Monday, October 14, 2019

Damyanti Biswas & You Beneath Your Skin

Please welcome my good blogging buddy Damyanti Biswas to the blog today!


You Beneath Your Skin has been called a gritty novel, and Jemi is a romance writer--but we have found one common ground--Romance in a Gritty Setting!
Grit is sandy, gravelly, rough. Romance brings in images of softness. The two seem as different as-- well, to use a sad cliché-- chalk and cheese.
It is possible though to evoke romance in a grittier setting, and often, this works well to make the novel grittier still, and the romance more tender. If you show moments of tenderness, then those of violence, the harsher realities of being human are even more effectively seen in contrast.
There are two romantic relationships in You Beneath Your Skin:
Jatin-Anjali : Anjali is a conflicted Indian-American single mother of a teenaged boy with autism. She's a psychiatrist, also involved in a long standing-affair with Jatin Bhatt, a patriarchal, corrupt cop. Not much stereotypical romantic potential there, especially when you consider their ages: Jatin is 44, Anjali, 39.
Maya-Pawan: Pawan is a handsome young detective of 23, straight-laced and principled as they come, who admires Maya, his cute 27-year old boss who runs an investigative agency. Maya has a giant crush on Pawan--but all of this is complicated by the fact that Maya carries a secret. She has vitiligo, and wears covered clothing to hide the patches.
The setting is New Delhi—a burgeoning metropolis known more for its politics than romance—and my story is very real, it does not follow tropes of either crime, or romance, or romantic crime. It is a novel obsessed with the characters it portrays of which the city of New Delhi is one.
All in all, the novel does not sound like a typical home for romance, but here's how romance appears in my gritty crime novel, You Beneath Your Skin:
  1. A romance where each fills a lack in the other: In my mind, no matter what the story, if the reader comes to understand  characters, you have won the battle. In You beneath Your Skin,  Jatin stays in an unhappy marriage to save his career, because his father-in-law is also his boss. His affair with Anjali is a bid to escape his dreary existence. Anjali, on the other hand, stays in the affair despite her guilt because she's attracted to him, and because he is her way of escaping the rigors of her life--single motherhood to a special-needs son.
  2. A romance that grows as the story develops: Without giving much away, we can say that Jatin's love for Anjali deepens when they face crises together. A love that changes and strengthens is one that keeps the reader engaged.
  3. A romance sub-plot. A light sub-plot provides necessary relief from the darkness in a gritty crime story. In You BeneathYour Skin, that relief is provided by Pawan and Maya, and their nuanced, positive relationship throughout.
  4.  A romance in gritty settings needn't be a happily ever after. A traditional romance needs a happy ending but when you write romance into a grittier novel, a tragedy or an unrequited love keeps the reader guessing. 
  5. The relationship between the two main protagonists and their ups and down hold interest and provide narrative tension in places where the crime is in the background. When crime is in the foreground, the relationships in the background provide a certain wholeness—life continues, as does romance, in the harshest of settings and circumstances.
  6. Moments of  tenderness: Tender moments between the characters establish their traits and this is something that makes the ending come together when the novel reaches its climax. In You Beneath Your Skin, everything collides in the end and the effect is heightened because the romance was established beforehand--the reader  (hopefully) connects with the characters and wants to know their fate, romantic or otherwise.
  7. Poetry: Jatin is a lover of classical Urdu poetry, and of poets who are known as much for their philosophical take on life and loss, as they are for their couplets on love. This works throughout the novel to retain a sense of whimsy, of delicacy, of languor in a story that is a relentless barrage of events.

In You Beneath Your Skin, love and loss hold hands in my attempt to show Delhi and its denizens as they really are, through complex, conflicted characters. The romance in the novel makes it not just a crime story, but as well a story that is (hopefully), deeply and unapologetically human.

You Beneath Your Skin is a crime novel about the investigation of an acid attack on a woman from Delhi’s upper class, set against the backdrop of crimes against underprivileged women. They are assaulted, disfigured with acid, and murdered. 
While the framework is that of a thriller, the novel threads together different narrative strands. The author tackles various social issues: crimes against women and why they occur, the nexus between political corruption, police and big money; the abuse of the underprivileged, be it adults or children. 
Of these the issue of crimes against women is the strongest—why do men attack women? Why do they gang together? What happens when a woman tries to break the glass ceiling? Can toxic masculinity masquerade as benevolent patriarchy?
Parents would also find this novel fascinating: how do you bring up a good human being in today’s
troubled times? How much do you know of your teenager’s life? If you’re the parent of a special child, what challenges do you face and what sort of support can you expect?

It is a  whodunnit, but also a whydunnit, because violent crime unravels those affected: the people, the relationships, the very fabric of society, and we get a glimpse of what lies beneath. That’s why the title, You Beneath Your Skin.
The narrative of the book was researched and shaped during the author’s work with Project WHY, and some of the experiences generously shared by acid attack survivors from the non-profit Stop Acid Attacks. To return this debt of gratitude, all author proceeds from the book will go to these two non-profits.
Outside India: 

Net galley: 

Goodreads link:


Damyanti Biswas lives in Singapore, and works with Delhi's underprivileged children as part of
Project Why, a charity that promotes education and social enhancement in underprivileged communities. Her short stories have been published in magazines in the US, UK, and Asia, and she helps edit the Forge Literary Magazine. You can find her on her blog and twitter.

 All the author proceeds will go to Project WHY and Stop Acid Attacks.  
       Book links:        Outside India:


Thanks so much, Damyanti!

The book is indeed gritty and powerful and stays with you long after you turn the last page. The relationships between the characters is the reason the story pulled so hard at me, even when some of it was very difficult to read. The characters are people searching for better - and isn't that often what life is all about? If you haven't read You Beneath Your Skin yet, do yourself a favour and pick up a copy today!!

How about you? Do you like gritty stories that pull you in and don't let go? Does having those tender moments make the dark parts easier to read? Have you read You Beneath Your Skin yet?


  1. I think having softer parts of stories or engaging subplots really can help with darker fiction, for sure! Congratulations on the book, Damyanti!

  2. Congratulation on the book, Damyanti. The story sounds intriguing. I enjoy stories that have complex characters, especially the ones that don't seem like they should be together but find a way to make it work in the end and it is the best fit.

    1. I love seeing how characters make things work as well!

    2. Thanks so much, mason. My book certainly has complex characters, and connected in various ways to each other and the setting they belong to. This organically gives rise to conflict.

  3. Oh wow. Congratulations Damyanti. I am increasingly finding books that cross genres and refuse to blindly follow the rules much more to my taste. Most lives (mine included) do have a bit of dark, and hopefully some sweetness to lighten the load.

    1. Exactly - life isn't usually all dark or light - the mix is real life

    2. Thanks, life isn't all dark or all light. Genre is a marketing imposition--we need to write the stories that come to us.

  4. Congrats on your book, Damyanti! I love the setting as I met my late husband in India.

    1. I didn't know that! That's fascinating. I've never been to that region of the world

    2. Thanks, Natalie. Since you've been to India, this book might bring with it an entirely different flavour and perspective.

  5. I am so happy for Damyanti Biswas. Her book has so much in it, so much to offer.

    1. I agree - it's powerful and the proceeds are going to help a very worthy cause! :)

  6. Thanks so very much, Chrys and Jemi.

    Jemi I appreciate the opportunity to show up on your blog, and hope this post resonated.

    1. The post is great, Damyanti!
      Characters with flaws pull us in when they try to grow and stretch and learn. Just as yours do!