Khair was born in 1966 in Ranchi (then part of Bihar, now the capital of Jharkhand) and grew up in his hometown, Gaya. Gaya is a small but historically-significant town in Bihar: it is the most holy of all towns (after Benaras) for many Hindus and it is also the place where Gautama, founder of Buddhism, had attained enlightenment. As such, while situated in one of the most backward and neglected parts of India, it is surprisingly international — at least during the tourism season.
Khair finished secondary school from the local Nazareth Academy and, after dropping out of medical studies, went on to do a BA in History, Sociology and English from Gaya College and a Masters in English from the local Magadh University. While a college student, he also worked as the district reporter for the Patna Edition of the Times of India. Later, following some trouble with local fundamentalists, he left for Delhi, where he worked as a Staff Reporter for the Times of India.
Khair had his first collection of poems, ‘My World’, accepted for publication by a major national house (Rupa & Co., Delhi) before he left his hometown, initially driven out by a group of religious fundamentalists. ‘My World’ was favourably reviewed by senior poets and critics like Keki N. Daruwalla, Adil Jussawalla, Vilas Sarang and Shiv K. Kumar. While in Delhi, Khair brought out two other collections and started working on his first novel, ‘An Angel in Pyjamas’, which was later published by Harper Collins and described by India Today as “the calling card of a writer with the power to fascinate.”
After about four years as a staff reporter, Khair left for Copenhagen, Denmark, for personal reasons. After a couple of years in ‘immigrant’ jobs (hotel cleaner, dish-washing, house painter, census taker etc.), he started work on a PhD at Copenhagen University, which he completed in 2000. It was published as ‘Babu Fictions’ by Oxford University Press in 2001 (a paperback edition came out in 2005) and has since become one of the important secondary texts on Indian English fiction.
In 2000, Khair also published a collection of poems, ‘Where Parallel Lines Meet’ (Penguin), which is considered to be “one of the most significant collections in recent years by an Indian writing in English.” It included poems for which he had won the prestigious All India Poetry Prize. Since then, barring his PhD years in Copenhagen, Khair has taught in Aarhus, and currently lives in a village outside the provincial Jutland city. He describes himself as part of a long, complex and obscured history of ‘small town cosmopolitanism’, and has questioned the “privileged” discourses of “metropolitan globalisation” and the “literatures of metropolitan capital” in his critical work and, more obliquely, in his creative writings.