(Last Updated on : 16/08/2012)
Raja Rao was a respected and honoured Indian writer of English language novels and short stories. His works have always been deeply rooted in Hinduism, mirrored all through by the man himself. Raja Rao's semi-autobiographical novel, 'The Serpent and the Rope' (1960), is a story of the seeking of spiritual consciousness in Europe and India. The novel had established Raja Rao as one of the finest Indian stylists.
Raja Rao was born on November 8, 1908 in Hassan, in the state of Mysore (presently Karnataka) in South India, into a well-known Brahmin (Hoysala Karnataka) household. He was the eldest of nine siblings, amongst his two brothers and seven sisters. Raja Rao's mother tongue was Kannada. Raja Rao's father served as a teacher of Kannada in Nizam's College, in what was the then Hyderabad State. The death of his mother, when the Indian English Litterateur was barely four, left an eternal impression upon Raja Rao. The non-existence of a mother and what it is like to live an orphan have time and again been made themes in his work. Another influence from early life was Raja Rao's grandfather, with whom he had stayed in Hassan and Harihalli.
Raja Rao was always imparted education in Muslim institutions, the Madarsa-e-Aliya in Hyderabad and the Aligarh Muslim University. His interest in French had developed during his learning years and he began to learn French at the Aligarh University itself. After passing out matriculation in 1927, Raja Rao went back to Hyderabad and studied for his degree at Nizam's College. After graduating from Madras University, having obtained major degrees in English and History, he won the Asiatic Scholarship of the Government of Hyderabad in 1929. The scholarship was meant for students who would leave the country to study abroad.
Raja Rao's next phase in educational life was spent in the University of Montpellier in France. He studied French language and literature and later at the Sorbonne in Paris, he conducted extensive researches in the Indian influence on Irish literature. The Indian English litterateur completed his post-graduate educational life in France; all his later publications in book form have been in English. In the meantime amidst the French countryside, the writer married Camille Mouly, who taught French at Montpellier, in 1931. The marriage however lasted until 1939. The Serpent and the Rope later perfectly portrayed the breakdown of the couple's marriage. Raja Rao's very initial stories were published in French and English. During the period of 1931-1932, the writer donated four articles written in Kannada for Jaya Karnataka, a powerful journal.
Coming back to India in 1939, Raja Rao began to edit Changing India, an anthology of modern Indian thought from Raja Ram Mohan Roy to Jawaharlal Nehru, together with Iqbal Singh. Being highly incited and involved with Indian freedom movements, he participated in the Quit India Movement in 1942. Within the passing period of 1943-1944, the writer co-edited with Ahmed Ali a journal from Bombay named Tomorrow. The Indian English litterateur served as the prime motivator in the establishment of a cultural organisation, Sri Vidya Samiti. The organisation was wholly devoted to resurrecting the values of ancient Indian civilisation; however, this highly initiative organisation failed shortly after its inauguration. Raja Rao was also associated in Bombay with Chetana, a cultural society for the dissemination of Indian thought and values.
Raja Rao's zealous participation in the nationalist movement is reflected in his first two books. The novel Kanthapura (1938) was a chronicle on the impact of Mahatma Gandhi's teaching on non-violent resistance against the colonialists. The story is viewed from the stand-point of a small Mysore village in South India. The Indian novelist triumphantly adopts the style and structure from Indian vernacular tales and folk-epic. The Indian English litterateur turned once more towards the theme of Gandhism in the short story collection, The Cow of the Barricades (1947). In 1998 Raja Rao published Gandhi's biography Great Indian Way: A Life of Mahatma Gandhi. In 1988 he obtained the highly esteemed International Neustadt Prize for Literature. The Serpent and the Rope was authored after a long phase of secrecy, during which Raja Rao returned to India. The work dramatised the associations and interactions amongst Indian and Western culture. The 'serpent' in the title pertains to illusion and the 'rope to reality'. Cat and Shakespeare (1965) was a metaphysical comedy, that absolutely sufficed philosophical questions put forth in the earlier novels. Indeed, novels of Raja Rao bear the clandestine, yet manifested fact of being that revolutionist who always wanted his country to be shackle-free and interactive with western thoughts.
After some significant years in his country, Raja Rao resettled in the United States and taught at the University of Texas at Austin from 1966 to 1983. The novelist had retired as the Emeritus Professor from the University of Texas itself. The courses he taught comprised Marxism to Gandhism, Mahayana Buddhism, Indian philosophy: The Upanishads, Indian philosophy: The Metaphysical Basis of the Male and Female Principle. To further add to the prestigious list of accolades, the writer was awarded India's third highest civilian award, Padma Bhushan in 1969. In January 2007, it was also harbingered that Raja Rao has been selected to receive the Padma Vibhushan, India's second highest civilian award. After significant and whirl-wind a personal life, Raja Rao passed away on July 8, 2006 at Austin, Texas. He was aged 97 during his death.
Bibliography of Raja Rao:
Changing India: An Anthology (edited with Iqbal Singh), 1939
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 Cat and Shakespeare : A Tale of India, 1965
||The Chessmaster and His Moves, 1988
|The Cow of the Barricades, and Other Stories, 1947
||Comrade Kirilov, 1976
||On the Ganga Ghat, 1989
|The Serpent and the Rope, 1960
||The Policeman and the Rose: Stories, 1978
||The Best of Raja Rao, 1998