Narayan Desai, son of Mahatma Gandhi's personal secretary and biographer Mahadev Desai, was born on December 24, 1924, in Bulsar, Gujarat. Brought up in Gandhi's Ashram in Sabarmati, Ahmedabad and Sevagram near Wardha, Narayan stopped attending school to be educated and trained by his father and other residents of the Ashram. He specialized in basic education, spinning and weaving khadi.
After his marriage to Uttara Chaudhury, daughter of freedom fighter parents, Nabakrushna Chaudhury and Malatidevi Chaudhury, the young couple moved to Vedchhi, a tribal village 60 km from Surat in Gujarat, to work as teachers in a Nai Taleem school. Following the Bhoodan (land gift) movement launched by Vinoba Bhave, Narayan traversed through the length and breadth of Gujarat, by foot, collecting land from the rich and distributing the same among the poor landless villagers. He started the mouthpiece of Bhoodan movement, titled Bhoomiputra (Son of the Soil) and remained its editor till 1959.
Narayan joined the Akhil Bharatiya Shanti Sena Mandal (Indian Peace Brigade), founded by Vinoba and headed by veteran socialist leader Jayaprakash Narayan (widely known as "JP"). As the general secretary of the Shanti Sena, Narayan recruited and trained peace volunteers throughout the country who intervened during ethnic conflicts and helped establish harmony among conflicting communities.
Narayan was involved in the setting up of Peace Brigades International and was elected as the chairman of the War Resisters' International. He along with a Pakistani peace group were awarded the UNESCO prize for International Peace.
Narayan was active in the campaign against the imposition of emergency in India and brought out a magazine defying the censorship laws. As a close associate of JP, Narayan played an important role in helping the newly formed Janata Party, a conglomeration of major non-Congress political parties in India, arrive at a consensus on the name of Morarji Desai as the Prime Minister.
Following JP's death, Narayan moved to Vedchhi and set up the Institute for Total Revolution. The Institute imparts training in non-violence and Gandhian way of life. Narayan, as a way of paying tribute to his father, Mahadev Desai, wrote a four-volume biography of Gandhi in Gujarati, a dream his father could not fulfil in his lifetime because of his sudden death in prison on 15 August 1942.
Narayan was accorded the Sahitya Akademi Award for Gujarati in 1993 for the biography of his father Mahadev Desai he wrote as part of the centenary celebrations of Gandhi's close aide. Earlier, Narayan's book about his childhood reminiscences of Gandhi too had won the Sahitya Academy Award.
He was awarded the Jamnalal Bajaj Award in 1999  and the UNESCO-Madanjeet Singh Prize for the Promotion of Tolerance and Non-Violence in 1998 "for his tireless work in favour of the promotion ofinter-religious and inter-ethnic understanding, tolerance and harmony and his achievements in the education and training for non-violence and peace, as well as anti-nuclear activism."
He also received Ranjitram Suvarna Chandrak, the highest award of Gujarati literature, in 2001.
Desai won the 18th Moortidevi Award for the year 2004, given by Bharatiya Jnanpith, for his famous work ‘Maroon Jeewan Aj Mari Vaani’, which is based upon the life, philosophy and work of Mahatma Gandhi.
- Pandiri, Ananda M. A Comprehensive, Annotated Bibliography on Mahatma Gandhi. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1995. 35.
- Hardiman, David. Gandhi in His Times and Ours: The Global Legacy of His Ideas. New York: Columbia UP, 2003. 192.
- "Jamnalal Bajaj Awards Archive". Jamnalal Bajaj Foundation.
- "UNESCO-Madanjeet Singh Prize for the Promotion of Tolerance and Non-Violence (2009)". UNESCO. 2009.