#FiveDesiFaves: Jini Reddy on her favorite desi travel and place books

Desi Books Ep 10 w/ Jini Reddy & Pragya Agarwal Desi Books

(available at Anchor.fm, Spotify, Soundcloud, Apple Podcasts, Castbox, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, TuneIn, Breaker, Pocket Casts, RadioPublic, Overcast)

Hello and welcome to Episode 10 of DesiBooks—news and views about desi literature from the world over. I’m your host, Jenny Bhatt. Thank you for tuning in.

In today’s episode, in addition to the usual roundup of new notable desi books, short stories, poems, essays, interviews, awards, and more, we have Dr. Pragya Agarwal sharing her book, Sway, which is out in the US this month, in #DesiBooksGiveaway. And we have Jini Reddy, who also has a new book out called Wanderland, discussing her #FiveDesiFaves.

Before we get going, a few words on something making big news in the publishing world. Over the last few days, the twitter hashtag #PublishingPaidMe has revealed a lot about the inequities in the publishing world between white and non-white writers. While it was started by a black writer to focus on how black authors get shut out or underpaid in the industry, and I don’t want to derail that important conversation, it’s important to note that desi writers have also had a good amount of discrimination come our way. Pretty much every desi writer I’ve spoken with has painful stories about rejections from agents and publishers for their works on very flimsy grounds. I’ll leave it there for now except to simply say that we need to continue supporting desi writers of all stripes. Especially in today’s climate, when it’s very difficult to market and promote books in traditional ways unless you happen to have a big publisher placing a big bet on you. By supporting our fellow desi writers, we can create a rising tide that will, eventually, lift all boats. I firmly believe that it is the only sustainable way. This podcast is one small way I try to spotlight desi writers who need to be paid attention.

Onwards then.



You can find all the titles mentioned in this “New Books” segment at bookshop.org, which benefits local, independent booksellers directly. Go to bookshop.org/lists/desi-books-2020. This is a US-based site so my apologies to non-US listeners.

1) Jaswinder Bolina’s book, Of Color, will be released at the end of this month. It’s a debut essay collection from an award-winning poet. Focusing on immigration, assimilation, class, race, and more, Bolina opens up about the academic world, the literary world, and more.

2) Ameera Patel’s novel, Outside the Lines, is a family drama set in Johannesburg, South Africa. It’s also a crime thriller and a black comedy focusing on race, religion, and class issues.

3) Jayati Gupta has a new book out later this month titled Travel Culture, Travel Writing and Bengali Women, 1870–1940. It’s about the personal histories of Bengali women of different castes, classes, and ages venturing out in colonial India to travel across India, Japan, and the West.



Here are some new notable poems, stories, and essays from literary magazines and websites. I know I’m not getting them all so, if you know of new stories, poems, or essays published online by South Asian writers, please share them by tagging the @desibooks twitter account. You can also email links to hellodesibooks@gmail.com. Thank you.

1) I found this on the website of the auctioneer, Christie’s. Of all places. Indian and Islamic art specialist, Behnaz Atighi Moghaddam, writes an essay about these beautiful 17th century Pahari paintings of Radha-Krishna based on the epic poem, Rasikapriya, by the medieval Indian court poet, Keshavadas. He’s known as the founder of the ritikavya style of poetry.

2) There’s a lovely sort of graphic essay by Sumil and Nirja Desai at GitHub where they trace the incredible journey of the historic Kohinoor diamond.

3) Elen Turner lists some of the best contemporary writing we should pay attention to from Nepal at The Literary Hub.

4) Saif Mahmood writes a moving eulogy to Asif Farrukhi, the noted Pakistani writer, translator, and editor at Scroll.in.

5) Sohini Chattopadhyay writes a critical piece about the whys and wherefores of the heroism of servants or domestic workers in Hindi movies. This essay appeared in The Hindu’s Sunday Magazine.

6) Priya Krishna writes an essay at The New York Times about the Sikh tradition of langar and how it’s helping to feed crowds in the pandemic in the US.

7) Chaya Nautiyal Murali writes at Barely South Review about her journey to pediatric genetics with musings on fate, suffering, and karma.

8) Ananya Kanai Shah writes a critical piece at Ploughshares about the musicality of language in a novel by Rabih Alameddine called The Hakawati.



