Nayantara Sahgal

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Nayantara Sahgal
Sahgal at a press meeting in 2016
Sahgal at a press meeting in 2016
Born (1927-05-10) 10 May 1927 (age 96)
Allahabad, United Provinces, British India
Alma materWellesley College
Period20th century
GenrePolitics, feminism
Notable awardsSahitya Akademi Award (1985)
Gautam Sahgal
(m. 1949; div. 1967)
(m. 1979; died 2003)
Children2, including Gita Sahgal
ParentsRanjit Sitaram Pandit (father)
Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit (mother)
RelativesJawaharlal Nehru (uncle)
Indira Gandhi (cousin)

Nayantara Sahgal (born 10 May 1927) is an Indian writer who writes in English. 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 her English novel Rich Like Us (1985).[1]

Early life[edit]

Sahgal's father Ranjit Sitaram Pandit was a barrister from Kathiawad. Pandit was also a classical scholar who had translated Kalhana's epic history Rajatarangini into English from Sanskrit. [citation needed] He was arrested for his support of Indian independence and died in Lucknow prison jail in 1944, leaving behind his wife (Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit) and their three daughters Chandralekha Mehta, Nayantara Sehgal and Rita Dar. [citation needed]

Sahgal's mother, Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, was the daughter of Motilal Nehru and sister of India's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. Vijaya Lakshmi had been active in the Indian freedom struggle, had been to jail for this cause and in 1946, was part of the first team representing newly formed India that went to the then newly formed United Nations, along with M.C.Chagla.[2] 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. [citation needed]

Sahgal (right) with Frida Kahlo (centre) in Mexico City (1947)[3]

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 Mussoorie 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 Mussoorie where she had attended boarding school (at Woodstock).[4]

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 Edward Nirmal Mangat Rai, a Punjabi Christian who was an Indian Civil Service officer.[5][6] Though part of the Nehru family, Sahgal developed a reputation for maintaining her independent critical sense.[7] 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 Indira Gandhi: Her Road to Power , a scathing, insightful account of Gandhi's rise to power.[8][9][10]

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.[11]

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;[12] for this she was praised in 2017 by Karima Bennoune, United Nations monitor for cultural rights.[13] In September 2018 she was elected as a Vice President of PEN International.[14]


  • Prison and Chocolate Cake (memoir; 1954)[15]
  • 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 Sahgal and E.N.Mangat Rai;1994)[16][17]
  • Before freedom: Nehru's letters to his sister 1909-1947 (edited by Nayantara Sahgal)
  • The Fate of Butterflies (novella; 2019)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Sahitya Akademi Awards listings". Sahitya Akademi, Official website. Archived from the original on 25 September 2010. Retrieved 2 March 2011.
  2. ^ Chagla, M.C. (1 January 1974). Roses in December - an autobiography (1 ed.). Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan., Tenth Edition, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 2000, ISBN 81-7276-203-8
  3. ^ Prashad, Vijay. "Flashback: How Mexican artist Frida Kahlo came to be photographed in a sari". Retrieved 24 November 2017.
  4. ^ Sahgal, Nayantara (13 October 2014). "At home in Dehradun: From Hindus to Muslims and Christians to Buddhists--revelling in the multi-cultural hues of the Doon Valley". Retrieved 24 December 2019.
  5. ^ Choudhury, Sonya Dutta (2 November 2014). "Snippets from a rich life". The Hindu. ISSN 0971-751X. Retrieved 25 May 2019.
  6. ^ Invitation card of the marriage ceremony of Km. Nayan Tara Pandit D/o Vijay Lakshmi Pandit from J.L. Nehru on 2nd Jan 1949 (in Hindi). New Delhi. 1949. Retrieved 12 September 2022 – via National Archives of India.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  7. ^ "Nayantara Sahgal | Jaipur Literature Festival". 17 September 2013. Retrieved 25 May 2019.
  8. ^ "Nayantara Sahgal -- English writer: The South Asian Literary Recordings Project". Library of Congress. Library of Congress New Delhi Office.
  9. ^ Choubey, Asha. "Food Metaphor. A Champion's Cause: A Feminist Study of Nayantara Sahgal's Fiction with Special Reference to Her Last Three Novels". Postcolonial Web.
  10. ^ "Bookshelf: Nayantara Sahgal". South Asian Women's NETwork. Archived from the original on 6 April 2016.
  11. ^ "Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit". Archived from the original on 22 December 2019. Retrieved 24 December 2019.
  12. ^ Ramachandran, Smriti Kak; Raman, Anuradha (6 October 2015). "Nayantara Sahgal protests Dadri lynching, returns Akademi award". The Hindu. Retrieved 7 October 2015.
  13. ^ "UN Body Praises Author Nayantara Sahgal For Returning Sahitya Akademi Award After Dadri Lynching". Outlook India. 26 October 2017. Retrieved 28 October 2017.
  14. ^ "The 84th PEN International Congress closes in India with a focus on free expression and women writers". 8 October 2018. Retrieved 4 September 2019.
  15. ^ Sage, Lorna; Greer, Germaine; Showalter, Elaine (30 September 1999). The Cambridge Guide to Women's Writing in English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 551. ISBN 0-521-49525-3.
  16. ^ Alok Rai (30 June 1994). "Lost labour". India Today. Retrieved 4 March 2015.
  17. ^ Nayantara Sahgal, E.N.Mangat Rai (25 August 2008). Relationship. Harper Collins. p. 336. ISBN 9788172236823.

Further reading[edit]

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