The Elephants in My Backyard

A Memoir of Chasing a Dream and Facing Failure


The Elephants in My Backyard: A Memoir of Chasing a Dream and Facing Failure
Subject categories
  • 9780345816801
  • 9780345816825
Rajiv Surendra (the rapping mathlete from Mean Girls) read Life of Pi, discovered it was being adapted into a major motion picture, and embarked on a ten-year journey to land the role of a lifetime--but this is not a journey of goals and victories, this is a story of obsessively pursuing a dream, overcoming failure, and finding meaning in life.

n 2003, Rajiv Surendra was acting in Mean Girls, playing the beloved rapping mathlete Kevin Gnapoor, when a cameraman on set gave him a copy of Life of Pi, inadvertently changing the course of his life.
     Rajiv dove into the novel, mesmerized by all the similarities between Pi and himself--they are both five-foot-five, with coffee-colored complexions; both share a South Indian culture; Pi lives in a zoo, and Rajiv grew up in Scarborough, Ontario, right beside the Toronto Zoo. When Rajiv learns that Life of Pi will be made into a major motion picture, he is convinced Pi is the role he is destined to play.
   To land the role he knows he must embody the spirit of the sixteen-year-old Tamil schoolboy. In a great leap of faith, he quits university and buys a one-way ticket to India. Thus begins his enchanting and bumpy years-long journey from Toronto to the sacred stone temples of South India and the actual private school in Pondicherry that the fictional Pi attended, to rural Maine where Rajiv befriends a real-life castaway, and culminating in the most unexpected of places--the cobbled streets of Munich. 
     Poignant, funny, colorful, and absolutely unforgettable, The Elephants in My Backyard is an inspiring tale of taking risks and following one's dreams, of process and determination, and looking back on one's endeavors--be they successes or colossal defeats--with new appreciation and meaning.
  • Random House of Canada; November 2016
  • ISBN 9780345816825
  • Available for download in secure EPUB format
  • Title: The Elephants in My Backyard
  • Author: Rajiv Surendra
  • Imprint: Random House Canada
Subject categories
  • 9780345816801
  • 9780345816825

In The Press



“[A] unique memoir. . . . [Surendra] brings alive [his experience] through richly detailed and evocative writing. Although he was ultimately unsuccessful at landing his dream role, Surendra, with a fresh voice and an engaging sense of humour, makes a strong case for embracing one’s curiosity and passions to live life on one’s own terms.” —2017 Edna Staebler Award for Creative Non-Fiction jury

[A] charming, understated read. Yes, there are moments of intense emotional pain, confusion and frustration. These are leavened, though, with passages of high humour. . . . It seems that, in attempting to become someone else, Surendra actually became himself. The Elephants in My Backyard is a small book . . . with considerable power and grace.” —Toronto Star

“[Rajiv’s] is the story of everyone trying to find out who they are, and how to get there. It’s a story that exemplifies, in some ways, Pi’s story. He didn’t get the role, but, in a sense, he lived the story.” —Yann Martel, author of The High Mountains of Portugal and Life of Pi, The Globe and Mail

“The best parts of the memoir come toward the end. . . . Surendra’s creative awakening as a chalk artist is welcome, too, and his drawings scattered throughout the book display obvious talent. Surendra is also a clear stylist, and he brings sensitivity to his writing.” —The Washington Post

“Lovely and human. The tale of a man who began by following a story and ended up creating his own.” —Jenny Lawson, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Furiously Happy 
“A beautifully written journey of self-discovery, The Elephants In My Backyard is intimate, moving, hilarious and painful. This quirky memoir unfolds in a series of anecdotes—miniature gems—much like the intricate chalk designs that are one of Rajiv Surendra’s many talents.” —Anosh Irani, author of The Parcel

“A young actor loses a great role but finds a wonderful story to share. Surendra might best be known through a memorable supporting role in Mean Girls, but this debut shows a real gift for writing. . . . One of the more insightful and inspirational of the recent glut of showbiz memoirs.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)


“[E]veryone’s favourite MC Mathlete.” —The Huffington Post

“[S]cene-stealing.” —The Wall Street Journal

“[A] rare jewel of refinement.” —Toronto Star

About The Author

Born and raised in Toronto, RAJIV SURENDRA is a film and television actor and son of Tamil immigrants. He attended a special-arts high school, Wexford School for the Arts, specializing in painting, sculpting and pottery, and continued his studies at University of Toronto. Although Rajiv is best known for playing Kevin Gnapoor in the film Mean Girls, he is more recently a professional calligrapher, potter, painter and writer.

Subject categories
  • 9780345816801
  • 9780345816825