#FiveDesiFaves: Nandini Bhattacharya on her five favorite desi historical novels; #DesiBoost: Anuja Ghimire on her favorite desi poems

Desi Books Ep 21 w/ Nandini Bhattacharya & Anuja Ghimire 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 21 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 Nandini Bhattacharya in the #FiveDesiFaves segment. Her debut novel, Love’s Garden, is a work of historical fiction set in British India. So she’ll be sharing her five favorite historical novels with us. We also have Anuja Ghimire, who has a poetry chapbook out titled Kathmandu. She’ll be boosting her three favorite poems in the #DesiBoost segment.

This is the last episode of 2020. It’s been an interesting first year for Desi Books. I’d like to share just a few brief details with you, listeners, about how we’ve done together. Since starting in April, there have been 21 episodes, which is about 1000 minutes of total airtime and averaging about 100 listens per episode. 31 guest writers have joined us and over 100 notable 2020 books have been featured. That’s not including all the other books we’ve featured or talked about. And, while “desi” includes 8 specific countries, the writers and books covered have spanned 15+ countries. All of you listeners are situated in 10+ different countries. There have been 2 collaborative projects with Libro.FM and the Global Literature in Libraries Initiative. And we’ve had, quite amazingly, 8 media features about the podcast across the US, the UK, and India. All of this has happened with $0 funding and $0 profits. In 2021, I’m hoping we can do a monthly virtual book club focusing on South Asian books in translation. And, where possible, we’ll bring the translator along for a brief discussion at the end. I’m also hoping to have guest hosts for segments that are not my area of expertise so we can cover a few more genres and countries.

In the last episode, I’d shared a bit about a collaboration project between the Global Literature in Libraries Initiative and Desi Books. Throughout the month of December, I have been sharing brief interviews with South Asian literary translators about one of their favorite translated works. I’ll include the links again in the episode transcript on the website. If you’re connected on Twitter or Instagram, details are being shared there daily as well. In the introductory post on December 1st, I talked about the need to spotlight South Asian literature in translation. Please feel free to share or recommend your own favorites as well and tag the DesiBooks social media accounts. As I’ve said before, these books aren’t simply stories. They’re rich historical, cultural, and literary artifacts. And, if we’re open to it, each one of them can reveal to us new wisdom about our world and, indeed, our own selves.

Now please sit back and enjoy the usual episode segments.



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.

Also, I’m going to reference just a couple of books that I missed in earlier episodes.

1) A Dominant Character: The Radical Science and Restless Politics of J. B. S. Haldane by Samanth Subramanian came out in July this year. It’s a biography that explores the science, politics, and life accomplishments of Haldane, a celebrated polymath who made significant contributions during both the Great Wars.

2) The Book of Indian Essays: Two Hundred Years Of English Prose, edited by Arvind Krishna Mehrotra came out in November. This collection starts with Derozio in the 1820s and ends with writers admired for their prose in the twenty-first century. The essays span a range of literary essay genres. The geographic locations are equally diverse, from Victorian Calcutta, modern America, village or rural Egypt, elevated Oxford, feudal Kerala, cosmopolitan Mumbai, bureaucratic Delhi, Buddhist Benares, Civil Lines Allahabad, and small-town India.

3) Crystal Clear: Reflections on Extraordinary Talismans for Everyday Life by Jaya Saxena is out at the end of this month. In this essay collection, Saxena reflects on–and challenges–the ideas associated with eleven popular stones, exploring how we assign meaning and power to crystals to give meaning and power to our lives.

4) The Impeccable Integrity of Ruby R by Moni Mohsin is out now. Ruby is a young student who joins a politician’s campaign as their social media manager. If you’ve read Mohsin before, you know what you’re going to get here: sharp wit, political satire, insightful and entertaining takes on social inequalities, and more.

5) Saba Karim’s debut novel, Skyfall, is out now. Full disclosure: I read an advance copy and provided a blurb. So I’ll just read that out: “Saba Karim’s debut complicates the usual tropes one might expect in a South Asian novel. Rania, the protagonist, is the kind of troublemaker who dreams big and soars high. From Lahore slums to New York City highrises, Rania puts everything on the line to fight against prejudices related to gender, religion, caste, class, and country. A spirited, take-charge heroine for our challenging, complex times.”



Nandini Bhattacharya was born and raised in India and has called the United States her second continent for the last thirty years. Her short stories have been published or will be in various anthologies, The Bombay Review, The Bangalore Review, and more. She has attended the Bread Loaf Writers’ Workshop and residencies at the Vermont Studio Center, VONA, Centrum Writer’s Residency, and the Ragdale Artist’s Residency (forthcoming), among others. She was the first runner-up for the Los Angeles Review Flash Fiction contest (2017-2018), a finalist for the Fourth River Folio Contest for Prose Prize (2018), longlisted for the Disquiet International Literary Prize (2019 and 2020), a finalist for the Reynolds-Price International Women’s Literary Award (2019), and a finalist for the Saturday Evening Post Great American Stories Contest, 2021. Nandini lives outside Houston and serves a marmalade cat.

Here’s a bit about Love’s Garden: Starting in 1898 in British India, the novel is about a young widow who marries a stranger to save herself from dishonor and gain some security and protection. Her second family ends up paying for her Faustian bargain. Spanning two world wars and the Indian Independence Movement, the story covers many themes from politics to love to gender oppression to mother-daughter relationships, and more.

Nandini shares with us five historical novels that she sees as the literary forebears of her own book. Please enjoy. The titles and links will be included in the transcript too.



1) The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

2) Those Days by Sunil Gangopadhyay (tr. by A. Chakravarti)

3) The Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh

4) The Sleeping Dictionary by Sujata Massey

5) Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie



Nepal-born Anuja Ghimire writes poetry, flash fiction, and creative nonfiction. She is the author of the poetry chapbook, Kathmandu (Unsolicited Press, 2020), and two poetry books in Nepali. She’s a Best of the Net and Pushcart nominee. By day, she works as a senior publisher in an online learning company. She reads poetry for Up the Staircase Quarterly and enjoys teaching poetry to children in summer camps. Her work has found homes in Glass: A journal of poetry, Orbis: London, EcoTheo Review, UCity Review, and Crack the Spine, among others. She lives near Dallas, Texas with her husband and two children.

Here’s a bit about her chapbook, Kathmandu: the 21 poems in this collection are about the journey from political violence in her first home to her new home. Kathmandu speaks of being a neighbor while still feeling out of place; speaking a foreign tongue while finding it to be a lifeline; and, all the while, readjusting one’s definition of home. Exploring love, family, nature, environment, and more, Ghimire mines the complexity of never leaving home while moving “to keep things whole.”



1) ‘If They Come for Us‘ by Fatima Asghar

2) ‘On Listening to Your Teacher Take Attendance‘ by Aimee Nezhukumatathil

3) ‘National Grief‘ by Rohan Chhetri


You’ve been listening to episode 21 of DesiBooks — news and views about desi literature from the world over.

Episode 22 will be up in the new year. Follow on Twitter @desibooks or Instagram @desi.books and tag the accounts 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: