DesiCraftChat: Bishakh Som on the art and craft of the graphic memoir

Desi Books Ep 5 w/ Bishakh Som Desi Books

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Hello and welcome to Episode 5 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, in addition to the usual roundup of new notable desi books, short stories, poems, essays, interviews, awards, and more, we have the graphic storyteller, Bishakh Som, joining us for a new monthly segment called #DesiCraftChat. This segment will feature storytellers talking about their craft, how they approach it, their process, their works, and more. So Bishakh will be sharing details about her latest collection, Apsara Engine, and how she approaches the graphic storytelling form. So settle in for a listen. The full transcript with all the links will be up within 24 hours as well.



Here are some books by desi writers coming out this month. They’re not necessarily in order of publication date as my discovery process is a bit haphazard. And, as I’d mentioned last week, all the titles mentioned in this “New Books” segment are now in a handy-dandy list online at, which benefits local, independent booksellers directly. This is a US-based site so my apologies to non-US listeners.

1) Women and Partition is the title of a new collection edited by Urvashi Butalia, the publisher of Zubaan Books in India. This book brings together writers from India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan to explore the still largely unaddressed aspects of the human histories of the period through first-person accounts, essays, personal histories, and interviews with women who lived through Partition and who have inherited its legacies.

2) Manu S. Pillai has a book out titled The World of Raja Ravi Varma with stories of all the men and women featured in the artist’s paintings. It sounds fascinating. There’s an interview at The Hindu.

3) Sukanta Chaudhuri has edited The Cambridge Companion to Rabindranath Tagore. It has critical surveys of Tagore’s art and how it was received. The authors are among the leading Tagore experts from India and abroad.

4) Shubhangi Swarup’s award-winning debut novel, Latitudes of Longing, is out in the US this month. It came out a year or so ago to much acclaim in India.

5) Partition Literature and Cinema: A Critical Introduction is the title of a new book edited by Jaydip Sarkar and Rupayan Mukherjee. “It discusses partition as not just an immediate historical catastrophe but as a lingering cultural presence and consequently a potent trope in literary and visual representations.” There are essays on texts like Train to Pakistan, “Toba Tek Singh”, Basti, Garm Hava, Pinjar.

6) Ramiza Shamoun Koya’s debut novel, The Royal Abduls, is out this month. This is about second-generation Americans dealing with anti-Muslim sentiments in a post-9/11 US and India.



Here are some new notable poems, stories, and essays from literary magazines and websites. I know I’m not getting them all so, if you know of new stories, poems, or essays published online by South Asian writers, please share them by tagging the @desibooks twitter account. Thank you.

1) Imtiaz Dharker has a poem titled I Need’ up at The Guardian. This poem is filled with so much sensory temptation. And, above all, a love for words and how they can move every part of our being.

2) Manohar Shetty has a poem titled Quarantine Blues up at It’s part of their ‘The Art of Solitude’ series. It also has some dry commentary on the current COVID-19 politics in India.

3) The new issue of Granta also has a couple of poems by Tishani Doshi: Self and Tissue. These are, well, classic Doshi poems with sensual imagery and layered emotions. And the idea that we are always striving in vain for things beyond our understanding and reach.

4) Bina Shah has a story at The Common titled Weeds and Flowers. It’s about Afghan refugees in Pakistan and how two young schoolgirls are dealing with national politics at a personal level.

5) Mirza Athair Baig has a story at Asymptote Journal titled Junkshop. It’s been translated from the Urdu by Haider Shahbaz. And it’s about how not everything thrown in the trash is really trash. I won’t give away any more than that.

6) At Granta, Mahreen Sohail has a story titled Hair. It’s behind a paywall so you’ll need a subscription to read it. But you might consider it if you’re serious about short stories because Granta publishes some of the best ones out there. This one, about a teenage couple in love, is beautifully written.

7) This issue of Granta was guest-edited by Rana Dasgupta. His introduction there is worth a read. It’s a meditation on the word “membrane”

8) Rana Dasgupta also introduces the photography of Anita Khemka in this Granta issue. It’s titled Laxmiand about how the photographer spent time with transgender folks, who are known as hijras in India.

9) Fowzia Karimi has an essay at Literary Hub titled The Letters of the Alphabet Are Some of the Oldest Forms of Storytelling. Karimi, as I’d mentioned a couple of weeks ago, has a debut novel just out called Above Us the Milky Way.

