#DesiBooks10QA: Nishant Batsha on participating in a conversation with desi writers from across the world

About the author

Nishant Batsha is a writer of fiction and histories.

He is the author of the novel Mother Ocean Father Nation, named one of the best books of 2022 by NPR. He is currently at work on A Bomb Placed Close to the Heart (Ecco/HarperCollins, February 2025), a novel set between California and New York at the dawn of World War I.

He holds a Ph.D. in history from Columbia University, as well as a master’s from the University of Oxford (on a Doctorow Fellowship and ESU-SF Scholarship) and an undergraduate degree from Columbia. His academic research focused on Indian indentured labor in Trinidad and Fiji.

About the book

Mother Ocean Father Nation follows a brother and sister whose paths diverge—one forced to leave, one left behind—in the wake of a nationalist coup in the South Pacific. On a small Pacific island, a brother and sister tune in to a breaking news radio bulletin. It is 1985, and an Indian grocer has just been attacked by nativists aligned with the recent military coup. Now, fear and shock are rippling through the island’s deeply-rooted Indian community as racial tensions rise to the brink. Bhumi hears this news from her locked-down dorm room in the capital city. She is the ambitious, intellectual standout of the family—the one destined for success. But when her friendship with the daughter of a prominent government official becomes a liability, she must flee her unstable home for California. Jaipal feels like the unnoticed, unremarkable sibling, always left to fend for himself. He is stuck working in the family store, avoiding their father’s wrath, with nothing but his hidden desires to distract him. Desperate for money and connection, he seizes a sudden opportunity to take his life into his own hands for the first time. But his decision may leave him vulnerable to the island’s escalating volatility.

Spanning from the lush terrain of the South Pacific to the golden hills of San Francisco, Mother Ocean Father Nation is an entrancing debut about how one family, at the mercy of a nation broken by legacies of power and oppression, forges a path to find a home once again.

[Editor’s Note: I wrote briefly about this novel for NPR’s Books We Love series.]

Nishant Batsha’s novel, Mother Ocean Father Nation, follows a brother and sister whose paths diverge in the wake of a nationalist coup in the South Pacific. #DesiBooks10QA @DesiBooks


1. The desi book that made you want to be a writer (or changed your life.)

This isn’t quite a single book but, when I was in college, I was majoring in History and South Asian Studies and I remember spending so much time immersed in the literature of the subcontinent.

I remember going on YouTube and watching old videos of mushairas—Khumar Barabankvi was a perennial favorite—and singing the couplets to myself between classes. There was another time that I, for reasons I still can’t fathom, took a graduate-level seminar on Braj Bhasha (and completely floundered in it but still found it interesting!)

Growing up, my exposure to South Asian culture was effectively what my parents were interested in (mainly mainstream film, but to my father’s credit, he did take me to sitar lessons even though he himself had no musical training), and to have the experience of surrounding myself, on a daily basis, in the rich history of South Asian literary production made me feel like I was in conversation with something vast and beautiful.

One of the desi literary influences that made Nishant Batsha, author of the novel, Mother Ocean Father Nation, want to be a writer: Khumar Barabankvi’s mushairas. #DesiBooks10QA @DesiBooks

2. The desi book that your own latest book is most in conversation with and why.

There isn’t a single desi book. The first, and perhaps most important, are books that grapple with indenture. I did my Ph.D. in the history of indenture in Trinidad and Fiji, so there’s a whole reading list that came from that which made my way into this novel. Also, books like Gaiutra Bahadur’s Coolie Woman and Mahmood Mamdani’s From Citizen to Refugee. I’m indebted to Brij Lal’s work in history and essay (especially works like Mr. Tulsi’s Store.)

On the fiction and poetry side, Amitav Ghosh’s magisterial Sea of Poppies and Sudesh Mishra’s poetry (especially Tandava, Diaspora Criticism, and The Difficult Act of Dying.)

I owe a great deal to Bharati Mukherjee—I’d like to think that there’s some connection between Bhumi and Jasmine in the way they chart their lives in a country they’re not necessarily impressed with. Naipaul looms over my work in the way that Naipaul tends to—The Mimic Men leaves its mark in this book.

I don’t feel an anxiety of influence here—I’m simply heartened to participate in a conversation with desi writers from across the world.

