Bellagio Library/

In Times of Siege

by Githa Hariharan

Githa Hariharan participated in the Bellagio residency program in 2001. During this residency she worked on In Times of Siege (Pantheon Books, 2003). Githa is a writer and cultural commentator who has written novels, short stories, children’s books and essays over the last three decades, including The Thousand Faces of Night, which won the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best First Book in 1993. In 1995, her activism challenged the Hindi Minority and Guardianship Act as discriminatory against women. The case led to a landmark Supreme Court Judgement in 1999.

A few words with Githa

“While at the Center, I made a lifelong friendship with fellow resident and artist Ellen Driscoll, and we continue to give each other supportive perspectives on our artistic practice. My advice to anyone attending a residency: write and write – because you may not get another month like this!”

A quote from In Times of Siege

“Now, in 2000, the distance between the imaginary lands of literature and the prosaic city of history has shrunk. All occupy the same beleaguered space, the same territory under indefinite siege. The horizon, the sky, all wide open spaces are reduced to the size of a pinpoint; the Manch and its cohorts are telling them all that there is only one way to remember a great man, preferably their way. Only one way to remember the past. Perhaps Shiv would be better off if he allowed his memory to be sullied; if he remembered less, if he turned his back on his father’s ideal historian. If he allowed a simple excision of memory, a few minor assaults on shade, nuance, complexity. But will he recover? Or will he skulk around the rest of his life, a paid witness, a hireling of thugs?”


What makes a fanatic? A fundamentalist? What makes communities that have lived together for years suddenly discover a hatred for each other?

New Delhi, in the year 2000. Staff meetings, lesson modules, a half-hearted little affair with a colleague – this is the bland but comfortable life of Shiv Murthy, a history teacher in an open university.

But disruption and change are on their way. With fundamentalism landing on his own doorstep, Shiv discovers that the ideas he has inherited – about history, nations and patriots – are shrinking day by day. With love, lust, and a perverted nationalism at his heels, Shiv is forced to confront the demands of his times and choose a direction for the future.

Sometimes funny, often moving, this stark, contemporary narrative unfolds the story of ordinary lives besieged, of men and women struggling to make sense of hatred, ignorance, love and loyalty – in individuals, ideas and the nation. Sharp and gripping, and permeated with a chilling sense of menace, In Times of Siege holds up an uncompromising mirror to India today.

Explore More

To find out more about Githa’s work, you can visit her website.

To engage with the themes raised in her work, Githa recommends that you visit the Indian Cultural Forum.