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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.

Nayantara Sahgal
Nayantara Sahagal,Indian writer in English language,India.jpg
Born (1927-05-10) 10 May 1927 (age 92)
Allahabad, United Provinces, British India
Alma materWellesley College
Period20th century
GenrePolitics, feminism
ChildrenNonika Sahgal, Ranjit Sahgal, Gita Sahgal
RelativesVijaya Lakshmi Pandit (mother)
Jawaharlal Nehru (uncle)
Indira Gandhi (cousin)

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 lifeEdit

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. 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.[2]

Sahgal's mother, Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, was the daughter of Motilal Nehru and sister of India's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. Vijayalakshmi 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.[3] 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[where?] with Frida Kahlo (centre) in Mexico City (1947)[4]

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).[5]

Marriage and careerEdit

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.[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 a scathing, insightful account of Gandhi's rise to power.[8][9][10]

Nayantara Sahgal had three children. Her older children are Nonika Sahgal who worked in several jobs including in Air India and the World Wildlife Fund, and as a free-lance editor, Ranjit Sahgal who worked for Novartis in the US and Europe, retired in India and died in 2014. 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]


  • 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 Sahgal and E.N.Mangat Rai;1994)[14][15]
  • Before freedom: Nehru's letters to his sister 1909-1947 (edited by Nayantara Sahgal)
  • The Fate of Butterflies (novella; 2019)

See alsoEdit

Further readingEdit

  • Ritu Menon, "Out of line: A literary and political biography of Nayantara Sahgal. 2014".[16][17]
  • 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. ^ "Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit", Wikipedia, 13 May 2019, retrieved 25 May 2019
  3. ^ 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
  4. ^ Prashad, Vijay. "Flashback: How Mexican artist Frida Kahlo came to be photographed in a sari". Retrieved 24 November 2017.
  5. ^ "At home in Dehradun". Retrieved 25 May 2019. External link in |website= (help)
  6. ^ Choudhury, Sonya Dutta (2 November 2014). "Snippets from a rich life". The Hindu. ISSN 0971-751X. Retrieved 25 May 2019.
  7. ^ "Nayantara Sahgal | Jaipur Literature Festival". 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. ^ Retrieved 25 May 2019. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  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. ^ Alok Rai (30 June 1994). "Lost labour". India Today. Retrieved 4 March 2015.
  15. ^ Nayantara Sahgal, E.N.Mangat Rai. Relationship. Harper Collins. p. 336. ISBN 9788172236823.
  16. ^ SONYA DUTTA CHOUDHURY (2 November 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.
  17. ^ Vivek Menezes. "Book Review "Out Of Line"". Live mint. Retrieved 4 March 2015.