Anita Desai | A Great Indian Novelist

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Her Life: Mother of the Indian Psychological Novel Genre

  • Year 1937 – Born in Mussoorie, Uttarakhand.
  • Year 1957 – Received her B.A. in English Literature.
  • Year 1958 – Married Ashvin Desai.
  • Year 1978 – Won the Winifred Holtby Memorial Prize.
  • Year 2014 – Received the Padma Bhushan.

“Wherever you go becomes a part of you somehow.”

Anita Desai is an Indian novelist, short-story writer and children’s author. She is one of the well known contemporary Indian writers of fiction. She has been thrice nominated for the prestigious Booker Prize for her literary works.


Anita Desai (born Anita Mazumdar) was born on June 24, 1937 to a Bengali businessman D. N. Mazumdar and a German mother Toni Nime in Mussoorie, Uttarakhand. She grew up by speaking German at home and speaking English, Bengali, Urdu and Hindi outside the house.

Personal Life

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She had her schooling in Queen Mary’s Higher Secondary School in Delhi. Then she got her B.A. in English Literature from the Miranda House of the University of Delhi in 1957.

She married Ashvin Desai in 1958 who was the director of a computer software company and also the author of the book Between Eternities: Ideas on Life and The Cosmos. They have four children. Her daughter Kiran Desai is also an author and has won the 2006 Man Booker Prize for her famous novel The Inheritance of Loss.

Career Journey

Anita was a gifted child as she started writing short stories at a very young age. Her first short story was published when she was just nine years old. She entered into the field of novel writing and published her first novel Cry, The Peacock in 1963 which was followed by Voices in the City and The Fire on the Mountain, which was based on the lives of three women who were residing near Kasauli and it narrates their different experiences of life.

In 1980, her famous novel, Clear Light of Day was published, which bears the impressions of Anita Desai’s own life and the same neighborhood where she grew up. This novel is the story of a middle-class Hindu family around the time of partition of India and the story revolves around the central character, Bimla who lives in her house with her mentally retarded brother named Baba. Her sister Tara and her elder brother went away with their respective families leaving her to bear all the family problems and responsibilities of the household alone and the novel is partially a trip down the memory lane. 

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In the year 1984, she published In Custody, which was about an Urdu Poet and it was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. She has also written many other Stories like Baumgartner’s Bombay, Diamond Dust and The Village by the Sea. The Zigzag Way, which was published in 2004 is her most recent novel.

Anita Desai has been honored with many literary awards, including The Guardian Award for writing Children’s Fiction for the novel The Village by the Sea and in the year 1978, she won the National Academy of Letters Award. Anita Desai is associated with many prominent literary organizations such as the Royal Society of Literature, London and the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 1993, she became the creative writing teacher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Awards and Recognition

She won the Winifred Holtby Memorial Prize in the year 1978 for her novel Fire on the Mountain. In 1993, she was awarded the Neil Gunn Prize. In 2003, she received the Benson Medal of Royal Society of Literature. She also won the Padma Bhushan Award in the year 2014.

In 1993, her famous novel In Custody was adopted by the Merchant Ivory Productions into an English film with the same name. The movie won the President of India Gold Medal for Best Picture in 1994.

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