Nayantara Sahgal

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Nayantara Sahgal
Born (1927-05-10) 10 May 1927 (age 87)
Occupation Writer
Nationality Indian
Period 20th century


Nayantara Sahgal (born 10 May 1927) is an Indian writer in English. Her fiction deals with India's elite responding to the crises engendered by political change; she was one of the first female Indian writers in English to receive wide recognition. She is a member of the Nehru family (but not the Nehru-Gandhi family as she clarifies often), the second of the three daughters born to Jawaharlal Nehru's sister, Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit.

She was awarded the 1986 Sahitya Akademi Award for English, for her novel, Rich Like Us (1985), by the Sahitya Akademi, India's National Academy of Letters.[1]

Early life[edit]

Her father Ranjit Sitaram Pandit, was a successful barrister from Kathiawad and classical scholar who translated Kalhana's epic history Rajatarangini into English from Sanskrit. He was arrested for his support of Indian independence and died in Lucknow prison jail in 1944, leaving behind his wife and their three daughters Chandralekha Mehta, Nayantara Sehgal and Rita Dar.

Nayantara Sahgal speaking at the launch of Mistaken Identity by HarperPerennial in Delhi, November 2007

Sahgal attended a number of schools as a girl, given the turmoil in the Nehru family during the last years (1935–47) of the Indian freedom struggle. Her father died in prison in 1944 when Nayantara and her sister Chandralekha were overseas attending college. Her uncle Jawaharlal Nehru too was in and out of prison, as a political prisoner, in the 1930s and 1940s. Ultimately, she graduated from Woodstock School in the Himalayan hill station of Landour in 1943 and later from Wellesley College (BA, 1947), which she attended along with her sister Chandralekha, who graduated 2 years earlier in 1945. She has made her home for decades in Dehradun, a town close to Landour where she had been in boarding school (at Woodstock).

Marriage and career[edit]

Sahgal has been married twice, first to Gautam Sehgal and later to E.N. Mangat Rai, a Punjabi Christian who was an Indian Civil Service officer. Rai died aged 87 in 2003 in Dehradun, where Nayantara and he had lived for several decades, in the house once owned by her mother. Though part of the Nehru family, Sahgal developed a reputation for maintaining her independent critical sense. Her independent tone, and her mother's, led to both falling out with her cousin Indira Gandhi during the most autocratic phases of Mrs. Gandhi's time in office in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s. Indira Gandhi cancelled Sahgal's scheduled appointment as India's Ambassador to Italy within days of her return to power. Not one to be intimidated, Sahgal in 1982 wrote a scathing, insightful account of Gandhi's rise to power.[2][3][4][5]

Gita Sahgal, the writer and journalist on issues of feminism, fundamentalism, and racism, director of prize-winning documentary films, and human rights activist, is her daughter.


  • Prison and Chocolate Cake (memoir; 1954)
  • From Fear Set Free (novel; 1963)
  • A Time to Be Happy (novel; 1963)
  • This Time of Morning (novel; 1965)
  • Storm in Chandigarh (novel; 1969)
  • The Freedom Movement in India (1970)
  • Sunlight Surrounds You (novel; 1970) (with Chandralekha Mehta and Rita Dar i.e. her two sisters; this was the daughters' tribute to their mother)
  • The Day in Shadow (novel; 1971)
  • A Voice for Freedom (1977)
  • Indira Gandhi's Emergence and Style (1978)
  • Indira Gandhi: Her Road to Power (novel; 1982)
  • Plans for Departure (novel; 1985)
  • Rich Like Us (novel; 1985)
  • Mistaken Identity (novel; 1988)
  • A Situation in New Delhi (novel; 1989)
  • Lesser Breeds (novel; 2003)

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

Asha Choubey, The Fictional Milieu of Nayantara Sahgal: A Feminist Perspective. New Delhi: Classical. 2002. Asha Choubey, "A Champion's Cause: A Feminist Study of Nayantara Sahgal's Fiction with Special Reference to Her Last Three Novels".