1) Taran Khan, whose book titled Shadow City: A Woman Walks Kabul, was out last year was interviewed at Five Books and shared her favorite books about the city.

2) Samit Basu was interviewed at The Hindu about his new near-future novel, Chosen Spirits.

3) Pragya Agarwal was interviewed at Vogue about her new book, Sway, and how we can unlearn some of our unconscious biases.

4) Vijay Prashad was interviewed at The Juggernaut about the model minority myth and more, twenty years after his groundbreaking book, The Karma of Brown Folk.

5) Kritika Pandey, the Asia region winner of the 2020 Commonwealth Short Story Prize, was interviewed at Scroll.in about her story ‘The power of ‘The Great Indian Tee and Snakes’.

6) Sejal Shah, whose debut essay collection, This Is One Way to Dance, is out now, was interviewed at Hippocampus Magazine.

7) Abir Mukherjee is on the 2020 Dagger Awards longlists for his novel, Death In the East.

8) AA Dhand is also on the 2020 Dagger Awards longlist for his novel, One Way Out.

9) Jini Reddy is on the 2020 Wainwright Prize longlist for Nature Writing for her new book, Wanderland. Probably the first woman writer of color on this longlist.



1) Aina Khan is looking for British South Asian creatives for an online project featuring British Asian artists. This is a paying opportunity.



Jini Reddy is an award-winning author and journalist. She was born in London to Indian parents who grew up in apartheid-era South Africa, and was raised in Montreal, Canada. Her writing has appeared in The Guardian, Time magazine, The Metro, The Times, Sunday Times Style, The Sunday Telegraph, National Geographic Traveller, BBC Wildlife, Resurgence, & The Ecologist and other publications. Her first book, Wild Times, was published in 2016 and she is a contributor to the forthcoming Women on Nature anthology.

Wanderland is a different kind of travel and nature memoir—one with eco-spiritual themes. Reddy traveled around Britain on unusual trails looking for ancient history, wild art, remote landscapes, and, through it all, her own place in the world. The book was shortlisted for the Stanford Dolman Award for Travel Book of the Year, and shortlisted for the Wainwright Prize

In this segment, Reddy talks about what she means when she talks about travel writing and shares her favorite travel writing books. It’s a lovely oral essay, really, narrated so well.

So sit back and enjoy.



Links to books, essays, and stories mentioned:

1) Pico Iyer’s Video Night in Kathmandu

2) Gita Mehta’s Snakes and Ladders

3) Anita Jain’s Marrying Anita

4) Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things

5) Monisha Rajesh’s Around India in 80 Trains



Dr. Pragya Agarwal is a behavioral and data scientist, and a freelance journalist. She’s won several awards and fellowships and her publications on bias and prejudice, motherhood, gender, and racial inequality, mental health, and more have appeared in venues like the BBC, The Guardian, Independent, Times Higher Education, Huffington Post, Prospect, Forbes, and more. She is the founder of a social enterprise The Art Tiffin. and a research think-tank The 50 Percent Project investigating women’s status and rights around the world. She has a mini-podcast series ‘Outside the boxes’ examining how the labels and stereotypes affect us as a society, the science behind it, and what we can do about it. And, last month, she founded an online South Asian Literary Festival that ran successfully for several days with both established and emerging desi writers from around the world.

Her new book, Sway, is all about our unconscious biases, how they affect every part of our lives, and what we can do to unlearn them. Her next book is out in 2021.

You’ll hear more about the book from the writer next. All you have to do to participate is enter your name and email address at the link below. No catch and your information will not be used for any other purpose. An optional request, not a requirement: please share the tweet or post with a friend using the hashtag #desibooksgiveaway. This won’t affect your chance of winning the book but it will certainly help the book get more visibility as it deserves.

Enter the giveaway at this link. It will run for seven days.




You’ve been listening to episode 10 of DesiBooks—news and views about desi literature from the world over.

Tune in next week for Episode 11. Follow on Twitter @desibooks or Instagram @desi.books and tag the account if you have requests or suggestions. Email at hellodesibooks@gmail.com.

The transcript will be up in the next 24 hours on the website http://desibooks.co.

Stay healthy, keep reading, and write well.


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