#DesiLitBiz: Tara Kaushal on narrative journalism; #FiveDesiFaves: Suman Mallick shares his favorite desi works

desibooks episode 18

Desi Books Ep 18 w/ Tara Kaushal & Suman Mallick 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 18 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, we have Tara Kaushal talking about the undercover investigation she conducted for her new book, Why Men Rape: An Indian Undercover Investigation, in #DesiLitBiz. And we have Suman Mallick, whose debut novel, The Black Marketer’s Daughter, is just out. He’s going to be sharing his #FiveDesiFaves.

So please sit back and enjoy.



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. But you can still see the list of all the books that have come out in 2020 and been mentioned on the podcast.

I know I don’t always catch all new books by writers of South Asian origin. So, if you’ve got a new book coming out, please tag the Desi Books account on Twitter or Instagram to let me know. You can also send an email to hellodesibooks@gmail.com. The social media links will also be in the transcript and they’re always on the website.

1) Off the Beaten Track by Saeeda Bano (translated by Shahana Raza) is a memoir by the first woman in India to work as a radio newsreader, known then and still as the doyenne of Urdu broadcasting. Over her unconventional and courageous life, she walked out of a suffocating marriage, witnessed the violence of Partition, lost her son for a night in a refugee camp, ate toast with Nehru, and fell in love with a married man who would, in the course of their twenty-five-year relationship, become the Mayor of Delhi. Though she was born into privilege in Bhopal—the only Indian state to be ruled by women for four successive generations—her determination, independence, and frankness make this a remarkable memoir and a crucial disruption in India’s understanding of her own past.

2) The Greatest Hindi Stories Ever Told is a literary translation by Poonam Saxena. The twenty-five stories in The Greatest Hindi Stories Ever Told represent the finest short fiction in Hindi literature. Selected and translated by the editor, writer, and translator Poonam Saxena, and ranging from early literary masters of the form such as Premchand, Chandradhar Sharma Guleri, Bhisham Sahni, Harishankar Parsai, Mannu Bhandari, and Shivani to contemporary greats such as Asghar Wajahat, Uday Prakash, Sara Rai, and others, the collection has stories of darkness, hope, triumph, anger, and irony.

3) Women in the Waiting Room by Kirun Kapur is her second poetry collection and it was a finalist for the National Poetry Series. Several threads weave through the book, including Hindu mythology, conversations on a crisis hotline, and the ravages of illness for both sufferer and onlooker. Much of the work addresses the corrosive ways girls are portrayed as responsible for their own rape and abuse.

4) A Measure of Belonging: Twenty-One Writers of Color on the New American South edited by Cinella Barnes features various desi writers like Jaswinder Bolina, Aruni Kashyap, Soniah Kamal, and Devi Laskar. The collection celebrates the incredible diversity in the contemporary South by featuring essays by twenty-one of the finest young writers of color living and working in the region today, who all address a central question: Who is welcome?

5) Families and Other Natural Disasters by Anita Goveas is a collection of flash fiction about families, born into, created or found, how they support us or repress us, and the ways they can change us and shape us. These stories are set in the UK and India, in aquariums, ballrooms, and outer space. They follow women into volcanoes and out to sea. The characters search for lost brothers and lost selves and find prairie dogs and sea serpents. (I missed this in September.)

6) The Black Marketer’s Daughter is Suman Mallick’s debut novel. It was a finalist for the Disquiet Open Borders Book Prize, and praised by the jury as a “complicated and compelling story” of our times. It is the story of a young woman trapped in an arranged marriage as an immigrant in the US. She endures violence, intimidation, xenophobia and grief, and yet refuses to be called a victim. Later in this episode, Suman will be sharing his #FiveDesiFaves — books that have influenced his own work



Tara* Kaushal is a writer and media consultant who lives in Mumbai, India, and Gold Coast, Australia. Her first book, Why Men Rape: An Indian Undercover Investigation, was published in June 2020. It’s a part of the multimedia gender journalism and activism project ‘Why Men Rape’ (www.whymenrape.com) that she’d started in 2017. Tara*’s been recognized for her incisive journalism and social commentary on gender, sexuality, equal rights, and other cultural issues. She was awarded the Laadli Media Award in India for gender-sensitive writing in 2013-14. Read more at www.tarakaushal.com.

With this book, Tara* took on a thorough investigation via interviews and meetings with nine men who have an inclination to commit acts of sexual violence. These men come from all walks of life. There’s a doctor who raped his twelve-year-old patient; an unemployed man who has decided to kill his former lover; a youth who participated in a gang rape; a serial gang rapist who doesn’t believe that rape exists. Tara also shares insights from various survivors, renowned experts, a jail inmate, and more. She discusses how hypersexualized mainstream cinema, prejudiced media coverage of rape cases, the explosion of pornography, and other historic and current factors have become collaborative agents in causing gender violence in India.

This is a bold and unsettling book, for sure. Both in terms of its writing by Tara* and our reading of it. And yet, it’s a book that draws you in so that you don’t want to put it down once you get started. That’s not simply because the topic is so compelling and urgent. It’s a testament to Tara*’s journalistic and narrative skills. So, in this conversation, we’re focusing on those skills and, particularly, her process for the undercover investigation. How did she research and interact with all the different players to get to certain truths while also keeping herself somewhat shielded from any potential violence? Also, I wanted to understand how she approached the multimedia aspect of this project.

On a personal note, it was a real pleasure getting to know Tara* as a writer here. Her honesty and courage shine through in every response.

So please have a listen. And then please get her book. Whether you live in India or not, the issue of how we normalize sexual violence in all its shapes and forms is something we all need to understand better.





Suman Mallick’s debut novel, The Black Marketer’s Daughter, was shortlisted for the Disquiet Open Borders Book Prize and praised by the jury as “a complicated and compelling story of our times.” Suman is the Assistant Managing Editor of the quarterly literary magazine, Under the Gum Tree. He received his Master of Fine Arts from Portland State University, where he also taught English and Creative Writing. He makes his home in Texas with his beloved daughter and dog.

In The Black Marketer’s Daughter, Zuleikha arrives in the US from Lahore, Pakistan, by marriage, having trained as a pianist without ever owning a real piano. Now she finally has one—a wedding present from her husband—but nevertheless finds it difficult to get used to her new role as a suburban middle-class housewife who has an abundance of time to play it. Haunted by the imaginary worlds of the confiscated contraband books and movies that her father trafficked in to pay for her education and her dowry, and unable to reconcile them with the expectations of the real world of her present, she ends up as the central figure in a scandal that catapults her into the public eye and plays out in equal measures in the local news and in backroom deliberations, all fueled by winds of anti-Muslim hysteria.

Suman shares his five favorite desi books next. Enjoy.



1) The Wandering Falcon by Jamil Ahmad

2) The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid

3) The Pakistani Bride by Bapsi Sidhwa

4) East West by Sunil Gangopadhyay, translated by Enakshi Chatterjee

5) Miguel Street by V S Naipaul


You’ve been listening to episode 18 of DesiBooks — news and views about desi literature from the world over.

Episode 19 will be up in a couple of weeks. 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 few days or so on the website http://desibooks.co.

Stay healthy, keep reading, and write well.


DISCLOSURE NOTE: The books linked above are from Bookshop.org or, Amazon. There is a really tiny affiliate commission payable to Desi Books if you buy a book using the links here. This helps pay a really tiny bit toward the overall cost of running the podcast. Thank you.

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