Rao, Raja 1909(?)–

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Rao, Raja 1909(?)–

PERSONAL: Born November 21, 1909 (one source says November 8, 1908), in Hassan, Mysore, India; son of H.V. (a professor) and Srimathi (Gauramma) Krish-naswamy; married Camille Mouly (an academic), 1931 (divorced, c. 1939); married Katherine Jones (an actress), November, 1965; children: Christopher. Education: Madras University, graduated; attended the University of Montpellier and the Sorbonne; attended Hunter College of the City University of New York.

ADDRESSES: Home—1808 Pearl, Austin, TX 78701. Office—Department of Philosophy, College of Humanities at Austin, University of Texas, Austin, TX 78712.

CAREER: Editor of the literary journal Tomorrow, c. 1940s; University of Texas, began as lecturer in Indian philosophy, 1965, became professor of philosophy, 1980–83.

AWARDS, HONORS: Neustadt International Prize for Literature, 1988.



Kanthapura, George Allen & Unwin (London, England), 1938, New Directions (New York, NY), 1963, Greenwood Press (Westport, CT), 1977.

The Cow of the Barricades and Other Stories, Oxford University Press (London, England), 1947.

The Serpent and the Rope, Murray (London, England), 1960, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1963, Ind-U.S. Incorporated, 1968, Overlook Press (Woodstock, NY), 1986.

The Cat and Shakespeare: A Tale of India, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1965.

Comrade Kirillov (originally published in French), Ind-U.S. Incorporated, 1976.

The Policeman and the Rose: Stories, Oxford University Press (Delhi, India), 1978.

On the Ganga Ghat, Vision Books (New Delhi, India), 1989.

The Best of Raja Rao, selected and edited by Makarand Paranjape, Katha Classics (New Delhi, India), 1998.

The Great Indian Way: A Life of Mahatma Gandhi, Vision Books (New Delhi, India), 1998.


(Editor, with Iqbal Singh) Changing India, George Allen & Unwin (London, England), 1939.

(Editor, with Iqbal Singh) Whither India?, Padmaja Publications (Baroda, India), 1948.

(Editor) Jawaharlal Nehur, Soviet Russia: Some Random Sketches and Impressions, Chetana, 1949.

The Chessmaster and His Moves, Vision Books (New Delhi, India), 1988.

The Meaning of India, Vision Books (New Delhi, India), 1996.

Contributor of articles to journals, including Jaya Karnataka.

SIDELIGHTS: A leading English-language Indian author, Raja Rao is best known for novels in which he examines metaphysical themes by involving characters with diverse ideas, outlooks, and backgrounds. As these individuals establish relationships, they are prompted to compare and reexamine their personal, political, spiritual, and cultural values, and through them Rao frequently contrasts Indian philosophy and spiritualism with Western society's emphasis on dualism and rationalism. While often entangled in irreconcilable conflicts with those they love, Rao's protagonists gain insights into the nature of identity, existence, illusion, and reality. In 1988, Rao became the tenth author awarded the Neustadt International Prize for Literature, a biennial honor bestowed upon a living writer who has made significant contributions in poetry, fiction, or drama.

To authentically recreate the local color of Indian life and speech patterns, Rao often experiments with English language, syntax, and fictional forms. This interest is particularly evident in his first novel, Kanthapura, where he combines an anecdotal, stream-of-consciousness style with slight use of punctuation to capture the dialect and upbeat lifestyle of an Indian village. In this work, which is narrated by a grandmother, a young man returns to his native village after having left to study at a university and promotes the ideals and values of Mohandas Gandhi. The man is mocked by several residents and violently apprehended by authorities for his nonviolent defiance of traditional social norms. While relating these incidents in colloquial language replete with colorful aphorisms, the grandmother embellishes her tale with numerous references to local customs, daily activities, superstitions, rituals, and legends.

In his next novel, The Serpent and the Rope, Rao examines themes relating to illusion and reality. In this work, a young Brahmin named Rama gains greater understanding of identity and truth from experiences with his extended family in India, his encounters and studies in France, and his visits to England. Rama attempts to assimilate into a Western lifestyle after marrying a French woman, but a visit to India reawakens ties to his heritage. While vividly detailing daily life in France and India, this deeply symbolic metaphysical novel contrasts Western rationality and Hindu mysticism, explores ideals pertaining to Catholicism, Marxism, Freudianism, and fascism, and develops numerous parallels between myths, legends, and histories of different cultures.

