Nayantara Sahgal

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Nayantara Sahgal
Born (1927-05-10) 10 May 1927 (age 88)
Allahabad, United Provinces of British India, British India
Occupation Writer
Nationality Indian
Period 20th century
Genre Politics, Feminism


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–Gandhi family, 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.

Sahgal's mother, Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, was a daughter of Motilal Nehru and a sister of India's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. After India achieved independence, Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit served as a member of India's Constituent Assembly, the governor of several Indian states, and as India's ambassador to the Soviet Union, the United States, Mexico, the Court of St. James, Ireland, and the United nations.

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. Ultimately, she graduated from Woodstock School in the Himalayan hill station of Landour in 1943 and later in the United States 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 attended boarding school (at Woodstock).

Marriage and career[edit]

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

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. Selected collection of letters exchanged between Nayantara Sahagal and Rai was published in the book "Relationship". When the book was published in the year 1994, it was received with varying degrees of shock and appreciation. The letters highlight one woman's endeavour to remain true to herself, her writing, her ideals and relationships, both outside and within marriage.

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 the latter's time in office in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s. 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]

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.

On 6 October 2015, Sahgal returned her Sahitya Akademi Award to protest what she called, "increasing intolerance and supporting right to dissent in the country", following the murders of rationalists Govind Pansare, Narendra Dabholkar and M. M. Kalburgi, and the Dadri mob lynching incident.[5]


  • Prison and Chocolate Cake (memoir; 1954)
  • From Fear Set Free (memoir; 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)
  • Relationship (collection of letters exchanged between Nayantara Sahagal and E.N.Mangat Rai;1994)[6][7]
  • Before Freedom: Nehru's Letters to His Sister 1909-1947 (edited by Nayantara Sahgal)

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Ritu Menon, "Out of line: A literary and political biography of Nayantara Sahgal. 2014".[8][9]
  • 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".


  1. ^ "Sahitya Akademi Awards listings". Sahitya Akademi, Official website. 
  2. ^ The South Asian Literary Recordings Project: Nayantara Sahgal, 1927–
  3. ^ A Champion's Cause : A Feminist Study of Nayantara Sahgal's Fiction with Special Reference to Her Last Three Novels
  4. ^ Nayantara Sahgal
  5. ^ Ramachandran, Smriti Kak; Raman, Anuradha (6 October 2015). "Nayantara Sahgal protests Dadri lynching, returns Akademi award". The Hindu. Retrieved 7 October 2015. 
  6. ^ Alok Rai (30 June 1994). "Lost labour". India today. Retrieved 4 March 2015. 
  7. ^ Nayantara Sahgal, E.N.Mangat Rai. Relationship. Harper Collins. p. 336. ISBN 9788172236823. 
  8. ^ SONYA DUTTA CHOUDHURY (November 2, 2014). "Snippets from a rich life". Review of the book "Out of line: A literary and political biography of Nayantara Sahgal". The Hindu. Retrieved 4 March 2015. 
  9. ^ Vivek Menezes. "Book Review "Out Of Line"". Live mint. Retrieved 4 March 2015.