10) Rishi Reddi has a reading list at Literary Hub about Living Through a Plague. Reddi, as I’d mentioned a couple of weeks ago, has a debut novel just out called Passage West.

11) Seema Yasmin has a reading list at Electric Literature titled ‘7 Books By and About Muslim Women. Yasmin had a book out recently with a co-author, Fahmida Azim titled Muslim Women Are Everything and it’s about celebrating the many different kinds of Muslim women in the world.

12) Surina Narula, the co-founder of one of the most prestigious prizes for South Asian literature, The DSC Prize, has an essay at titled Will India’s Literary Prizes Outlive the Pandemic’. It’s a wide-ranging essay on literary awards, South Asian literature, the effect of the pandemic on the publishing world, and more.

13) Shaheen Pasha has an essay up at Longreads titled Following the North Star. It’s about how she dealt with the incarceration of a former lover.



1) Taran Khan was interviewed by Sayantani Dasgupta at about her book, Shadow City: A Woman Walks Kabul. This is Khan’s debut book though she is a journalist of international repute. And this is Dasgupta’s second interview in her 12-interview series that I’d mentioned a few episodes ago.

2) Preti Taneja was on the Galley Beggar podcast where she talked about Jeet Thayil and read from Fulcrum No. 4, an edition in which Thayil edited a selection of 56 Indian poets. This isn’t an interview, really; more an oral essay, perhaps.

3) Abir Mukherjee and Sujata Massey are finalists in the 2020 Edgar Awards with their respective novels: Smoke and Ashes and The Satapur Moonstone.

4) The Sunday Times in the UK announced their short story prize longlist. This is the biggest award for a single short story out there. Dur e Aziz Amna is on this longlist with the story ‘You Get What Is Yours’.



This is an infrequent segment with calls for information or submissions on topics related to South Asia.

1) Burnt Roti magazine has a short story competition open for people of South Asian heritage. Submit by May 26th.



In today’s #DesiCraftChat segment, we’re talking with Bishakh Som. Bishakh’s comics and artwork have appeared in The New Yorker, We’re Still Here (The first all-trans comics anthology), Beyond, Vol. 2, The Other Side, The Boston Review, The Brooklyn Rail, Buzzfeed, The Huffington Post, The Graphic Canon, vol.3, Black Warrior Review, Specs, Vice, The Strumpet, Little Nemo: Dream Another Dream and Single-Handedly: Contemporary Architects Draw by Hand. Her comics have been included twice in the ‘Notables’ list of Best American Comics. She received the prestigious Xeric grant in 2003 for her comics collection Angel. Apsara Engine, her new collection of short comics, was released in April 2020 by The Feminist Press. Her graphic memoir, Spellbound, is being published by Street Noise Books in August 2020. 

Here’s a bit about Apsara Engine: The eight delightfully eerie stories in Apsara Engine are a subtle intervention into everyday reality: a woman drowns herself in a past affair, a tourist chases another guest into an unforeseen past, and a nonbinary academic researches postcolonial cartography. Imagining diverse futures and rewriting old mythologies, these comics delve into strange architectures, fetishism, and heartbreak. Painted in rich sepia-toned watercolors, Apsara Engine is Bishakh Som’s highly anticipated debut work of fiction. Showcasing a series of fraught, darkly humorous, and seemingly alien worlds—which ring all too familiar—Som captures the weight of twenty-first-century life as we hurl ourselves forward into the unknown. By turns fantastical and familiar, this graphic short story collection is immersed in questions of gender, the body, and existential conformity.

This was a lovely, casual, enlightening conversation and I’m truly grateful for these opportunities to connect with other artists and learn more about their work and their craft. I hope you’ll listen to it fully and support Bishakh’s two books out this year because it’s a tough year for writers everywhere and more so for writers working with small, independent presses.

I’ll apologize upfront for some of my rookie mistakes with the “But…ums” and “Y’knows”. At least we don’t have the overlapping audio this time, which is progress, right?

With that, let’s get to the conversation.



(transcript to be added shortly)


You’ve been listening to episode 5 of DesiBooks — news and views about desi literature from the world over.

Tune in next week for Episode 6. Follow on Twitter @desibooks and tag the account if you have requests or suggestions. Email at

Stay healthy, keep reading, and write well.


DISCLOSURE NOTE: The books linked above are from There is a tiny affiliate commission payable to Desi Books if you buy a book using the link here. This helps pay toward the cost of running the podcast. Thank you.

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