Nayantara Sahgal is an Indian personality, widely known as the finest writer in the English language. She has also worked as a journalist and political commentator. Her essays and novels (both fiction and non-fiction) are evidence of her personal, political and literary life. She is a member of the illustrious political family, Nehru.
Nayantara Sahgal was born on Tuesday, 10 May 1927 (age 95 years; as of 2022) in Pryagraj. 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 the ideas about India’s independence from many political leaders around her as it was the period when people fought for their freedom. Nayantara Sahgal’s political views became stronger and in the shape of the ideas of the Nehru family.
Nayantara Sahgal in her youth
Hair Colour: Brown (Dyed)
Eye Colour: Brown
Nayantara Sahgal with the Indian novelist, Kiran Nagarkar
Nayantara Sahgal belongs to the fourth generation of the Nehru family.
Nayantara’s Family Tree
Group photo of Nehru Family, 1927
A picture from the time when Motilal Nehru visited England to meet his son, Jawaharlal Nehru, who was studying at Cambridge. From left – Krishna Kumari, Swarup Rani (Vijay Lakshmi), Motilal Nehru, Sarup Kumari (Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit), Jawaharlal Nehru
Parents & Siblings
Nayantara Sahgal’s family includes her mother, Vijayalakshmi Pandit, the first Indian woman to hold a cabinet post and an Ambassador to United Nations, father Ranjit Sitaram Pandit, who was an Indian politician, barrister and scholar from Rajkot, British India, and two sisters, namely Chandralekha Mehta and Rita Dar. After the demise of her father in 1944 during his fourth imprisonment under British rule , she considered Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru as a father figure.
Picture of Nayantara Sahgal’s mother, Vijay Lakshmi Pandit
Nayantara Sahgal’s mother, Vijay Lakshmi Pandit with her brother, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru
Ranjit Sitaram Pandit – Nayantara Sahgal’s father
A photo of Farida Kahlo (centre), Nayantara Sahgal (right), and Nayantara’s sister, Rita Dar (left)
Husband & Children
In 1949, at the age of 22, Nayantara Sahgal got married to Gautam Sahgal, a pharmaceuticals executive with whom she has three children namely Ranjit, Nonika Sahgal, and Gita Sahgal , a writer and journalist, whose work focuses on the issues of fundamentalism, feminism, and racism. She is the director and a social activist as well. 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 their ways.
Photo of Nayantara Sahgal with Gautam Sahgal
Gita Sahgal – Nayantara Sahgal’s daughter
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 Sahgal tied knots in 1979.
Picture of Nayantara Sahgal and Mangat Rai
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 history, Nayantara Sahgal decided to write her views reflecting the political affairs and their impact on society.
Nayantara Sahgal at work
Nayantara Sahgal is well-known for her bravery in being honest in all of her works. She has written several books as her great work. 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 great 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.
Nayantara Sahgal’s ‘Prison & Chocolate Cake’
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.
Sahgal’s Sinclair Prize and Sahitya Akademi Award winner ‘Rich Like Us’
Nayantara Sahgal has worked as a political columnist in the country. She has served 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 a love story and mystery.
Nayantara Sahgal’s ‘Plan for Departure’
- 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 fictional 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 Japanese 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 to inform public policy.
- She was the Fellow of the National Humanities Center from 1983-1984.
- A biography of Nayantara Sahgal has been written by Ritu Menon in the book titled ‘Out of Line’ which unfolds every chapter of Sahgal’s life.
The cover page of Ritu Menon’s ‘Out of Line’ – A literary and political biography of Nayantara Sahgal
- 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.
Nehru’s Letters To His Sister 1909-1947, edited by Nayantara Sahgal
- Nayantara Sahgal mentions herself as the daughter of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru as she considers him a father figure.
Nayantara Sahgal and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru