#DesiLitBiz: Aruni Kashyap on literary awards and being a judge for the JCB Prize

Desi Books Ep 8 w/ Aruni Kashyap & Pawan Dhingra Desi Books

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Hello and welcome to Episode 8 of DesiBooks — news and views about desi literature from the world over. I’m your host, Jenny Bhatt. Thank you for tuning in.

Before we get started, I want to take a moment to say thank you to all of you listeners. This episode marks nearly two months of this podcast being out in the world. I’d debated internally for almost a year before that about whether to go ahead with it. In a couple of previous episodes and a twitter thread, I’ve shared the whys and wherefores of finally doing so. And most of you know I do this without any financial support or compensation.

That said, while desi literature the world over is flourishing more than it has ever done before, there’s still a lack of awareness, understanding, and acceptance of all our different stories and the many ways of telling them. We find, still, a handful of dominant desi voices at those global publishing tables. So we have to continue, if you’ll allow me to extend that metaphor, constructing new tables for ourselves. We have to keep opening those doors and windows for others like us.

South Asia is a vast sub-continental region with a shared history that goes back for centuries. No matter what part of the world we may live in, our South Asian heritage lives on within us in our everyday lives. To appreciate all the many strands that make up our physical and socio-cultural DNA is to learn to appreciate our own selves in new, profound ways. This has been my personal experience, anyway.

I also want to mention that there’s now a separate podcast website desibooks.co. This is where all the episode transcripts, book giveaways, and other updates will be posted. You’ll also be able to subscribe for weekly updates if you like. Your email address will never be shared or used for any other purpose.

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 two segments: #DesiLitBiz with Aruni Kashyap, one of the new jury members for the JCB Literary Prize; and #DesiBooksGiveaway with Pawan Dhingra, an award-winning writer whose new book, Hyper Education: Why Good Schools, Good Grades, and Good Behavior Are Not Enough will go to one lucky winner.

So let’s get started.



Please visit the previous May episodes for all the other new and notable books out this month. 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.

Only one book to highlight this week as it’s the end of the month.

1) Mamta Chaudhry’s novel, Haunting Paris, is out in paperback this month. It’s about the Second World War, family, crime, love, and more. Bit of everything, really. A youtube trailer here.



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) Over at The Guardian, Carol Rumens explores the pastorally pleasant ‘Godhuli’ by Srinivas Rayaprol. Godhuli refers to a time of day when the cattle return homeward, kicking up dust in the twilight. But please don’t think this is some exoticizing or West-pandering verse. I enjoyed Rayaprol’s precision with language, something he must have honed as a civil engineer.

2) Kalyan Raman has a few poems of Perundevi, translated from the Tamil, up at Scroll.in. These 11 missives to a world living through a pandemic are both haunting and lyrical.

3) Sticking with translated works, here’s ‘The Story of Hilsa Fish, Jackfruit, or Perhaps, Life’, written in the original Bangladeshi by Ahmad Mostafa Kamal and translated by Shabnam Nadiya at The Offing. And trust that the hilsa fish is as much a character in this short story as the people in it.

4) At Literary Hub, Shubhangi Swarup has an excerpt from her novel, Latitudes of Longing, which is newly out in the US this month. And it’s being translated into several languages the world over after having won a bunch of awards in India.

5) Kirtan Nautiyal has a piece at McSweeney’s as part of their Flattened by the Curve series, featuring the voices of doctors, nurses, healthcare workers, and others on the front lines against COVID-19. It’s titled ‘One Last Thing Before I Go’.

6) At Guernica Magazine, Sejal Shah has an essay from her upcoming collection, This Is One Way to Dance. The essay, titled ‘Betsy, Tacy, Sejal, Tib’, is about growing up as a second-generation Indian-American and wanting to see oneself in one’s reading. You’ll be able to hear Sejal discuss this essay and more here in June in the #DesiCraftChat series.

7) Speaking of craft, Sejal also has a lovely craft essay up at Poets & Writers Magazine called ‘Feel Your Way’. It’s about how we need to find motion and rhythm in writing as we do when we dance. 



