#DesiCraftChat: Shoba Narayan on writing about food and religion in India

Desi Books Ep 24 w/ Shoba Narayan & Gayatri Sethi 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 24 of Desi Books—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 Shoba Narayan in the #DesiCraftChat segment. She’ll be discussing her latest book, Food and Faith. We also have Dr. Gayatri Sethi with a new quarterly segment, #DesiKidLit. She’s a writer, educator, and co-founder of the #DesiKidLit community.

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-2021. There’s also a new UK-based list at uk.bookshop.org/lists/desi-books-uk-2021. My apologies to non-US listeners but I always mention/note desi books from other parts of the world on these episodes as well, of course. I just don’t have a bookshop list for them.

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) Sparks Like Stars is Nadia Hashimi’s new novel. It’s about an Afghan American woman, spans several decades, and how she goes back to Kabul for answers about her home, family, and her own survival.

2) Feelings by Manjit Thapp is an illustrated memoir and about the seasons of our emotional journeys as charted through one year of Thapp’s own life.

3) Northern Light by the poet and essayist, Kazim Ali, is a memoir about going back to a place where he spent a part of his childhood: Jenpeg in Canada. Through community interaction and connection, he explores issues of land and power and the history and politics of the local hydroelectric dam.

4) All Roads Lead North by Amish Raj Mulmi is out in India now and about Nepal’s foreign relations and the story of China as a global power in the twenty-first century. This bit of the description sounds rather interesting: “With never-before-told stories about Tibetan guerrilla fighters, failed coup leaders, and trans-Himalayan traders, this book examines the histories that tie remote Himalayan communities to each other.”

5) The Anger of Saintly Men by Anubha Yadav is a debut novel out in India now and about toxic masculinity as explored through the lives of three male siblings in Gurgaon, near Delhi, India. It’s about hope, ambition, the tyranny of tradition, globalization, and more.

6) Useful Delusions is a new book co-authored by Shankar Vedantam and Bill Mesler. It’s about self-deception and the lies that we tell ourselves. If you follow his NPR show, The Hidden Brain, then you’ll get this book as it’s also filled with personal stories and draws on psychology, neuroscience, and philosophy to explain why such self-deception is sometimes necessary and helpful to us.

7) The Passenger: India is an illustrated collection of essays and works from writers like Arundhati Roy, Tishani Doshi, Prem Shankar Jha, and more. It covers topics as varied as India’s space program, Bollywood’s obsession with Swiss landscapes, the dances of the hijra in Koovagam. Quite fascinating. 



I discovered Shoba Narayan a few years ago when I was planning to return to India after decades in the US. She had also done this “Return to India” and written a book about it. After that, I read her book, The Milk Lady of Bangalore, and reviewed it in 2018. I followed her delightful columns in India at Mint and then The Hindustan Times. While she was in the US, she wrote for places like TIME, The Atlantic, the NYT, Gourmet, Conde Nast Traveler, and more. Her favorite topics have always been culture, identity, travel, relationships, religion, food, and women.

This latest book is part-history, part-travelogue, part-memoir. Narayan traveled to 15 places of worship across India and explored their history, culture, faith, and food. But the book is so much more than that. It’s also about questions like: the role of religion in our lives today; what rituals mean to us; how our religions or approach to spirituality forms parts of our identities.

On a personal note, I really enjoyed this book with its gentle humor, profound questions, and the skillful blending of history, myth, memoir, travel, and more.

I talked with Shoba about the varied places she visited and her takeaways. Have a listen





DesiKidLit is a new quarterly segment I’m hoping to add to the podcast. We’ll have Dr. Gayatri Sethi sharing a set of new and notable books that belong in this genre.

Dr. Sethi is an educator, writer, and independent consultant based in Atlanta, GA. Her debut illustrated YA book, Unbelonging, is forthcoming this year and is a coming-of-age narrative of multi-racial Africa and America. It will explore identity, intercultural anti-blackness, social justice, and the South Asian diaspora. The illustrations will be by Divya Seshadri.

Dr. Sethi is also known widely as @DesiBookAunty on social media, which is how I learned of her. She’s a champion of desi children’s literature and a co-founder of the DesiKidLit community, which will have a summit at the end of this month. I’ll share the link in the transcript. [Here it is: https://desikidlitcommunity.weebly.com/.]

We’re hoping to make this a quarterly roundup segment where Gayatri will share new and notable desi kidlit books with us.

Here she is now.




  1. Bindiya in India by Monique Chedha
  2. Laxmi’s Mooch by Shelly Anand (illustrated by Nabi H Ali)
  3. Fatima’s Great Outdoors by Ambreen Tariq (illustrated by Stevie Lewis)


  1. Red, White, and Whole by Rajani LaRocca
  2. Strong as Fire, Fierce as Flame by Supriya Kelkar


  1. If I Tell you the Truth by Jasmin Kaur
  2. American Betiya by Anuradha Rajurkar


You’ve been listening to episode 24 of Desi Books—news and views about desi literature from the world over. I’m your host, Jenny Bhatt.

Episode 25 will be up in a couple of weeks. 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.


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