Nayantara Sahgal ♦
“Politicians, whatever their political colour, and whatever they piously said, got fat from office. They would never banish the contrasts, never in ten thousand years build an equal society. How could they, when they were products of the rot themselves, of caste, of vested interests and stinking old ideas? It would take the young to build…” Those who were young when Nayantara Sahgal’s A Situation in New Delhi was first published in 1977 have seen many changes. But the political corruption that they were supposed to vanquish has only become more pronounced.
A Situation and Storm in Chandigarh (1969), both of which have been recently republished, find Sahgal dwelling upon the political and social challenges faced by a young country. Sahgal’s stories enmesh elite protagonists in political quagmires. The fact that she is Jawaharlal Nehru’s niece and Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit’s daughter affords her valuable insight from within. The heart of these novels, however, is their human scale. The echelons of power, riots and terror threats are always viewed through her characters’ eyes. Storm places an honest civil servant, Vishal Dubey, at the centre of the growing rift between a carved-up Punjab and the new state of Haryana, while A Situation has a larger theme – the nation’s descent into anarchy following the death of Shivraj, a figure based loosely on Nehru.
Though Nehruvian politics and Gandhian philosophy are probably in their post- post- stages, these reprints resurrect the early days of India, their consequences and their still relevant themes, in elegant, easy to read prose.