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Raja Rao

Raja Rao (1908-2006) was born in Hassan (Karnataka) and had his education in Madras, and later in France. He has divided his time among India, Europe (mainly France) and the USA.Photograph of Raja Rao

He is considered one of the trio (along with Mulk Raj Anand and R. K. Narayan) that forms the precursor to Indian Writing in English as we know it today.

Raja Rao’s works are steeped in Indian spiritualism, and often the theme is metaphysical. Based on his experiences in Europe, his novels are also about the interplay between Indian and Western culture. The influence of the Indian nationalist movement and Gandhi on Raja Rao is evident in his early books.

He received the Neustadt International Prize for Literature in 1988 and the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1963. He passed away in Texas, Austin.

Works


The Serpent and the Rope

The Serpent and the Rope is a Sahitya Akademi-winning novel, highly acclaimed by both critics and writers. It portrays the meeting of the East and the West on the most intimate plane through the story of Rama, an Indian, and Madeleine, a French girl, who meet at a French university shortly after World War II. Their union is the central theme of the book, and it is in tellng this story that Rama reveals—with more profundity than most writers are able to suggest in a lifetime—the meaning of love.


The Chessmaster and His Moves

The Chessmaster and His Moves is a most ambitious novel, and like most of Raja Rao’s writing, rooted in Indian tradition, thought and sensibility. At one level, it is the story of an impossible love between Sivarama Sastri, an Indian mathematician working in Paris, and a married woman which can only end in sorrow and despair. To come to terms with its impossibility, the protagonists turn inward in their search for answers and meaning, transforming the book into a metaphysical exploration.

Amidst this search, each and every act, big or seemingly small, gets imbued with special meaning. Sastri’s love for the French actress Suzanne Chantereux, or her beguiling, effervescent compatriot Mireille, for instance, serves to underline the differences between the East and the West; while the latter seeks happiness in the world, Sastri is looking for freedom from the world itself.

The Chessmaster and His Moves is rich: in language, plot, in complexity, too, it is rich. And rich in locale and in its large cast of memorable characters; Indian, European, African and Jewish. By turns tender, tragic, sensuous—or filled with laughter and delight—the book nevertheless remains utterly serious, concerned with the author’s abstract search for the Absolute.

Grand in sweep and range, and functioning at multiple levels, the story moves from France to London, and on to the Himalayas and Bengal and contains, perhaps for the first time in a literary work, a dialogue between a Brahmin and a Rabbi: an exploration of reasons for the Holocaust and an attempt to expiate it.


The Cat and Shakespeare

The Cat and Shakespeare is a gentle, almost teasing, fable of two friends: Govindan Nair, an astute, down-to-earth philosopher and clerk, who tackles the problems of routine living with extraordinary commonsense and gusto, and whose refreshing and unorthodox conclusions continually panic Ramakrishna Pai, Nair’s friend, neighbour and narrator of the story.

Descriptions of daily concerns are compassionate and evocative. The raw texture of Indian life is seen in this plainspoken and humorous tale by a brilliant craftsman.