Rabindranath Tagore was an Indian polymath who contributed greatly to the fields of literature, art, and philosophy. Referred to as the Bard of Bengal, Tagore is credited with reshaping Bengali literature and music. The first non-European to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature, Tagore is also credited with composing the national anthems of India and Bangladesh.
Sarojini Naidu was an Indian poet and political activist. An important figure in the Indian Independence Movement, she was a proponent of anti-imperialistic ideas, women's rights, and civil rights. Her illustrious career as a poet earned her the nickname Nightingale of India. After India became independent, she became the first woman to hold the office of Governor in the Dominion of India.
National Film Award- and Padma Shri-winning Indian Malyali actor Muhammad Kutty Panaparambil Ismail, or Mammootty, is a superstar in Southern India. Initially a lawyer, he later soared to fame with films such as Vidheyan and Mathilukal. He also chairs Malayalam Communications and is devoted to medical and other charitable causes.
Padma Lakshmi is a model, television host and author. She has hosted cooking competition program Top Chef and has published cookbooks. She has acted in films and television too and is also an activist working for immigration and women’s rights and is a critic of skin-lightening creams. She was married to novelist Salman Rushdie for a little over three years.
National Award-winning singer Shreya Ghoshal grew up in Rajasthan and later moved to Mumbai, where her electrical engineer father was posted. After gaining attention with the talent show Sa Re Ga Ma, the classically trained artist was catapulted to fame with her playback singing in Devdas, and never looked back.
Vinayak Damodar Savarkar was an Indian politician and independence activist. He formulated the Hindu nationalist philosophy of Hindutva and was a leading figure in the Hindu Mahasabha. He was known for his strong oratory skills and was an eloquent writer. He was initially charged as a co-conspirator in the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi but was later acquitted.
The patriarch of the Karunanidhi political family of India, M. Karunanidhi had been the chief minister of Tamil Nadu for almost 20 years. The DMK leader was also a noted scriptwriter and author, having written films such as Parasakthi. His son, M. K. Stalin is the current Tamil Nadu chief minister.
Apart from her bestselling books such as The God of Small Things, Man Booker Prize-winning Indian author Arundhati Roy is also known for her left-wing political activism. Born to a Syrian Christian mother and an Indian Hindu father, Roy had initially studied architecture and worked as a script writer.
Remembered as one of the greatest authors of Indian literature in English, R. K. Narayan created the iconic character Swami and related his experiences set in the fictional town of Malgudi. The Sahitya Akademi and Padma Vibhushan winner was also the brother of cartoonist R.K. Laxman.
Deepak Chopra is an Indian-American alternative-medicine advocate and author. After emigrating to the United States in 1970, Chopra went on to become an important figure in the New Age movement. Credited with co-founding the Chopra Center for Wellbeing, Chopra is one of the wealthiest personalities in alternative medicine. He has also drawn criticisms, thanks to his tall and ridiculous claims.
Born in London, to an Indian couple, Shashi Tharoor is known for his award-winning books such as the The Great Indian Novel and his over-the-top English vocabulary. Tharoor is also a Congress MP. He made headlines when his wife Sunanda Pushkar was found dead in a luxury hotel.
Born into a family of Urdu poets from Gwalior, renowned Indian lyricist and poet Javed Akhtar had initially been a screenwriter, along with Salim Khan, for films such as Sholay and Deewaar. The Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan winner has also been a Rajya Sabha MP.
A pioneer of Hindi romantic poetry and the Chhayavaad movement, Harivanshrai Bachchan is best remembered for his book of 135 quatrains, Madhushala. He was the first Indian to earn a PhD in English literature from Cambridge University. He was also the father of legendary Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan.
Known for her humility and simplicity, Indian philanthropist and author Sudha Murty had humble beginnings as a TELCO engineer. She is married to Infosys co-founder Narayan Murty and heads the Infosys Foundation. The Padma Shri winner has penned over 200 titles, such as Dollar Bahu, in both Kannada and English.
Famed Indian lyricist, poet, author, screenwriter, and film director Gulzar has been a major figure in Bollywood for over six decades. He started doing odd jobs as a teenager and eventually entered films, where he made a name for himself as a lyricist and screenwriter. He soon started directing films as well. He is the recipient of numerous prestigious awards.
Known for his bestselling book Train to Pakistan, Khushwant Singh was a reputed lawyer, politician, and journalist. He was also known for his widely popular column With Malice towards One and All, which was featured in many Indian newspapers. His post-colonial writings mirrored his wit and sarcasm.
One of the greatest Kannada literary figures to have ever lived, Jnanpith Award- and Padma Vibhushan-winning author Kuvempu had written the state anthem of Karnataka, Jaya Bharata Jananiya Tanujate. He was also an academic who had served as the Mysore University vice-chancellor and often voiced his concerns on social issues.
Renowned history scholar and JNU professor Romila Thapar has also taught at Cornell and the University of Pennsylvania. She has previously been in the news for rejecting the Padma Bhushan twice, stating she didn’t accept state awards. She has also often opposed Hindutva and the “saffronization” of education.
Kumar Vishwas is a Hindi poet, politician and lecturer. He was an active member of the anti-corruption movement, Indian Against Corruption, and was also one of the founder members of Aam Aadmi Party. Kumar Vishwas is known for his comments on topical issues relating to India.
The Rebel Poet of Bengal Kazi Nazrul Islam is remembered for his vast body of literary work, including poems and songs written during the British Raj, mostly laced with socio-political overtones. His songs, known as Nazrul Geeti, are the staple for any Bengali household. He is also Bangladesh’s national poet.
