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Global Connections

Award-winning author Anita Desai: India is my inspiration

By Susannah Palk for CNN

Award-winning author Anita Desai talks to CNN about the inpirations she draws from her homeland.
Award-winning author Anita Desai talks to CNN about the inpirations she draws from her homeland.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Born in India, Desai is the daughter of a Bengali father and German mother
  • The prolific author has been a Booker Prize finalist three times
  • Although she now lives in the United States, Desai says India is the source of all her work

Global Connections, a segment on CNN's Connect the World, takes two very different countries and asks you to find the connections. This week we've picked India and Germany. Here we ask novelist Anita Desai what she loves about India.

(CNN) -- One of India's most prolific writers, novelist Anita Desai proves to be a "Global Connection" herself.

Born in Mussoorie, India, the novelist, short-story writer and children's author is the daughter of a Bengali father and German mother. (She is the mother of Kiran Desai, who also is an award-winning author.)

With a career spanning four decades, Desai has written 14 novels and received numerous literary accolades. She has been a finalist for Britain's prestigious Booker Prize three times.

Her novels include "Clear Light of Day" (1980); "In Custody," which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1984 and made into a film; "Baumgartner's Bombay" (1987); "Fasting, Feasting" (1999); and "The Zigzag Way" (2004).

The truth is that wherever I am, I am Indian, and wherever I go, I carry India with me. We are inseparable, joined at birth.
--Indian novelist Anita Desai
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Educated at Delhi University, Desai now lives in the United States and is an Emeritus Professor of Writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The acclaimed author talks to CNN about the inspirations she draws from her homeland.

CNN: What does India mean to you?

Anita Desai: I may think of myself, after so much travel and so many dislocations, as "stateless" but the truth is that wherever I am, I am Indian, and wherever I go, I carry India with me. We are inseparable, joined at birth.

CNN: How has the country inspired your work?

AD: India is the source of all my work. It is my material. I have brought in other countries, other nationalities -- but always in their relation to India.

CNN: How has India shaped your personality?

AD: When I am in the West, I feel very Indian. When I am in India, I feel I have become very westernized. I suppose this means I now have a schizophrenic personality.

CNN: Where is your favorite place to go in India?

AD: The Himalayas. I was born there and never fail to feel exhilarated when I return to those heights.

CNN: What do you miss most about India?

AD: Friendship and family relationships. These can never quite be replicated or replaced -- the ease, the familiarity, the intimacy and above all, their history. So, yes, the sense of history, of everything being old, rooted in the past.

CNN: How has India changed in your lifetime?

AD: Oh, exponentially! I see India as in so many segments of time and experience -- the India (Old Delhi) I grew up in and went to school and university in, then the India (New Delhi) to which I returned as an adult with young children, trying hard to replicate the India I had once known but in a changed landscape. And now the India to which I return after spending more than 30 years away and which is so dreadfully unfamiliar and often uncomfortable that it is almost unrecognizable.

CNN: What does the future hold for India?

AD: I would have to be a seer to answer that and I am not one. Neither Indians who live in India nor Indians who live abroad and visit know the answer to that. All is chaos at the moment, caught between past and present, old and new, traditional and modern, changeless and changing.

 
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