Nayantara Sahgal is an Indian writer, who mostly writes in the English language. She has also worked as a journalist and political commentator. In most of her essays and novels (both fiction and non-fiction), Nayantara has used instances from her personal life. She is a member of an illustrious political family in India, the Nehru-Gandhi family.
Nayantara Sahgal was born on Tuesday, 10 May 1927 (age 96 years; as of 2023) in Allahabad, British India (now Prayagraj in India). Nayantara Sahgal went to a boarding school. She completed her graduation at Wellesley College, United States. Nayantara grew up in Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh with her first cousin, Indira Gandhi, former Prime Minister of India. She grew up hearing stories of freedom fighters who were trying for India’s independence from British rule. While growing up, Nayantara Sahgal’s political views were shaped by the ideologies of the Nehru-Gandhi family.
Hair Colour: Brown (dyed)
Eye Colour: Brown
Nayantara Sahgal belongs to the fourth generation of the Nehru-Gandhi family. In an interview, Nayantara said that she belongs to only the Nehru family.
Parents & Siblings
Nayantara Sahgal’s mother, Vijayalakshmi Pandit, was the first Indian woman to hold a cabinet post and an Ambassador to United Nations, and her father, Ranjit Sitaram Pandit, was an Indian politician, barrister, and scholar from Rajkot, British India. Nayantara has two sisters, Chandralekha Mehta and Rita Dar. After the demise of her father in 1944, during his fourth imprisonment under British rule , she started referring to Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru as a father figure.
Husband & Children
On 2 January 1949, at the age of 22, Nayantara Sahgal got married to GautamSahgal, a pharmaceuticals executive, with whom she has three children, Ranjit, Nonika Sahgal, and Gita Sahgal. Gita Sahgal is a writer and journalist, whose work focuses on the issues of fundamentalism, feminism, and racism. According to Nayantara Sahgal, after her marriage to Gautam Sahgal, she found it hard to settle as both of them came from different backgrounds. In 1967, the couple parted ways.
Reportedly, Nayantara Sahgal grew an inordinate love for an ICS Officer, E.N. Mangat Rai, with whom she exchanged over 6000 letters for over three years while she was still married to Gautam Sahgal. Many of those letters have been published in the book ‘Relationship,’ written by Nayantara Sahgal, which came out to be a voice for their private relationship for the first time in 1994. Nayantara Sahgal and E. N. Mangat Rai tied the knot in 1979.
Nayantara Sahgal follows Hinduism. In an interview, she shared her religious views as a citizen of a country with diversified religions. She said,
We refused a religious identity when we attained Independence because we’re a deeply religious country with many religions. My problem is with Hindutva because I’m a Hindu myself and it makes me sad that the Hindutva mentality has divided us into Hindus and others. Hindutva is a complete distortion of Hinduism.”
Nayantara Sahgal is an articulated writer. Growing among the freedom fighters and witnessing the political changes in the country, Nayantara Sahgal decided to write her views on the political affairs and their impact on society.
She has written several books. Nayantara Sahgal has also written various articles such as ‘Hands That Modelled The Clay, ‘Nehru’s Turning In His Grave,’ The Unending Struggle Of Memory Against Injustice, ‘A Foreboding, And A Longing For Something Soft And Pretty,’ ‘One Thousand Writers, One Flat World,’ etc.
Prison & Chocolate Cake (1954)
‘Prison and Chocolate’ is one of the popular books written by Nayantara Sahgal, published in 1954. It is a story that recounts her childhood. The story reflects the feeling of patriotism among the family members at that time as there was nothing more important than making India an independent country. This work of Nayantara Sahgal expressly shows her love for her maternal uncle, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, a man whom she admires and considers her father.
Rich Like Us (1985)
‘Rich Like Us’ is a fictional story that consists of a compilation of different chapters of India’s history and politics. It portrays the life of two female leading characters, Rose and Sonali, who stand up against political and social instability. This is the award-winning book of Nayantara Sahgal.
Nayantara Sahgal has worked as a political columnist in the country. She worked with Sunday Standard for nearly fourteen years.
In 2015, Nayantara Sahgal returned her Sahitya Akademi Award in protest against the killing of writers by a group of rebels. In an interview, she talked about this and said,
In memory of the Indians who have been murdered, in support of all Indians who uphold the right to dissent, and of all dissenters who now live in fear and uncertainty, I am returning my Sahitya Akademi Award.”
Awards, Honours, Achievements
- In 1987, she received the Commonwealth Writers Award (Eurasia) for one of her great works ‘Plans for Departure.’ This book is a fusion of love story and mystery.
- In 1985, her novel ‘Rich Like Us’ won the Sinclair Prize (Britain) for fiction.
- In 1986, she was awarded the Sahitya Akademi Award for her fiction novel ‘Rich Like Us.’
- In 1997, she was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the University of Leeds, the United Kingdom for Literature.
- In 2002, she received the Alumna Achievement Award from Wellesley College, United States.
- At the age of 17, Nayantara Sahgal was fond of Isamu Noguchi, the famous American sculptor.
- Nayantara Sahgal wrote against some of the policies introduced by her cousin Indira Gandhi, which affected their relationship.
- Nayantara Sahgal opposed the Emergency in India (1975-1977), declared by Indira Gandhi.
- She has been a Fellow of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, a quasi-government entity which conducts and promotes objective research about various public policies.
- She was the Fellow of the National Humanities Center from 1983-1984.
- A biography of Nayantara Sahgal titled ‘Out of Line’ has been written by Ritu Menon, a popular Indian feminist and writer; the book unfolds almost every chapter of Sahgal’s life.
- She has been a Vice President of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL).
- ‘Before Freedom: Nehru’s Letter to his Sister 1909 -1947,’ a book edited by Nayantara, consists of the edited and compiled letters, originally written by Nehru to his sister and Nayantara’s mother, Vijay Lakshmi Pandit, to whom he referred to as Nan.
- Nayantara Sahgal mentions herself as the daughter of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru as she considers him a father figure.