Nayantara Sahgal: Steel in her spine


Interview with Ritu Menon, author of Sahgal’s biography, Out of Line (4th Estate)

Let’s start with the structure of the biography
OutoflineI took a bit of a chance by not beginning with Nayantara’s childhood. Normally, you begin with where the person was born and go through the whole childhood and get to adulthood and so on. I didn’t want to do that for two reasons: one, she had already written her autobiographies which covered her childhood. Her Prison and Chocolate Cake is a landmark autobiography so I didn’t want to repeat that; I also didn’t want to go into what Lytton Stratchey called ‘a vulgar succession of detail’. In a woman writer’s life, marriage is a very critical event; it’s a critical event in every woman’s life but in Nayantara’s case, her marriage (to Gautam Sahgal) and her writing more or less coincided. So I thought, ‘OK, let me see if I can begin with that definite moment in her life as a woman as well as a writer and see what I can do with that’. That entailed a circularity in the narrative which I would have to follow through. I would have to begin in the present and then go back into Nayantara’s earlier life.

I don’t believe that lives are lived in a linear fashion, there is always a sort of returning, a returning to and a proceeding from which is more or less simultaneous. That’s what I mean when I said it’s not a conventional biography. I didn’t have any role models so it was more of a risk.

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