8 November 1908|
Hassan, Mysore Kingdom, British India
|Died||8 July 2006
Austin, Texas, United States
|Occupation||Writer and professor|
|Language||English, French, Kannada|
|Alma mater||Aligarh Muslim University|
|Genre||Novel, short story, essay|
|Notable works||Kanthapura (1938)
The Serpent and the Rope (1960)
Raja Rao (Kannada: ರಾಜ ರಾವ್) (8 November 1908 – 8 July 2006) was an Indian writer of English language novels and short stories, whose works are deeply rooted in Hinduism. The Serpent and the Rope (1960), a semi-autobiographical novel recounting a search for spiritual truth in Europe and India, established him as one of the finest Indian prose stylists and won him the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1964. For the entire body of his work, Rao was awarded the Neustadt International Prize for Literature in 1988. Rao's wide ranging body of work, spanning a number of genres, is seen as a varied and significant contribution to Indian English literature, as well as World literature.
Raja Rao was born on 8 November 1908 in Hassan, in the state of Mysore (now Karnataka) in South India, into a well-known Brahmin (Hoysala Karnataka) family. He was the eldest of nine siblings (two brothers and seven sisters). His native language was Kannada, but his post-graduate education was in France, and all his publications in book form have been in English. His father taught Kannada at Nizam College in what was then Hyderabad State. The death of his mother, when he was four, left a lasting impression on the novelist – the absence of a mother and orphanhood are recurring themes in his work. Another influence from early life was his grandfather, with whom he stayed in Hassan and Harihalli.
Rao was educated at Muslim schools, the Madarsa-e-Aliya in Hyderabad and the Aligarh Muslim University, where he became friends with Ahmed Ali. He began learning French at the University. After matriculation in 1927, Rao returned to Hyderabad and studied for his degree at Nizam's College. After graduating from the University of Madras, having majored in English and history, he won the Asiatic Scholarship of the Government of Hyderabad in 1929, for study abroad.
Rao moved to the University of Montpellier in France. He studied French language and literature, and later at the Sorbonne in Paris, he explored the Indian influence on Irish literature. He married Camille Mouly, who taught French at Montpellier, in 1931. The marriage lasted until 1939. Later he depicted the breakdown of their marriage in The Serpent and the Rope. Rao published his first stories in French and English. During 1931–32 he contributed four articles written in Kannada for Jaya Karnataka, an influential journal.
Returning to India in 1939, he edited with Iqbal Singh, Changing India, an anthology of modern Indian thought from Ram Mohan Roy to Jawaharlal Nehru. He participated in the Quit India Movement of 1942. In 1943–1944 he co-edited with Ahmed Ali a journal from Bombay called Tomorrow. He was the prime mover in the formation of a cultural organisation, Sri Vidya Samiti, devoted to reviving the values of ancient Indian civilisation; this organisation failed shortly after inception. In Bombay, he was also associated with Chetana, a cultural society for the propagation of Indian thought and values.
Rao's involvement in the nationalist movement is reflected in his first two books. The novel Kanthapura (1938) was an account of the impact of Gandhi's teaching on non-violent resistance against the British. The story is seen from the perspective of a small Mysore village in South India. Rao borrows the style and structure from Indian vernacular tales and folk-epic. Rao returned to the theme of Gandhism in the short story collection The Cow of the Barricades (1947). In 1998 he published Gandhi's biography Great Indian Way: A Life of Mahatma Gandhi. In 1988 he received the prestigious International Neustadt Prize for Literature. The Serpent and the Rope was written after a long silence during which Rao returned to India. The work dramatised the relationships between Indian and Western culture. The serpent in the title refers to illusion and the rope to reality. Cat and Shakespeare (1965) was a metaphysical comedy that answered philosophical questions posed in the earlier novels.
Rao relocated to the United States and was Professor of Philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin from 1966 to 1986, when he retired as Emeritus Professor. Courses he taught included Marxism to Gandhism, Mahayana Buddhism, Indian philosophy: The Upanishads, Indian philosophy: The Metaphysical Basis of the Male and Female Principle, and Razor's Edge. Nobel laureate Czesław Miłosz, a friend of Rao's, published his only poem in the English language, "To Raja Rao", after a conversation with him.
