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Nayantara Sahgal

  • Race was a word that bred arrogance, danger and violence. When had incitement to race served a peaceful purpose? Race was a fuel and it needed only a match to light it. Any match — my hostility, your ambition, a third person's advantage.

  • [Race] had no substance, like a shadowy shape that terrifies in the dark but vanishes by the light of day.

  • ... choice in any sphere is a peril, the basic division of peoples is of those who believe in choice and those who mistrust it.

  • Americans had a passion ... for this year's model. ... Advertisements jumped out from the magazines, through radio and television. Daily life spun round on a commercial carousel. You brushed your teeth to its music in the morning, ate your lunch and dinner to it, and went to bed full of advertising. It was an instant civilization with everything immediately to hand, ready, replaceable, and eternally new.

  • ... passion of any sort is seldom governed by the rules of etiquette.

  • In India the human being is a symphonic theme. 'The people' is not a compact, close-knit concept, but a sprawling one, flowing not only into different walks of life, but into the intricately woven multi-layers of privilege, wealth, and education. 'The people' created by Gandhi is a young concept.

  • Civilization itself is housed in the human being.

  • Formal education in British India was remarkable for its lack of connection with its Indian environment. Like the African persuaded to cover his nakedness with a Mother Hubbard, we wore mental Mother Hubbards, and they were often a sad fit. Our textbooks had been compiled by Englishmen for English children, of whom there were none in my school and few in any school in India.

  • In the end countries, like people, are alone, and the real things that must be done have to be done without help.

  • ... what was the right level of prosperity, the level that banished dire need but did not satiate, the level that did not threaten the artist in the individual? And how did one stop when one arrived at it?

  • The sky, like old discoloured silk, ripped and tore, emptying its contents into the Arabian Sea.

  • Every time she [mother Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, Indian ambassador] delivered a speech, however serious and thoughtful, her attire merited more space in the papers than what she had said: ' ... and her hair caused many of the newspaper women present to sigh with a tinge of envy. Silvery and cut short, but not too short, with curls softly about her ears, it lies in smooth undulating waves about her well-shaped head. A type of coiffure most women dream of but seldom achieve.' 'In case you are interested, children,' she told us disconsolately, 'this was not the Hairdressers' Convention. It was the Women's National Press Club, and incidentally I made a serious speech. I hope someone was listening.'

Nayantara Sahgal, Indian writer


An award-winning writer herself, Sahgal’s mother was the energetic, gifted, and wise Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, diplomat and politician, and her uncle was Jawaharlal Nehru. She’s wonderfully worth getting to know.