Rama Rau, Santha (1923—)

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Rama Rau, Santha (1923—)

Indian travel writer and novelist. Name variations: Santha Rama Rau Wattles. Born Vasanthi Rama Rau on January 24, 1923, in Madras, India; daughter of Benegal Rama Rau (a diplomat) and Dhanvanthi (Handoo) Rama Rau (a social worker and women's rights advocate); educated at St. Paul's Girls' School in London; Wellesley College, B.A., 1944; married Faubion Bowers, in 1951 (divorced); married Gurdon W. Wattles, in 1970; children: (first marriage) Jai Peter.

First book, Home to India, named a Harper Book Find (1945); won the Mademoiselle Award (1947); received National Association of Independent Schools Award for My Russian Journey and adapted E.M. Forster's A Passage to India for the stage (1960).

Selected writings:

Home to India (1945); East of Home (1950); This Is India (1953); Remember the House (novel, 1956); View to the Southeast (1957); My Russian Journey (1959); stage version of E.M. Forster's A Passage to India (1960); Gifts of Passage (1961); The Cooking of India (1970); The Adventuress (novel, 1971); (with Gayatri Devi) A Princess Remembers: The Memoirs of the Maharani of Jaipur (1976).

Santha Rama Rau was born in India in 1923, the daughter of Sir Benegal Rama Rau, a diplomat, and Dhanvanthi Rama Rau , a social worker and advocate for improved education and rights for Indian women. Both her parents were of Brahman families. From age six to sixteen she lived in England, where her father was stationed for a time, receiving her education at St. Paul's Girls' School in London and visiting her family in various countries over her vacations. She was with them in South Africa when World War II broke out in 1939, preventing her from returning to England; instead, she traveled with her mother and sisters back to India. Rama Rau explored the country extensively during the next two years, acquainting herself with her heritage, and also began writing magazine pieces. (Among those who gave her encouragement to write was Sarojini Naidu , a poet who was the first woman to become president of the Indian National Congress.) Rama Rau then went to the United States to attend Wellesley College, working as a writer for the Office of War Information during her school breaks and graduating with honors in 1944.

Rama Rau's first book, Home to India, was published the following year. Based on the experiences she had had during her two-year tour of the country, the book was named a Harper Book Find. She returned to India that same year, writing for several magazines and serving as an editor on the magazine Trend. After India gained independence in 1947, her father was named the country's first ambassador to Japan, and she traveled with him to Tokyo to serve as his hostess. She enjoyed the country and the people she met there, but found diplomatic life dull. Rama Rau taught English at a Japanese girls' school and became interested in traditional Japanese theater. This interest led to her meeting her future husband, Faubion Bowers, an American who was serving as censor of the theater under occupation. In 1948, she and Bowers, along with an American woman journalist and an Englishman, traveled through China, Indochina, Indonesia and Siam (now Thailand). This trip as well as her life in Japan is chronicled in East of Home (1950).

Rama Rau and Bowers continued their travels after they were married in October 1951. (They would later have one son.) These journeys became the basis for further books, including This Is India (1954), View to the Southeast (1957) and My Russian Journey (1959), which were praised for their liveliness and vivid portrayals of each country's people. Her first novel, Remember the House, an examination of the upper class in Bombay, was published in 1956; her second novel, The Adventuress, followed in 1971. Rama Rau wrote a stage version of E.M. Forster's A Passage to India that was produced in London in 1960 and on Broadway the following year, and continued to publish travel writing in various newspapers and magazines, including The New York Times, Holiday and Horizon. Following a divorce from Bowers, she married Gurdon W. Wattles in 1970. In 1976, with Gayatri Devi (b. 1919), she co-authored A Princess Remembers: The Memoirs of the Maharani of Jaipur.


Buck, Claire, ed. The Bloomsbury Guide to Women's Literature. NY: Prentice Hall, 1992.

Contemporary Authors, New Revision Series, Vol. 1. Detroit, MI: Gale Research.

Moritz, Charles, ed. Current Biography 1956. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1956.

Jo Anne Meginnes , freelance writer, Brookfield, Vermont