December 8, 2023


Connecting Asian writers with global readers

Kishwar Desai: If a book is good, it will sell

3 min read

Monideepa Sahu, fiction editor of Kitaab, interviews Indian author and columnist Kishwar Desai

Kishwar_DesaiIndian author and columnist Kishwar Desai’s latest novel The Sea of Innocence has begun to make waves. She started as a print journalist before switching to a career in television. Kishwar wrote a play, Manto! Her first book was a biography of two Indian film stars, Darlingji: The True Love Story of Nargis and Sunil Dutt.

Her novel, Witness the Night (Harper Collins, India and Beautiful Books, UK, 2010) won the Costa First Novel Award and was long listed for the Man Asian Literary Prize and long listed for the DSC South Asian Literary Prize, among others. The story of social worker Simran Singh explored the issue of female foeticide and infanticide in India. It has been translated into over 25 languages.

Her critically acclaimed second book in the Simran Singh series The Origins of Love was published in June 2012. It examines the growing commercialisation of Artificial Reproductive Technology (ART). This has become a huge international business and a very exploitative industry, led by the medical profession trying to “help” infertile couples.

She has recently finished her third and the last book in the Simran Singh series, which is set between Goa and the UK, and deals with the brutal death of a teenager on a Goa beach.

Kishwar Desai is deeply interested in Indian cinema. She writes columns and is also a member of the Steering Committee of the International Film Festival of India. She is married to economist Meghnad Desai, a member of the British House of Lords. She lives between London, Delhi and Goa—travelling all too frequently!

Kishwar Desai took some time out from her busy schedule to speak exclusively to Kitaab.

Please tell us about your books; some anecdotes perhaps, of how they happened.

My first book, Darlingji: The True Love Story of Nargis and Sunil Dutt, was something my husband, Meghnad and I had discussed as a book we would do one day, together, as we are both very interested in Indian cinema. And, after we met Sunil Dutt, we even started planning it. However, very soon after, Meghnad became busy in the UK Parliament, and I ended up doing the research and writing the whole book by myself! The trilogy of novels featuring the social worker cum detective Simran Singh, on the other hand, was something I had wanted to write for a long time. Especially the first book, Witness the Night. It evolved out of a chance meeting with a woman who told me how she had survived an attempt by her family to kill her as a new-born baby. As a journalist I had written about female foeticide–but this woman’s story was so moving I wanted to make it into a film. At that time I was working in TV. So after writing Darlingji, I sat down to write a film outline for Witness the Night–and it grew and grew into a book. And then my publisher liked Simran Singh so much I was asked to write a second and a third.    

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