Madibaland World Literary Festival: Shilpa Raj
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The Elephant Chaser’s Daughter | Author: Shilpa Raj
The daughter of a housemaid and an elephant chaser from a South Indian village, Shilpa Raj’s life changed dramatically when she was selected at the age of four to attend Shanti Bhavan, a boarding school for children from poor families.
Shilpa completed high school with distinction in 2011—the first in her family to do so—and went on to pursue college education and receive a Master’s degree in psychological counselling. Presently she is working towards an M. Phil in Child and Adolescent Psychology.
Her memoir, The Elephant Chaser’s Daughter, which was published in 2017 reveals her story as a young girl confronting her low status in a caste-based society, and her aspirations for modernity and freedom.
Shilpa started on her memoir at the age of sixteen. While working on her book, she learned more about the struggles of her family. Her passion for discovery took her back to where she was born, a forested village in South India, where she spoke at length with family members and neighbors who revealed to her their tales of suffering, violence, and indignity.
No young woman from a very poor untouchable family has ever written a memoir or autobiography or given a first-hand perspective of what it is to be a part of the social underclass in modern-day India. In the process of writing this book, Shilpa found herself being drawn towards human suffering, and ways in which it can be reduced. She hopes that through her writings and documentations she will be able to describe to others the unpleasant truths about the lives of those who are often forgotten or ignored in our society.
When asked how she feels about this literary journey, Shilpa replies with a smile, “I know my parents better as characters in my book than otherwise. I have also learned to reconcile my two worlds.”
At its heart, The Elephant Chaser’s Daughter is about hope when all seems lost. Written with raw honesty and grit, this is a deeply moving memoir of a young woman confronting her ‘untouchable’ status in a caste-based society, and her aspirations for a purposeful future.