Anita Desai

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Anita Desai
Born Anita Mazumdar
(1937-06-24) 24 June 1937 (age 79)
Mussorie, Garhwal Kingdom (present-day India)
Occupation Writer, professor
Nationality Indian
Alma mater University of Delhi
Period 1963–present
Genre Fiction
Children Kiran Desai

Anita Desai (born 24 June 1937) is an Indian novelist and the Emerita John E. Burchard Professor of Humanities at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. As a writer she has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize three times; she received a Sahitya Akademy Award in 1978 for her novel Fire on the Mountain, from the Sahitya Akademy, India's National Academy of Letters;[1] she won the British Guardian Prize for The Village by the Sea.[2]

Early life[edit]

Anita Mazumdar was born in Jaipur, India, to a German mother, Toni Nime, and a Bengali businessman, D. N. Mazumdar.[3] She grew up speaking German at home and Bengali, Urdu, Hindi and English outside the house. However, she did not visit Germany until later in life as an adult. She first learned to read and write in English at school and as a result English became her "literary language".[4] She began to write in English at the age of seven and published her first story at the age of nine.[3]

She was a student at Queen Mary's Higher Secondary School in Delhi and received her B.A. in English literature in 1957 from the Miranda House of the University of Delhi. The following year she married Ashvin Desai, the director of a computer software company and author of the book Between Eternities: Ideas on Life and The Cosmos. They have four children, including Booker Prize-winning novelist Kiran Desai. Her children were taken to Thul (near Alibagh) for weekends, where Desai set her novel The Village by the Sea.[3] For that work she won the 1983 Guardian Children's Fiction Prize, a once-in-a-lifetime book award judged by a panel of British children's writers.[2]


Desai published her first novel, Cry The Peacock, in 1963. She considers Clear Light of Day (1980) her most autobiographical work as it is set during her coming of age and also in the same neighbourhood in which she grew up.[5] In 1984 she published In Custody – about an Urdu poet in his declining days – which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. In 1993 she became a creative writing teacher at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.[6] Her novel, The Zigzag Way, set in 20th-century Mexico, appeared in 2004 and her latest collection of short stories, The Artist of Disappearance was published in 2011.

Desai has taught at Mount Holyoke College, Baruch College and Smith College. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and of Girton College, Cambridge (to which she dedicated Baumgartner's Bombay).[7] In addition, she writes for the New York Review of Books.


In 1993, her novel In Custody was adapted by Merchant Ivory Productions into an English film by the same name, directed by Ismail Merchant, with a screenplay by Shahrukh Husain.[8] It won the 1994 President of India Gold Medal for Best Picture and stars Shashi Kapoor, Shabana Azmi and Om Puri.


Selected works[edit]

  • The Artist of Disappearance (2011)
  • The Zigzag Way (2004)
  • Diamond Dust and Other Stories (2000)
  • Fasting, Feasting (1999)
  • Journey to Ithaca (1995)
  • Baumgartner's Bombay (1988)
  • In Custody (1984)
  • The Village by the Sea (1982)
  • Clear Light of Day (1980)
  • Games at Twilight (1978)
  • Fire on the Mountain (1977)
  • Cat on a Houseboat (1976)
  • Where Shall We Go This Summer? (1975)
  • The Peacock Garden (1974)
  • Bye-bye Blackbird (1971)
  • Voices in the City (1965)
  • Cry, The Peacock (1963)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Sahitya Akademi Award – English (Official listings)". Sahitya Akademi. Archived from the original on 31 March 2009. 
  2. ^ a b c "Guardian children's fiction prize relaunched: Entry details and list of past winners". 12 March 2001. Retrieved 5 August 2012.
  3. ^ a b c Liukkonen, Petri. "Anita Desai". Books and Writers ( Finland: Kuusankoski Public Library. Archived from the original on 24 August 2014. 
  4. ^ ""A Brief Biography of Anita Desai"". Archived from the original on 5 July 2007. Retrieved 2007-07-05.  . Melissa Culross '92 (EL 34, 1991).
  5. ^ "Notes on the Biography of Anita Desai". Elizabeth Ostberg. 12 February 2000. Retrieved 21 June 2012.
  6. ^ [1].[page needed]
  7. ^ Baumgartner's Bombay, Penguin 1989.
  8. ^ Anita Desai at the Internet Movie Database
  9. ^ "Desai, Anita (1937–)". Retrieved 10 August 2010. [page needed]
  10. ^ "Conferment of Sahitya Akademi Fellowship". Official listings, Sahitya Akademi website. 


  • Abrams, M. H. and Stephen Greenblatt. "Anita Desai". The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Vol. 2C, 7th Edition. New York: W.W. Norton, 2000: 2768 – 2785.
  • Alter, Stephen and Wimal Dissanayake. "A Devoted Son by Anita Desai". The Penguin Book of Modern Indian Short Stories. New Delhi, Middlesex, New York: Penguin Books, 1991: 92–101.
  • Gupta, Indra. India's 50 Most Illustrious Women. (ISBN 81-88086-19-3)
  • Selvadurai, Shyam (ed.). "Anita Desai:Winterscape". Story-Wallah: A Celebration of South Asian Fiction. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2005:69–90.
  • Nawale, Arvind M. (ed.). "Anita Desai's Fiction: Themes and Techniques". New Delhi: B. R. Publishing Corporation, 2011.

External links[edit]