Rao's third novel, The Cat and Shakespeare: A Tale of India, is a comic fable narrated by an Indian bureaucrat who is implicated in adultery, murder, and thievery. This novel features such symbolic events as droughts and illnesses, sudden appearances by a cat during portentous misunderstandings, and the actions and pronouncements of a mystical man who frequently transcends a metaphorical wall between appearance and reality.

The Chessmaster and His Moves, first of a projected trilogy of novels, is narrated by a man named Sivarama, who pursues absolute truths through mathematics and relationships with women. Employing Hindu myths to shape and order the narrative, Rao introduces characters from various cultures who are defined by their ideas and opinions on such matters as politics, history, love, art, and religion. Through their encounters, these individuals reassess their ideals, discover self-perpetuated myths, and come to a greater understanding of their individual identities.

Most of the pieces collected in The Cow of the Barricades and Other Stories and The Policeman and the Rose are fictional vignettes of village life in India. The tales focus upon traditions, social unrest, and various other representative concerns. The Policeman and the Rose is a symbolic story that illuminates differences between India and the West. In Comrade Kirillov, Rao examines the influence of history on the individual and develops an extended comparison between Vedantism and Marxism. The title character of this novella is the namesake of an individual in Fedor Dostoevsky's novel The Possessed. Both protagonists represent their author's suspicions about individuals who promote political reform by drawing upon ideas and models from outside their native lands. Rao's character, for example, champions change through means that are antithetical to the principles of Gandhi.



Bhattacharya, P. C., Indo-Anglian Literature and the Works of Raja Rao, Atma Ram (Delhi, India), 1983.

Contemporary Literary Criticism, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 25, 1983, Volume 56, 1989.

Naik, M. K., Raja Rao, Twayne (New York, NY), 1972, revised edition, 1982.

Narasimhaiah, C. D., Raja Rao, Arnold-Heinemann (New Delhi, India), 1973.

Sharma, K. K., editor, Perspectives on Raja Rao: An Anthology of Critical Essays, Vimal Prakashan (Ghaziabad, India), 1980.

Sharrad, Paul, Raja Rao and Critical Tradition, Sterling, 1988.

Smith, Larry E., editor, Discourse across Culture: Strategies in World Englishes, Prentice-Hall (New York, NY), 1987.


America, February 29, 1964.

Ariel, October, 1992, Senath W. Perera, "Towards a Limited Emancipation: Women in Raja Rao's Kanthapura," pp. 99-110.

Books, April 7, 1963.

Books Abroad, autumn, 1966.

Book Week—The Sunday Herald Tribune, January 31, 1965.

Christian Science Monitor, January 16, 1964.

Commonweal, January 25, 1963; May 15, 1964.

International Fiction Review, summer, 1980.

Journal of Commonwealth Literature, August, 1991, K.C. Belliappa, "The Question of Form in Raja Rao's The Serpent and the Rope," pp. 158-168; winter, 1995, Chitra Sankaran, "Misogyny in Raja Rao's The Chessmaster and His Moves," pp. 87-96; spring, 1998, Tabish Khair, "Raja Rao and Alien Universality," pp. 75-84; spring, 1999, Anshuman Mondal, "The Ideology of Space in Raja Rao's Kanthapura," p. 103.

Literary Criterion, summer, 1965.

Modern Fiction Studies, spring, 1993, Alpana Sharma Knippling, "R.K. Narayan, Raja Rao and Modern English Discourse in Colonial India," pp. 169-186.

Nation, March 16, 1963.

New Leader, June 21, 1965.

New York Times, January 20, 1965.

New York Times Book Review, April 14, 1963; January 5, 1964; January 17, 1965.

Publishers Weekly, February 14, 1986, Sybil Steinberg, review of The Serpent and the Rope, p. 66.

Saturday Review, January 16, 1965.

Time, February 22, 1963.

Virginia Quarterly Review, winter, 1980.

World Literature Today, autumn, 1988.

World Literature Written in English, November, 1973; November, 1975.


Pegasos Web Site, http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/ (September 8, 2004), "Raja Rao."