Nishant Batsha on some books/writers that his novel, Mother Ocean Father Nation, is in conversation with: Coolie Woman, Mr. Tulsi’s Store, Sea of Poppies, Jasmine, The Mimic Men, and more. #DesiBooks10QA @DesiBooks

3. The desi book that doesn’t exist (to your knowledge) but you’d love to read.

There are countless writers writing countless books—for me to say that one doesn’t exist would be arrogant. What I truly want to see is more works from South Asian languages make their way into English. It’s a labor of love and I rejoice every time I can find a new novel translated into English.

4. The desi book that you’re currently reading or planning to read soon.

I managed to snag a copy of Tomb of Sand from Tilted Axis before it won the International Booker. I bought that because Daisy Rockwell is the translator. I first came across her work with her translation of Khadija Mastur’s Women’s Courtyard, and I will always purchase copies of her translations as they come out.

5. The desi book that you believe should be read and known more and why.

Again, not a single book, but I feel like prose from the subcontinent gets more appreciation than poetry, which is strange to think since the development of long-form prose is really a 19th-century invention. I mean, in Hindi, Bharatendu Harishchandra, considered the father of Hindi literature, died in 1885. Poetry has a much deeper history in the subcontinent.

I would love to see more beautiful renditions of poetry—Ghalib gets a lot of attention, but wouldn’t it be lovely if Mir got the same kind of praise? I was lucky to take classes with Frances Pritchett as an undergraduate, and I’m using her translation of Mir here:

mīr ke shiʿr kā aḥvāl kahūñ kyā ġhālib
jis kā dīvān kam az gulshan-e kashmīr nahīñ

About Mir’s verse—what can I say, Ghalib?
His divan is not less than a garden of Kashmir

Nishant Batsha, author of the novel Mother Ocean Father Nation, on desi books that should be read more: “Ghalib gets a lot of attention, but wouldn’t it be lovely if Mir got the same kind of praise?” #DesiBooks10QA @DesiBooks

6. What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

It’s hackneyed, but the idea that the only thing one can do is to find joy in the writing. Everything in publishing has such a maddening amount of randomness and luck—I’ve found that there’s nothing I can personally do to ever move the needle any which way. But in contrast to publishing, writing feels completely different. Its rewards are far fewer, for sure, but it’s also a way to sit at a complete remove from the world while being an active observer of it. Luxuriating in that can be much better than trying to jump through hoops.

#writingtip from Nishant Batsha, author of Mother Ocean Father Nation: “…find joy in the writing. Everything in publishing has such a maddening amount of randomness and luck…” #DesiBooks10QA @DesiBooks

7. While writing your latest book, how did you keep yourself motivated to keep going despite setbacks (if any)?

This dovetails with my previous answer. There were so many setbacks: queries left unanswered, drafts written and abandoned (hundreds of thousands of words left behind), and so on and so forth. But the daily practice of writing always kept me coming back. I wanted to see the book to completion. I wanted to see the story take the form I wanted. That’s what kept me going.

8. With this latest book, what does “literary success” mean to you?

All success is transient and likely to be buried under successive waves of self-doubt and imposter syndrome. I must sound like a broken record at this point but, truly, the only joy in this calling is the act of writing. Being able to continue to write is success enough. Everything else is noise.

9. How have larger literary citizenship efforts or the writing community helped you with this latest book?

Outlets like Desi Books, The Offing, and Contingent Magazine have amplified this book and I am forever grateful. We’re in a strange time with book coverage in the last few years. Discovery is difficult and larger outlets focus on bigger-name titles. Knowing that spaces exist that amplify the coverage of books like Mother Ocean Father Nation has been a buoy in the publishing process.

10. What would you most like readers to take away from this latest book?

Nishant Batsha, author of the novel Mother Ocean Father Nation, on reader takeaways: “I wanted to draw the reader’s attention to questions of difference, nationalism, and postcoloniality.” #DesiBooks10QA @DesiBooks

Mother Ocean Father Nation is set in a fictional country. I’ve made the mistake of reading my Goodreads reviews and have found ones critical of either the decision to leave the country unnamed or to not come clean and say it’s Fiji (it is absolutely not Fiji.) By combining several different places and histories (Uganda, Fiji, Trinidad, Guyana, etc.), I wanted to draw the reader’s attention to questions of difference, nationalism, and postcoloniality. I hope they can forgive the lack of name, and focus instead on those questions.


Nishant Batsha’s debut novel, Mother Earth Father Nation, was out earlier this year. Find more details on his website.

Nishant Batsha’s novel, Mother Ocean Father Nation, follows a brother and sister whose paths diverge in the wake of a nationalist coup in the South Pacific. #DesiBooks10QA @DesiBooks


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