Islamic preacher Zakir Naik is also the founder of the Islamic Research Foundation and his own broadcast network, Peace TV. Though a qualified surgeon, he later gained fame as a public speaker. His channel is banned in multiple countries, such as India, Bangladesh, and the UK, for its extremist nature.
Born to an Indian Muslim father and a British mother in Madras, Nasser Hussain moved to England with his family, as a child. At 12, he was the youngest to join the Essex Under-15 cricket team. He grew up to become one of the best English Test cricket captains.
Vikram Seth is an Indian poet and novelist. He is credited with increasing the readership of the English language in India. A revered and celebrated writer, Vikram Seth has been honored with several prestigious awards, such as the Sahitya Academy Award, WH Smith Literary Award, Pravasi Bharatiya Samman, Crossword Book Award, Padma Shri, Commonwealth Poetry Prize, and Commonwealth Writers Prize.
Ahmed Raza Khan Barelvi, also known as Ala-Hazrat, was a renowned Islamic scholar and an Urdu poet. Born in Bareilly, British India, he belonged to a family of Rohilla Pushtuns who had migrated from Qandahar. He wrote about various subjects such as philosophy, science, and astronomy.
Amrita Pritam was an Indian poet, essayist, and novelist who wrote in Hindi and Punjabi languages. She is widely regarded as the first major female Punjabi poet and the leading Punjabi-language poet of the 20th century. In 1956, she was honored with the Sahitya Akademi Award, becoming the first woman to receive the prestigious award.
One of the most prominent political and current affairs commentators in India, Arun Shourie first gained fame with his anti-Emergency articles in the Indian Express in the 1970s. Once a World Bank economist, he has also won the Padma Bhushan and the Ramon Magsaysay Award, and been a Rajya Sabha MP.
Vaikom Muhammad Basheer was an Indian independence activist, writer, novelist, and humanist. He is best remembered for his simple style of writing that impressed the critics and the common man alike. One of the most celebrated and renowned writers from India, Vaikom Muhammad Basheer was honored with prestigious awards, such as the Sahitya Academy Fellowship.
Actor, film director and playwright, Girish Karnad was also a Rhodes Scholar with a Masters degree in philosophy, political science and economics. A prolific writer, he authored scores of plays in Kannada, which were later translated into other languages. Also an eminent actor, film director and screenwriter, he was conferred with numerous awards including the Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan.
Mulk Raj Anand was an Indian writer best remembered for his depiction of the people belonging to the backward class in traditional Indian society. Anand, who wrote in English, was one of the first Indian writers to achieve an International readership. In 1968, Mulk Raj Anand was honored with India's third-highest civilian award, the Padma Bhushan.
Urdu poet Rahat Indori had an illustrious and versatile career as a painter, a Bollywood lyricist, and a professor. A regular at poetry events such as Kavi Sammelan, he was known for his captivating couplets such as Kisi Ke Baap Ka Hindustan Thodi Hai. He died of COVID-19 in 2020.
Ahmed Deedat was a South African public speaker and writer of Indian descent. A popular Muslim missionary, Deedat is remembered for his inter-religious public debates with Christians. He is credited with establishing an Islamic missionary organization called IPCI. In 1986, he was honored for his missionary work with the prestigious King Faisal International Prize.
Ramon Magsaysay Award-winning Indian author Mahasweta Devi is regarded as a gem of the Bengali literary world. She had also been a left-wing social activist, and her works such as Hajar Churashir Maa and Rudali have either tribals or people from the marginalized communities as their protagonists.
Renowned journalist Sagarika Ghose was an Oxford Rhodes scholar before she joined media giants such as The Times of India and CNN-IBN. Apart from being the daughter of Indian civil servant and theater personality Bhaskar Ghose, she is also the wife of popular journalist Rajdeep Sardesai.
Padma Shri- and Padma Bhushan-winning Indian lyricist, poet, and author Vairamuthu went from being a translator of law books to one of the most significants Tamil literary figures. The song Chinna Chinna Aasai from the film Roja was written by him and won him one of his seven National Awards.
Kamala Suraiyya, also known by her pen-name Madhavikutty and by her married name Kamala Das, was a Malayali poet who is remembered for her liberal treatment of female sexuality in her works. Her writings, such as Summer in Calcutta, form an integral part of Indian literature written in English.
Iconic Bengali author Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay is best known for his works such as Devdas, Srikanta, and Parineeta, many of which have been made into films. Born into a poverty-stricken family, he found solace in literature and began writing in his teens. He was a prominent figure of the Bengali Renaissance.
Purushottam Laxman Deshpande was an Indian writer, humorist, actor, scriptwriter, musician, composer, and orator. Over the course of his illustrious career, Deshpande won several prestigious awards, such as the Padma Bhushan, Sahitya Akademi Award, Sangeet Natak Akademi Fellowship, and Kalidas Samman. He was also known for his social and philanthropic activities. His life inspired a couple of films and documentaries.
Ramdhari Singh Dinkar was an Indian poet, academic, patriot, and essayist. Regarded as one of the most prominent modern Hindi poets, Dinkar played an important role during the Indian independence movement,; writing poems that sparked nationalism. In 1959, he was honored with the prestigious Padma Bhushan, India's third-highest civilian award. The same year, he also received the Sahitya Akademi Award.
Kannadasan was an Indian poet, lyricist, philosopher, scriptwriter, and philanthropist. Widely regarded as one of the greatest Indian lyricists of all time, Kannadasan wrote about 6000 poems, 5000 film songs, and 232 books. Best known for his work in the Tamil film industry, Kannadasan became the first lyricist to win the National Film Award for Best Lyrics in 1969.