strains against the words, which come quickly.
‘My new mother-in-law went to Delhi to take a flight to visit her grandchildren in Australia. She was staying with her relatives. It was a Sunday, and she saw the papers. Every supplement carried my name. She was so shocked. She called her daughter and asked, ‘Did you know he was HIV positive?’ My wife said yes, she knew. Her mother said to her, “You people do what you want.” Her relatives said my wife should take me to court. Then her mother stopped talking to us.’
There is a sombre quality to his voice. ‘For those two weeks we cried in the night, and in the day.
Then, the relief. My wife’s mother called back. She said they would support us, and asked us to come and see them. I went back to Goa for Christmas, to their family home. I felt very uneasy going there. But they didn’t treat me differently. They said they would be there with us. In fact, my mother-in-law became the ambassador between us and the rest of the family.’
Over the next few years, the Lawyers Collective worked consistently to battle the new ruling, filing several petitions for the judgement to be reconsidered. After four long years, they succeeded in getting it dismissed, restoring the right for HIV positive people to marry in 2002.
‘And what about Toku?’ I ask. ‘What happened to him at the end of all this? How has it left him?’ He says Grover took him back to Nagaland recently, after more than ten years away. Grover said, ‘It is time for Nagaland to welcome its son, which she had abandoned, back home with open arms.’ Toku went back to the hospital where he used to work, and gave a talk on coping with HIV. The hall was packed. Everyone had turned up to see, in effect, how he himself was coping.
‘All of the doctors from nearby came,’ he says. ‘They came to see how I looked. You could see them standing, watching and thinking, “How is it possible that he is HIV positive? How can he talk like that?” They didn’t listen to me, just stared! Then gradually, they came to their senses and started to listen. They thought I would be incapacitated, living in a dingy place. They didn’t imagine that I would seem so normal. Or empowered.’
And indeed, I think, this is the first thing that strikes you about Toku: his spotless skin and demeanour, the infallible quality of seeming to be in very good health. Like his root canal operations, any sense of physical weakness is hidden— something you have to be told about, rather than glean for yourself. I wonder if it was always this way, or if it has gradually become part of his armour for living.
‘One or two of my old friends came up to talk to me after wards,’ he says. ‘They said if I had not become HIV positive I could not have achieved what I have managed. They admired what I was doing.’
And what about his family? I ask. ‘Oh, we have two sons—we adopted one when he was three years old, now he is eight, and then also adopted his brother last year, who is now nine. In fact, I have to go and pick them up from school soon!’
He looks at his watch, and smiles.
It is an abrupt end, but one that feels fitting for a conversation that began in a similar fashion. I make some comments of gratitude as I get up, an attempt to try and provide some kind of wrapping after such an emotional ride. I try to convey my thanks for his patience and lucidity, in spite of the pain from his teeth.
He gestures to me to wait. ‘I want to show you one thing before you go.’ We walk up to the top floor of the hospital, and I see 50 faces photographed in hero and maiden poses, on park benches, and in studios. They are typical portraits for potential suitors, adhering to the grammar of this particular genre—the gaze of the subject unsmiling and intent on the lens, each expression inviting an array of possible interpretations by the viewer. The photos are attached, by a staple or paper clip, to a personal handwritten statement including their ‘Biodata’ and ‘Needs’.
Toku has begun matchmaking for his patients. All of the people in the folder are HIV positive. He tells me that when first diagnosed, patients are often reluctant to give him their details for these marriage files. They may be young widows who are worried about what people will say, or fear that they will not be alive for much longer. He tells them to return after three or four years, that it is now possible to live a long life, and that companionship is important. And indeed, many of them come back.
I speak to Annie, who makes the matches and organises the meetings. She tells me that the most recent marriage boasts the safe conception of a baby, free from the virus, as a result of the recent developments in treatment.
The people in these pictures are often poor, and many come from exactly the kind of vulnerable groups that Grover talks about as being most susceptible to rights abuses, those without a canopy of protection:
The trees without the leaves are like the vulnerable groups in our society: women, children, sex workers, injecting drug users, men having sex with men, prisoners, etc. They are already stigmatised and marginalised by society. They are often poor and illiterate. Either they do not have rights, or, even if they have them they are not able to exercise them. (3)
(3) ‘A Tryst with Dominic', Lawyers Collective, March 1 2001, www.lawyerscollective.org/content/tryst-dominic-0.
But even more of the people in the folders, like Toku, do not technically fit into this list. If forced to articulate their ‘status’, I would probably have to just put them into the generic category of ‘middle class men’.
I wonder what the story has been for each person, as I leaf through this bundle of social strata, united by blood: teachers and plantation workers, engineers and market traders. I even start to wonder if the small business owner on page 7 would go well with the young mother on page 15, in spite of the fact that he is looking for a Pentecostal Christian, and she is nothing of the sort. She is photographed in a kitchen next to a stove, and has a half smile that suggests a curt sense of mischief, a lack of pretension. She has written that caste is not important to her, in the section entitled ‘Needs’. I catch myself before getting fully immersed. It is time to go. Toku has to pick up his sons, after all.
I take the lift, alone. It has a large folding door, a heavy accordion of metal that is quite difficult to open. Inside, it is dark and noisy on the journey down; pipes rattle and wheeze as the machinery gets going.
Lights are going off around me as I find my way to the front of the building, and people leave for the day. I think about how Toku is trying to actively restore this right to marriage as part of his own patients’ right to life—by attempting to reignite that part of the human psyche that maybe we all share. The part that believes that we own the right to love in that particular way, and be loved in return.
Nikita Lalwani is a novelist born in Rajasthan and raised in Cardiff. Her work has been translated into sixteen languages. Her first book, Gifted, was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize and shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award. Lalwani's second book, 'The Village' was published in 2012 and is modelled on a real-life 'prison village' in northern India. Lalwani has contributed to The Guardian, The New Statesman and The Observer in the UK and also written for AIDS Sutra, an anthology exploring the lives of people living with HIV/AIDS in India. In 2013 she was a book judge for the Orwell Prize for political writing.