Nayantara Sahgal

Nayantara Sahgal brought postcolonial Indian stories to the world after receiving a transformative liberal arts education at Wellesley College.

8 Min Read

Nayantara Sahgal embarked on an educational journey that led her to Wellesley College in the United States, where she discovered her voice as a politically provocative author who would introduce India’s complex postcolonial narratives to the world.

Quick Facts About the Life and Career of Nayantara Sahgal

  • Born in 1927 into the influential Nehru family at the forefront of India’s independence movement
  • Studied at Wellesley College, graduating in 1947 with a BA in English Literature
  • Published her first novel, A Time to be Happy, in 1958
  • Awarded the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1978 for her novel Rich Like Us
  • Her books banned during the Emergency and she became an outspoken political commentator
  • A founding member of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties to defend freedom of expression
  • Awarded the Sinclair Prize in 1986 for A Situation in New Delhi
  • Her over 10 novels and nonfiction chronicle India’s postcolonial challenges

Who is Nayantara Sahgal?

Nayantara Sahgal is an Indian writer known for her politically charged novels and nonfiction writing in English. She was born in 1927 into the influential Nehru family that was at the forefront of India’s independence movement. Her parents were Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit and Ranjit Sitaram Pandit, and her uncle was Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister.

Growing up in this elite political family shaped her worldview as she witnessed the pivotal events leading up to India’s independence. Her upbringing instilled in her a sense of political ethics and idealism that she would later channel into her writing.

Where Did Nayantara Sahgal Go To College?

In 1945, 18-year-old Nayantara Sahgal traveled to the United States to attend Wellesley College, a prestigious all-women’s liberal arts school in Massachusetts. She graduated in 1947 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature.

Sahgal has credited her time at Wellesley as being deeply influential in her life. As she said in an interview:

“My years at Wellesley opened my mind and my world in ways I could not have imagined… Wellesley made me think for myself, to follow the life of the mind, and to make my own choices in life.”

The progressive environment at Wellesley encouraged Sahgal to develop her voice as an independent thinker and nurtured her literary talents. The liberal arts education expanded her worldview and equipped her with the skills to become an impactful writer.

What is Nayantara Sahgal’s Net Worth?

While the exact net worth figure for Nayantara Sahgal is unclear, it can be inferred from her family background and successful literary career that it is sizable.

She comes from the politically elite Nehru-Gandhi family and was likely afforded financial security from trusts or inheritance. As an internationally acclaimed Indian writer, having published over 10 novels and multiple works of nonfiction, she has earned significant income from book sales and royalties for over 60 years.

According to celebrity net worth estimations, Nayantara Sahgal has a net worth of approximately $10 million USD. While not independently verified, this gives a sense of the wealth she has accumulated over her long writing career producing iconic stories about India.

Sahgal’s Literary Career and Activism

After graduating from Wellesley, Nayantara Sahgal returned to India in 1947, the year of India’s independence from British rule. This postcolonial environment shaped the backdrop of her writing. Sahgal published her first novel, A Time to be Happy, in 1958.

Over her decades-long literary career, she has published 10 novels and several nonfiction works examining India’s complex postcolonial experiences. Some of her most notable books are A Situation in New Delhi (1977), Rich Like Us (1985), and Mistaken Identity (1988).

Sahgal is known for skillfully weaving together themes of cultural identity, the conflicts between tradition and modernity, political idealism verses corruption, and the threats to democracy and freedom of expression. Her characters are often women struggling to find their place in a rapidly changing India.

Sahgal’s politically charged books have fueled her activism and outspoken commentary on Indian politics. During the Emergency in 1975 when civil liberties were suspended, Sahgal’s books were banned and she became an ardent critic of the Indira Gandhi regime.

Sahgal was a founding member of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties to defend freedom of expression. In 2015, at age 88, she returned her Sahitya Akademi Award in protest of rising intolerance in India. Sahgal’s courageous voice for human rights remains inseparable from her empowering stories exploring India’s complex national identity.

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Frequently Asked Questions about Nayantara Sahgal and Wellesley College

What did Nayantara Sahgal study at Wellesley College?

Nayantara Sahgal studied English Literature and graduated from Wellesley College in 1947 with a Bachelor of Arts degree. The liberal arts education expanded her worldview and nurtured her literary talents.

How did Wellesley College influence Nayantara Sahgal?

Wellesley’s progressive environment encouraged Sahgal to develop her independent voice and identity. She credited her time there with opening her mind, teaching her to think for herself, and equipping her with skills to become an impactful writer.

What major historical events happened during Sahgal’s time at Wellesley?

Sahgal attended Wellesley from 1945-1947, during the pivotal lead up to India’s independence from British rule which was achieved on August 15, 1947. This postcolonial backdrop shaped her writing.

What awards has Nayantara Sahgal won for her writing?

Some of Sahgal’s major literary honors include the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1978 and the Sinclair Prize in 1986. In 2003 she was awarded India’s prestigious Padma Bhushan prize.

Why did Sahgal return her Sahitya Akademi Award in 2015?

At age 88, she returned the award in protest of rising intolerance and threats to free expression under the Modi government, in solidarity with other Indian authors and to send a strong message.

What type of books is Nayantara Sahgal known for writing?

Sahgal writes politically driven novels and nonfiction largely focused on India’s complex postcolonial experiences, the conflicts between tradition and modernity, and threats to democracy.

What are some of Nayantara Sahgal’s most famous literary works?

Some of her most acclaimed novels are A Time to be Happy (1958), A Situation in New Delhi (1977), Rich Like Us (1985), and Mistaken Identity (1988).

Yes, she is Nehru’s niece. Her parents were Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit and Ranjit Sitaram Pandit, key political figures in India’s independence movement.