#DesiLitBiz: Shubhanga Pandey on Himal Southasian; #FiveDesiFaves: Kavita Jindal on her favorite desi works

Desi Books Ep 19 w/ Shubhanga Pandey & Kavita Jindal 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 19 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 Shubhanga Pandey in our #DesiLitBiz segment. He’s the chief editor of Himal Southasian Magazine and a senior editor at SAAG Anthology. So we’ll be discussing the work being done by both these fine venues. Also, we have Kavita Jindal sharing her favorite desi books in #FiveDesiFaves. Kavita’s novel, Manual for a Decent Life, is out now.

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) Murder in Old Bombay, a debut novel by Nev March, was out on Nov 10. It’s already won the Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers of America First Crime Novel Award. Set in 1892 Bombay, it features a protagonist who is inspired by Sherlock Holmes. We also have the British Raj, mixed-race politics, war, murder, the Parsee community, and more.

2) Fault Lines by Meena Alexander is a posthumous memoir with an afterword by Gaiutra Bahadur. It follows Alexander’s “evolution as a writer at home—and in exile—across continents and cultures. Meena Alexander was born into a privileged childhood in India and grew into a turbulent adolescence in the Sudan, before moving to England and then New York City. With poetic insight and devastating honesty, Alexander explores how trauma and recovery shaped the entire landscape of her memory: of her family, her writing process, and her very self.”

3) Time’s Monster: History, Conscience and Britain’s Empire by Priya Satia was out in October but I missed it in the last roundup. Satia is a professor of International History at Stanford. This book is about how history, as we know it and as written by British historians, enabled colonization and imperialism as processes. And it also gives us necessary alternative accounts.

4) The Bhutto Dynasty: The Struggle for Power in Pakistan by Owen Bennett-Jones was also out in late-October. And, as the title says, it’s about the multi-generational political dynasty and written by a former BBC correspondent. He also covers the politics around Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, the many controversies around the various Bhuttos, and how this family’s political and personal lives have been closely connected with the development of Pakistan as a nation.

5) Another October book, a story collection titled The Curse by the Tamil writer, Salma, and translated by N Kalyan Raman. Loosely rooted in the rural Muslim communities of Tamil Nadu, these stories shine a light on the complex dramas governing the daily lives of most women moving through the world.

6) Mistress of Melodies: Stories of Courtesans and Prostituted Women by Nabendu Ghosh (Edited by Ratnottama Sengupta) is a September book I’d missed. These are stories of women from the streets of Calcutta by one of its finest writers.

7) Royals and Rebels by Priya Atwal is a September book. It’s about the rise and fall of the Sikh empire. It starts in the late-eighteenth century when Maharaja Ranjit Singh entered the scene and created a Sikh Empire that stretched throughout northwestern India into Afghanistan and Tibet. A fascinating story about family, loyalty, power, globalism, religion, and more.



Shubhanga Pandey is the chief editor of Himal Southasian, a digital magazine of South Asian politics, culture, and history. For over 30 years, Himal Southasian has challenged nationalist orthodoxies and covered the region with imagination, rigor, and irreverence, with contributions from some of the most interesting writers in the region. A digital magazine in its current incarnation, Himal publishes a wide variety of articles, from sharp commentaries and long-form reportage to reviews and essays, focusing not on news but in-depth journalism. Independent, non-nationalist, pan-regionalist – Himal tells Indians and Nepalis about Pakistanis, Bhutanese, and Afghans; Sri Lankans, Bangladeshis, and Burmese about Tibetans and Maldivians; and the rest of the world about this often-overlooked region.

Shubhanga is also a senior editor at the South Asian Avant-garde or SAAG Anthology. Other editors from SAAG have been on this podcast before and I’ll link to them in the transcript. For those of you who might be new to SAAG, here’s a brief description: SAAG features intimate incendiary fiction, essays, journalism, plays, poetry, and hybrid, multimedia work. It reclaims dissident and collaborative traditions that have long been excised from South Asian histories and forges new radical communities. The digital platform allows work to travel everywhere South Asians live and practice. 

Himal is also a sister publication of SAAG. So, in today’s #DesiLitBiz segment, Shubhanga will be sharing news and views about both Himal and SAAG, especially their most important priorities in the near-term.



Links mentioned in the segment:

Membership of Himal Southasian

SAAG Fundraiser

SAAG Chief Editor, Kamil Ahsan, on Episode 4

SAAG Senior Editor, Aruni Kashyap, on Episode 8

SAAG Senior Editor, Mahmud Rahman, on Episode 12

SAAG Senior Editor, Sarah Thankam-Mathews on Episode 14



Kavita A. Jindal is an award-winning writer, whose short stories and poems have appeared in anthologies and literary journals worldwide and been broadcast on BBC Radio. She is the author of two poetry books: Raincheck Renewed and Patina, in which her writing was described as “witty and wry with a steely heart”. Her poem, ‘Kabariwala’, is included in 100 Great Indian Poems. She is the co-founder of The Whole Kahani Writers’ Collective.

Kavita’s novel, Manual for a Decent Life, is just out in the US. It won the Brighthorse Prize for the Novel in the UK in 2018. The book begins in 1996 when a principled and spirited young woman from Uttar Pradesh, in North India, sets her sights on becoming a member of Parliament. Her romance with the scion of a Delhi business dynasty threatens that dream. The novel, which has been described as being “both epic and intimate”, plays out against a backdrop of a tumultuous time in Indian politics in a world where nothing is what it seems.

Kavita shares her five favorite desi books next. Enjoy.



1) A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth

2) Song Sung True by Malka Pukhraj (tr. by Saleem Kidwai)

3) The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie

4) Home by Manju Kapur

5) Pinjar: Skeleton and Other Stories by Amrita Pritam (tr. by Khushwant Singh)


You’ve been listening to episode 19 of DesiBooks — news and views about desi literature from the world over.

Episode 20 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 a few days 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.

You might also enjoy these features: