Pico Iyer

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Pico Iyer
Pico Iyer 2.08.12 (6847745503).jpg
Born Siddharth Pico Raghavan Iyer[1]
(1957-02-11) 11 February 1957 (age 58)[2]
Oxford, England
Occupation Essayist, novelist
Genre Non-fiction/fiction
Notable awards Guggenheim Fellowship, 2005
Relatives Raghavan N. Iyer (father, deceased)
Nandini Iyer (mother)
Hiroko Takeuchi (wife)

Siddharth Pico Raghavan Iyer (born 11 February 1957), known as Pico Iyer, is a British-born essayist and novelist of Indian origin. He is the author of numerous books on crossing cultures including Video Night in Kathmandu, The Lady and the Monk and The Global Soul. An essayist for Time since 1986, he also publishes regularly in Harper's, The New York Review of Books, The New York Times, and many other publications.

Early life and background[edit]

Iyer was born Siddharth Pico Raghavan Iyer in Oxford, England, the son of Indian parents. His father was Raghavan N. Iyer, an Oxford philosopher and political theorist,[1][3] and his mother the religious scholar Nandini Nanak Mehta.[1] Both his parents are academics who grew up in India, thereafter went to England for college education and stayed there.[4] His unusual name is a combination of the Buddha's name, Siddhartha, that of the Florentine neo-Platonist Pico della Mirandola and his father's name. When he was seven, in 1964, his father, who taught philosophy at Oxford, started working with Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions, a California-based think tank, thus the family also moved to California, as his father started teaching at University of California, Santa Barbara (1965-1986).[4][5][6] Thus for more than a decade he moved back and forth several times a year between schools and college in England and his parents' home in California. He won academic scholarships to Eton, Oxford University and Harvard — graduating with a Congratulatory Double First at Oxford, with the highest marks in the university.[7][better source needed]


He taught writing and literature at Harvard before joining Time in 1982 as a writer on world affairs. Since then he has traveled widely, from North Korea to Easter Island, and from Paraguay to Ethiopia, while writing eight works of non-fiction and two novels, including Video Night in Kathmandu, The Lady and the Monk, The Global Soul and The Man Within My Head. He is also a frequent speaker at literary festivals and universities around the world (ref PenguinRandomHouseSpeakersBureau website ref), who delivered popular TED talks in 2013 and 2014 (ref ted.com ref) and has twice been a Fellow at the World Economic Forum in Davos. (ref Penguin Random House Speakers webite ref). He appeared in a commercial for "Incredible India" in 2007 (red youtube ref).

Personal life[edit]

He has been based in Japan since 1992,[8] where he lives with his Japanese wife, Hiroko Takeuchi,[2][9] the "Lady" of his second book, and her two children from an earlier marriage.

Asked if he feels rooted and accepted as a foreigner (regarding his current life in Japan) Iyer replies:

"Japan is therefore an ideal place because I never will be a true citizen here, and will always be an outsider, however long I live here and however well I speak the language. And the society around me is as comfortable with that as I am… I am not rooted in a place, I think, so much as in certain values and affiliations and friendships that I carry everywhere I go; my home is both invisible and portable. But I would gladly stay in this physical location for the rest of my life, and there is nothing in life that I want that it doesn’t have."[10]


Having grown up a part of — and apart from — English, American and Indian cultures, he became one of the first writers to take the international airport itself as his subject, along with the associated jet lag, displacement and cultural minglings. He writes often of his delight in living between the cracks and outside fixed categories. Most of his books have been about trying to see from within some society or way of life — revolutionary Cuba, Sufism, Buddhist Kyoto, even global disorientation — but from the larger perspective an outsider can sometimes bring. "I am simply a fairly typical product of a movable sensibility," he wrote in 1993 in Harper's, "living and working in a world that is itself increasingly small and increasingly mongrel. I am a multinational soul on a multinational globe on which more and more countries are as polyglot and restless as airports. Taking planes seems as natural to me as picking up the phone or going to school; I fold up my self and carry it around as if it were an overnight bag."[11]

Video Night in Kathmandu And Other Reports from the Not-So-Far East

Iyer has written numerous pieces on world affairs for Time, including 10 cover stories, and the "Woman of the Year" story on Corazon Aquino in 1986.[12][13] He has written on literature for The New York Review of Books; on globalism for Harper's; on travel for the Financial Times; and on many other themes for The New York Times, National Geographic, The Times Literary Supplement, contributing up to a hundred articles a year to various publications.[14] He has contributed liner-notes for four Leonard Cohen albums. His books have appeared in languages such as Turkish, Russian, and Indonesian, and he has written introductions to more than 40 books, including works by Somerset Maugham, Graham Greene, Michael Ondaatje, Peter Matthiessen, and Isamu Noguchi.[15] He also writes regularly on sport, film, and religion — and especially on the places where mysticism and globalism converge.

He has appeared seven times in the annual Best Spiritual Writing anthology,[16] and three times in the annual Best American Travel Writing anthology,[17] and has served as guest-editor for both.[18] He has also appeared in the Best American Essays anthology.[19]

Iyer's writing goes back and forth between the monastery and the airport — "Thomas Merton on a frequent flier pass," as the Indian writer Pradeep Sebastian has written[20] — and aims, perhaps, to bring new global energies and possibilities into non-fiction. The Utne Reader named him in 1995 as one of 100 Visionaries worldwide who could change your life,[21] while the New Yorker observed that "As a guide to far-flung places, Pico Iyer can hardly be surpassed."[22]



Selected introductions[edit]


  1. ^ a b c University of California: In Memoriam, Raghavan Iyer, 1995
  2. ^ a b Mark Medley (13/02/12 accessdate = 2013-09-27). "Being Greene: Pico Iyer evokes his ‘literary father’ in The Man Within My Head". National Post.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  3. ^ Rukun Advani, "Mahatma for Sale", The Hindu, 27 April 2003
  4. ^ a b "Pico Iyer: On Travel and Travel Writing". World Hum. No 30, 2006. Retrieved 2013-09-27.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  5. ^ Tam Dalyell (10 July 1995). "OBITUARY:Raghavan Iyer". The Independent (London). Retrieved 27 September 2013. 
  6. ^ Saxon, Wolfgang (24 June 1995). "Raghavan Narasimhan Iyer, 65, An Expert on East-West Cultures". The New York Times. 
  7. ^ [see official bio from Alfred A. Knopf publishers, or program for Dalai Lama appearance at New York Town Hall, May 2009]
  8. ^ "About Pico Iyer". Pico Iyer Journeys. Retrieved 2013-09-27. 
  9. ^ Iyer 2008, pg. 274
  10. ^ Brenner, Angie; "Global Writer, Heart & Soul - Interview with Pico Iyer", Wild River Review, November 19, 2007.
  11. ^ April 1993 issue of Harper's.
  12. ^ List of articles in Time
  13. ^ Pico Iyer (1987-01-05). "Corazon Aquino". Time Magazine. Retrieved 2008-03-26. 
  14. ^ program for Dalai Lama appearance at New York Town Hall, May 2009
  15. ^ Full listing at picoiyerjourneys.com - about
  16. ^ volumes for 1999, 2000, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012
  17. ^ volumes for 2001, 2006, 2012
  18. ^ Best American Travel Writing 2004; Best Spiritual Writing 2010
  19. ^ 2011 edition
  20. ^ The Hindu, 7 November 2006.
  21. ^ Utne Reader, January/February 1995.
  22. ^ The New Yorker, May 1997 issue on Indian writing, "Briefly Noted".[page needed]

External links[edit]