1) Staying with Sejal Shah, there’s an interview by Madhushree Ghosh over at The Rumpus. They discussed humor, identity, writing, food, and more.

2) Sayantani Dasgupta interviewed Rheea Mukherjee at The Southern Humanities Review about the latter’s 2019 book, The Body Myth.

3) On the Fiction/Non/Fiction podcast at Literary Hub, Tahmima Anam was in conversation with John Freeman and the podcast hosts about poetry, prose, and the climate crisis.

4) Ruth Vanita was interviewed by Somak Ghoshal at Mint Lounge about her January 2020 novel, Memory of Light, about how she wrote about a love story between two women, a poet and a dancer, in 18th century Lucknow.

5) Shabnam Nadiya, whom I mentioned earlier, has won a PEN/Heim Translation Grant for her translation from the Bengali of The Meat Market and Other Stories by Mashiul Alam.



1) Kamil Ahsan, who was on an earlier #DesiLitBiz episode, has a call out for South Asian graphic artists for a popup South Asian literary anthology. More details at this Twitter thread.

2) Words Without Borders has a “poems in translation” contest on till the end of May. Apply soon.

3) Penguin Random House UK has an open call for under-represented writers for their WriteNow program. It’s for writers from the UK and Ireland. Apply soon as it’s till the end this month too.



In this month’s #desilitbiz segment, I’m talking with Aruni Kashyap. A writer, poet, translator, and an assistant professor of creative writing at the University of Georgia, Aruni is also a jury member for the JCB Literary Prize this year. This is one of the largest literary awards in India and in its third year. Aruni and I discussed literary awards, South Asian literature, his own writing inspiration, and more.

Here’s a bit more about his work: A winner of several awards and fellowships, Aruni Kashyap’s latest fiction is titled His Father’s Disease and Other Stories. He has a book of poetry due out in 2021. He has also written in and translated from the Assamese.

This conversation was a real pleasure. It went longer but you’ll see how Aruni brought up so many important points that I’m just grateful he was willing to open up so much.

With that, settle in and I hope you enjoy the conversation.





Dr Pawan Dhingra is a writer of award-winning books, a professor, and a curator (Smithsonian Institution’s Beyond Bollywood Project.) He is the President of the Board of the South Asian American Digital Archive. He has been a department chair and held tenured positions at Tufts University and Oberlin College.

His latest book, Hyper Education: Why Good Schools, Good Grades, and Good Behavior Are Not Enough, is an up-close look at the arms race in after-school learning, academic competitions – and the perceived failure of even our best schools to educate children. Drawing on over 100 in-depth interviews with teachers, tutors, principals, children, and parents, Dhingra delves into the world of high-achievement education and the after-school learning centers, spelling bees, and math competitions that it has spawned. Moving past “Tiger Mom” stereotypes, he examines how schools, families, and communities play their part and addresses why Asian American and white families practice what he calls “hyper education” and whether or not it makes sense.

You’ll hear more about the book from the writer next. And all you have to do to participate is enter your name in a google form. Only the randomly-chosen winner will be asked to provide their mailing details to receive their free copy. An optional request, not a requirement: please do share the tweet or post where you come across this giveaway with a friend using the hashtag #desibooksgiveaway. This won’t affect your chance of winning the book but it will certainly help the book get more visibility as it deserves.

On a personal note, while I don’t have children myself, let me just say that I believe every parent needs to read this important book. We’re educating the next generation of thinkers, innovators, artists, and humanitarians right now. This book has some terrific ideas about how we could raise them better.

Enter the giveaway here. No catch and your information will not be used for any other purpose.




You’ve been listening to episode 8 of DesiBooks — news and views about desi literature from the world over.

Tune in next week for Episode 9. Follow on Twitter @desibooks or Instagram @desi.books and tag the account if you have requests or suggestions. Email at hellodesibooks@gmail.com.

Stay healthy, keep reading, and write well.


DISCLOSURE NOTE: The books linked above are from Bookshop.org. 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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