South Asian Literary Festival

June 6, 2020

Chosen by Farhana  


‘Ok! So I am taking the plunge. I am organising an online lit fest bringing unrepresented voices from the South Asian writing community. Please complete this form to express interest...’ So tweeted Dr. Pragya Agarwal (author of Sway) back on 27 April. 34 days later – with 19 free events across 4 days – she pulled it off. And it was glorious. Thus, instead of a Featured Book this week, we have a Featured Festival! Here are our highlights from last weekend's events, and the books and authors that caught our eye...


The first session we attended was ‘Literary Translations’ with Meena Kandasamy in conversation with Arunava Sinha, at the close of Day 1 of the festival. This was a fascinating and delightful discussion, and topics included: using fine, literary language versus conveying the spirit of language that’s a bit ‘rough around the edges’; whether or not there are enough women, as opposed to men, involved in translation; and the need for gatekeepers and publishers to support important books versus mediocre ‘safe bets’. Meena is the author of a range of works including When I Hit You and Exquisite Cadavers. Arunava translates classic, modern and contemporary Bengali fiction and nonfiction into English and fifty-six of his translations have been published so far.


Day 2 began for us with ‘Writing Families’ with Shahnaz Ahsan, author of Hashim & Family, and Anita Goveas, author of the forthcoming Families and Other Natural Disasters. Both writers spoke about, amongst other things: how Desi families have never been 'nuclear’; how un/welcoming extended families can be; food and terms of endearment as symbols of identity; and 'explaining' ourselves to the white gaze.


Next up, was ‘Writing Our Stories’, with Nikesh Shukla, editor of The Good Immigrant and author of a number of works including The Boxer. Nikesh read an extract from his upcoming memoir Brown Baby and then answered questions. This was a poignant and empowering session, touching on topics such as: how to support and uplift each other's voices/stories; how there is always ‘space at the table’ when it comes to publishing opportunities for Desi and PoC authors, but more needs to be done; and a call to write the stories that only we can tell.


On Day 3, we caught ‘Writing Short Stories’, with Sayantani Dasgupta (author of Fire Girl and The House of Nails), Jenny Bhatt (author of Each of Us Killers and translator of Dhumketu’s best short stories, both forthcoming), and Reshma Ruia (author of Something Black in the Lentil Soup and A Dinner Party in the Home Counties). This was more of a gentle chat that covered a range of subjects, such as favourite short story authors/ collections, and the unique joys of the short story form, such as allowing for more experimentation and variety of themes. Jhumpa Lahiri's Pulitzer Prize-winning Interpreter of Maladies was mentioned, but also the need to champion less well known Desi short story writers who reflect other social classes and demographics.


Day 4 was a jam-packed day for us, beginning with readings and interviews from the Jhalak Prize shortlist. This was an absolute treat, and the featured authors and books were: Jasbinder Bilan’s Asha and the Spirit Bird; Romesh Gunesekera’s Suncatcher; and Johny Pitts’s winning Afropean.


Next up was the ‘Debut Showcase’, and this session was one of our favourites. Sopan Deb, a comedian and a writer for The New York Times, spoke about his memoir Missed Translations; Pakistani author Awais Khan told us about his novel In the Company of Strangers; Mumbai-based Shubhangi Swarup spoke of her novel Latitudes of Longing; and Deepa Anappara, who has also worked as a journalist in cities including Mumbai and Delhi, told us about her novel Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line. All four spoke with great honesty and fun about their varying inspirations, processes, and experiences of writing and publishing their debut novels.    


The penultimate session was ‘Fictional Histories’ with Cauvery Madhavan and Kavita A. Jindal. Both spoke about their research process and how they went about deciding what to include in these fictional works in order to both bring their characters to life, and also realistically reflect the periods of history and the issues raised. Cauvery’s latest novel is called The Tainted, and Kavita’s novel is called Manual For A Decent Life.   


Finally, the festival ended with a session with Nikita Gill, who is a poet, playwright, writer and illustrator. Nikita has published five collections of poetry, and during the session she treated us to a reading from her forthcoming work, a novel-in-verse called The Girl and Goddess. Nikita’s poetry is beautiful and empowering, and she also had this to say about trolls: “Don’t let other people’s hatred affect you. If certain people have a problem with your writing because it’s written by a young brown woman, then that says more about them than you. Just because your work is different to the canon, doesn’t mean it’s not good enough. And never give up!” ...or something along those lines – we can’t remember exactly, but she was awesome.


That’s it! If you missed it, we believe that the sessions were recorded and will be up at a later date, but meanwhile thank you to the incredible Pragya for organising it all, and to all the wonderful authors who took part. Now, we’re off to update a certain books list... ;)



To find out more click here 





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