In 1965, he married Katherine Jones, an American stage actress. They have one son, Christopher Rama. In 1986, after his divorce from Katherine, Rao married his third wife, Susan, whom he met when she was a student at the University of Texas in the 1970s.
- Kanthapura (1938)
- The Serpent and the Rope (1960)
- The Cat and Shakespeare: A Tale of India (1965)
- Comrade Kirillov (1976)
- The Chessmaster and His Moves (1988)
Short story collections
- "The Cow of the Barricades(1947)"
- The Policeman and the Rose (1978)
- "The True Story of Kanakapala, Protector of Gold"
- "In Khandesh"
- "The Cow of the Barricades"
- "The Little Gram Shop"
- "India—A Fable"
- "The Policeman and the Rose"
- On the Ganga Ghat (1989)
- Changing India: An Anthology (edited with Iqbal Singh) (1939)
- Tomorrow (edited with Ahmed Ali) (1943–44)
- Whither India? (edited with Iqbal Singh) (1948)
- The Meaning of India, essays (1996)
- The Great Indian Way: A Life of Mahatma Gandhi, biography (1998)
- The Best of Raja Rao (1998)
- 5 Indian Masters (Raja Rao, Rabindranath Tagore, Premchand, Dr. Mulk Raj Anand, Khushwant Singh) (2003)
Selected unpublished works
- Daughter of the Mountain (vol. 2 of the Chessmaster trilogy)
- A Myrobalan in the Palm of Your Hand (vol. 3 of the Chessmaster trilogy)
- 1964: Sahitya Akademi Award
- 1969: Padma Bhushan, India's third highest civilian award
- 1988: Neustadt International Prize for Literature
- 2007: Padma Vibhushan, India's second highest civilian award
- Stefano Mercanti, 2009. The Rose and the Lotus. Partnership Studies in the Works of Raja Rao
- "Conferred Sahitya Akademi Award in 1964".
- Ahmed Ali, "Illusion and Reality": The Art and Philosophy of Raja Rao, Journal of Commonwealth Literature, Leeds, July 1968, No.5.
- "Noted author Raja Rao passes away". The Indian Express. Retrieved 8 July 2006.
- "Raja Rao passes away". Chennai, India: The Hindu. 9 July 2006. Retrieved 9 July 2006.
- Alterno, Letizia (17 July 2006). "Raja Rao: An Indian writer using mysticism to explore the spiritual unity of east and west". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 4 May 2008.
- Raja Rao Website, sponsored by the Raja Rao Publication Project at the University of Texas.
- "Raja Rao (1908–2006)" at the Pegasos website.
- The Literary Encyclopedia's article on Raja Rao.
- Article on Raja Rao from MapsofIndia.com.
- Margalit Fox (15 July 2006). "Raja Rao, Indian Novelist and scholar, Is Dead at 97". The New York Times.
- Letizia Alterno (17 July 2006). "Obituary: Raja Rao". The Guardian.
- The Telegraph (18 July 2006). "Obituary: Raja Rao". The Telegraph.
- "Breathing India In America: A Tribute to Raja Rao" by Francis C. Assisi. (2006)
- "Poetry and Fiction – Raja Rao: Sacred wordsmith" at LifePositive. Excerpts from the novel The Serpent and the Rope and the short story Companions. (July 1999)
- Raja Rao at Paritosh Uttam's website.
- "Comrade Kirillov by Raja Rao" at The Complete Review.
- Civil Disobedience, Violence, and Colonial “Justice” in two Indian Novels – R C Sterne examines Raja Rao's Kanthapura and Kamala Markandaya's Some Inner Fury (1956).
- "To Raja Rao", an 1969 English poem by Czeslaw Milosz.
- (Kannada) "ನಮ್ಮ ಹಾಸನದ ರಾಜಾರಾಯರು" U R Ananthamurthy remembers Raja Rao.