#DesiCraftChat: Renuka Singh on the Dalai Lama; #DesiReads: Shaukat Ajmeri reads from his novel, Keepers of the Faith

Desi Books Ep 25 w/ Renuka Singh & Shaukat Ajmeri 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 25 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 Dr. Renuka Singh in the #DesiCraftChat segment. She’ll be discussing a book she’s recently edited of quotations from the Dalai Lama: The Little Book of Encouragement. We also have Shaukat Ajmeri reading from his debut novel, Keepers of the Faith, in the #DesiReads segment.

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.

First, here are some notable books I missed in last month’s roundup.

1) Witnesses of Remembrance: Selected Newer Poems by Kunwar Narain and translated by Apurva Narain. This is the first book-length translation of the author’s poetry to appear after his passing away in 2017. It has an eclectic, wide-ranging selection of poems from his latest five collections. This bilingual edition is also substantive, with over a hundred poems—translated and introduced by Apurva Narain, who has spent years with his father’s poems.

2) I Want a Poem and Other Poems by Jerry Pinto. This is his second collection. Pinto is a writer of fiction and nonfiction and a literary translator. These poems are playful, profound, and wise. And they’re wide-ranging in theme and mood.

3) The Demoness: Best Bangladeshi Stories edited by Niaz Zaman. Published to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Bangladesh’s independence, the twenty-seven stories in this collection feature the finest short fiction from the nation—since before it achieved independence in 1971 to the present day. It includes all the great writers of Bangladesh.

Now for a few new and notable books out in the first half of April:

4) Gold Diggers by Sanjena Sathian is a debut novel is a magical realist coming-of-age story focused on second-generation Indian Americans. It’s about desi immigrant culture in the US, ambition, the model minority myth, and more. And she’ll be on the podcast soon talking about it in the #DesiCraftChat segment.

5) Radicalizing Her: Why Women Choose Violence by Nimmi Gowrinathan. Gowrinathan, whose own family history is intertwined with resistance, spent nearly twenty years in conversation with female fighters in Sri Lanka, Eritrea, Pakistan, and Colombia. Women make up nearly 30% of militant movements worldwide. And these narratives help us see their complex position in contemporary political discourse about gender, power, and violence.

6) Many Mahābhāratas edited by Neil Shapiro Hawley and Sohini Sarah Pillai is an introduction to the spectacular and long-lived diversity of Mahābhārata literature in South Asia. From the first to the twenty-first century, these Mahabharatas have been told or retold in at least nine languages. Beyond the Sanskrit versions, the book looks at classical dramas, premodern vernacular poems, regional performance traditions, commentaries, graphic novels, political essays, novels, and contemporary theater productions.

7) Fragile Monsters is a debut novel by C. G. Menon. It traces one family’s story from 1920 to the present. A story of love, betrayal, and redemption against the backdrop of natural disasters and fallen empires. With a daughter-grandmother relationship at its heart, the book explores what happens when secrets fester through the generations.

8) The Khan by Saima Mir sounds like a fascinating crime thriller. It’s a debut and features organized crime in the Pakistani British community with a female protagonist. It looks at cultural stereotypes, sacred cows, and the attitudes and morality of the community within which the story is based.

9) How to Fail as a Popstar by Vivek Shraya is her debut theatrical work, a one-person show that spans her journey from singing in shopping malls to “not quite” pop music superstardom. It explores the power of pop culture, dreams, disappointments, and self-determination The book includes color photographs from the show’s 2020 production in Toronto, and a foreword by its director Brendan Healy.

10) How to Raise a Feminist Son: Motherhood, Masculinity, and the Making of My Family by Sonora Jha is informed by her work as a professor of journalism specializing in social justice movements and social media, as well as by conversations with psychologists, experts, other parents and boys–and through powerful stories from her own life. It shows us how to be better feminists and better teachers of the next generation of men.



Dr. Renuka Singh is a former professor and sociologist from the Center for the Study of Social Systems, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. She has been working in the field of gender studies, diaspora, and Buddhist studies for over four decades. She’s been associated with Women’s Studies Center, Delhi University, Center for Social Research, and was a Research Fellow at the Center for Cross-Cultural Research on Women at Oxford University, UK. She was also a Senior UGC Fellow and is currently the Director of Tushita Mahayana Meditation Center, New Delhi. She has edited some previous such collections by the Dalai Lama and several other publications too.

Not that most people need an introduction to the Dalai Lama. But. Tenzin Gyatso, His Holiness the fourteenth Dalai Lama of Tibet, is the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists and a Nobel laureate. In 1950, at the age of fifteen, he was called upon to assume full responsibility as Head of State and Government. His efforts to bring about a peaceful solution to the Sino-Tibetan problem were thwarted and, following the suppression of the March 1959 Tibetan national uprising, he escaped to India where he was given political asylum. In exile, he continues to lead his people in the education, rehabilitation, and preservation of the ancient and unique Tibetan culture. He is recognized as an advocate of world peace and inter-religious understanding. He has written several books on Buddhism, philosophy, human nature, and universal responsibility and received many international awards.

This latest collection of quotations focuses, as with all of the Dalai Lama’s works, on our interdependency, the oneness of humanity, the need to look within to cultivate a value system that acknowledges others’ rights and interests, and more. Particularly, it is intended to bring us hope and encouragement during these pandemic times.

I talked with Dr. Singh about her process with this book and more. Have a listen.





Shaukat Ajmeri was born and educated in India. He worked as a journalist before settling down in Canada and has recently started on a literary career. He is currently writing a collection of short stories and a second novel.

Keepers of the Faith, Ajmeri’s debut novel, is set among the members of a small Muslim sect of India, ruled by an oppressive priesthood that demands absolute submission. When a section of the community rebels, the head priest’s wrath comes crashing down upon them and a peaceful community is split into two. The novel follows the fates of two teenage lovers who find themselves on opposite sides of the schism. Their dream of a happy life together is shattered and they are forced into separate destinies. Years later, their paths cross again, presenting them with soul-destroying choices. This is the story of a people caught in the grip of blind faith and the terrible price they must pay for standing up for their dignity.

Here he is now.




You’ve been listening to episode 25 of Desi Books — news and views about desi literature from the world over. I’m your host, Jenny Bhatt.

Episode 26 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.


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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