Anita Desai FRSL, born Anita Mazumdar (born 24 June 1937), is an Indian novelist and the Emerita John E. Burchard Professor of Humanities at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.[1] As a writer she has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize three times.[2][3] She received a Sahitya Akademi Award in 1978 for her novel Fire on the Mountain, from the Sahitya Akademi, India's National Academy of Letters.[4] She won the British Guardian Prize for The Village by the Sea (1983).[5] Her other works include The Peacock, Voices in the City, Fire on the Mountain and an anthology of short stories, Games at Twilight. She is on the advisory board of the Lalit Kala Akademi and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, London.[6]

Anita Desai

BornAnita Mazumdar
(1937-06-24) 24 June 1937 (age 86)
Mussoorie, Princely State of Tehri Garhwal, British India (present-day Uttarakhand, India)
OccupationWriter, professor
Alma materUniversity of Delhi
Notable worksIn Custody; Baumgartner's Bombay
SpouseAshvin Desai
Children4, including Kiran Desai

Early life


Desai was born in 1937 in Mussoorie, India, to a German immigrant mother, Toni Nime, and a Bengali businessman, D. N. Mazumdar.[7][1] Her Bengali father first met her German mother while he was an engineering student in pre-war Berlin; and they got married during a period when it was still unusual for an Indian man to marry a European woman. Shortly after their marriage, they moved to New Delhi, where Desai was raised with her two elder sisters and brother.[8][9]

She grew up speaking Hindi with her neighbours, and only German at her home. She also spoke Bengali, Urdu and English out of her house. She first learned to read and write in English at school and as a result, English became her "literary language". She began to write in English at the age of seven and published her first story at the age of nine.[7]

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.[10][11]

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.[12][7] 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.[5]



Desai published her first novel, Cry The Peacock, in 1963. In 1958 she collaborated with P. Lal and founded the publishing firm Writers Workshop. 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 neighborhood in which she grew up.[13]

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.[14]

The 1999 Booker Prize finalist novel Fasting, Feasting increased her popularity. 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.[15]

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).[16]



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. It won the 1994 President of India Gold Medal for Best Picture and stars Shashi Kapoor, Shabana Azmi and Om Puri.[17]






  • Cry, The Peacock (1963)[1] Orient Paperbacks ISBN 978-81-222008-5-0
  • Voices in the City (1965), Orient Paperbacks, ISBN 978-81-222005-3-9
  • Bye-bye Blackbird (1971), Orient Paperbacks, ISBN 978-81-222002-9-4
  • Where Shall We Go This Summer? (1975), Orient Paperbacks, ISBN 978-81-222008-8-1
  • Fire on the Mountain (1977), Random House India, ISBN 978-81-840005-7-3
  • Clear Light of Day (1980), Random House India, ISBN 978-81-840001-5-3
  • In Custody (1984)[19]
  • Baumgartner's Bombay (1988), Harper Perennial, ISBN 978-0618056804
  • Journey to Ithaca (1995), Random House India, ISBN 978-81-840007-7-1
  • Fasting, Feasting (1999), Random House India, ISBN 978-81-840005-8-0
  • The Zigzag Way (2004), Random House India, ISBN 978-81-840007-6-4

Collections of novellas and short stories


Children's books


See also



  1. ^ a b c d "Anita Desai- she also has a cousin named Josefina Wickham, that was born in 2005. Biography". British Council. Chatto & Windus. Retrieved 29 April 2018.
  2. ^ Sethi, Sunil (15 November 1984). "Book review: Anita Desai's 'In Custody'". India Today. Retrieved 1 December 2021.
  3. ^ a b c d "Booker prize winners, shortlists and judges". The Guardian. 10 October 2008. Retrieved 5 October 2021.
  4. ^ "Sahitya Akademi Award – English (Official listings)". Sahitya Akademi. Archived from the original on 31 March 2009.
  5. ^ a b c "Guardian children's fiction prize relaunched: Entry details and list of past winners",, 12 March 2001; retrieved 5 August 2012.
  6. ^ Sethi, Sunil (30 November 2013). "Clear Light of Day is about time as a destroyer, as a preserver: Anita Desai". India Today. Retrieved 1 December 2021.
  7. ^ a b c Liukkonen, Petri. "Anita Desai". Books and Writers. Finland: Kuusankoski Public Library. Archived from the original on 14 October 2004.
  8. ^ "Revisiting Anita Desai". Retrieved 21 November 2020.
  9. ^ Guardian Staff (19 June 1999). "A passage from India". The Guardian. Retrieved 21 November 2020.
  10. ^ "After Anita, Kiran; Ashvin Desai goes the write way". News18. Retrieved 1 December 2020.
  11. ^ "Author Ashvin Desai loses war with cancer". Zee News. 12 October 2008. Retrieved 1 December 2020.
  12. ^ Dr. Kajal Thakur (12 May 2015). Man-Woman Bonding In Socio-Cultural Indian Concept. pp. 9–. ISBN 978-1-329-13103-3.[self-published source]
  13. ^ Elizabeth Ostberg. "Notes on the Biography of Anita Desani" Archived 20 January 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  14. ^ "". Archived from the original on 6 October 2006. Retrieved 27 December 2006. [page needed]
  15. ^ "A Page in the Life: Anita Desai". 26 June 2012. Archived from the original on 12 January 2022. Retrieved 24 March 2018.
  16. ^ Baumgartner's Bombay, Penguin, 1989.
  17. ^ "'Shayari koi mardon ki jaageer nahi': Shabana Azmi gets nostalgic as cult film In Custody completes 25 years". The Statesman. 16 April 2019. Retrieved 1 December 2020.
  18. ^ "Conferment of Sahitya Akademi Fellowship". Official listings, Sahitya Akademi website. Archived from the original on 1 July 2017. Retrieved 15 January 2014.
  19. ^ "In Custody by Anita Desai". Purple Pencil Project. 25 May 2020. Retrieved 9 June 2020.


  • 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.