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Raja Rao

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Name- Raja Rao

DOB- 8 November 1908 Hassan, Mysore, India

Father- H.V. Krishnaswamy

Mother- Gauramma

Death- 8 July 2006 (aged 97) Austin, Texas, United States

 


 

Early Life and Education

Raja Rao was born on November 8, 1908 in Hassan, in the princely state of Mysore (now in Karnataka in South India), into a Smartha Brahmin family of the Hoysala Karnataka caste. He was the eldest of 9 siblings, having seven sisters and a brother named Yogeshwara Ananda. His father, H.V. Krishnaswamy, taught Kannada, the native language of Karnataka, at Nizam College in Hyderabad. His mother, Gauramma, was a homemaker who died when Raja Rao was 4 years old.

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 lived in Hassan and Harihalli or Harohalli).

Rao was educated at a Muslim school, the Madarsa-e-Aliya in Hyderabad. After matriculation in 1927, Rao studied for his degree at Nizam's College. at the Osmania University, where he became friends with Ahmad Ali. He began learning French. 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.

 

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Career

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 Ahmad 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 nonviolent 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). The Serpent and the Rope (1960) 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.

 

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In 1965, he married Katherine Jones, an American stage actress. They had one son, Christopher Rama. In 1986, after his divorce from Katherine, Rao married his third wife, Susan Vaught, whom he met when she was a student at the University of Texas in the 1970s. In 1988 he received the prestigious International Neustadt Prize for Literature. In 1998 he published Gandhi's biography Great Indian Way: A Life of Mahatma Gandhi.

 

Death

Rao died of heart failure on 8 July 2006, at his home in Austin, Texas, at the age of 97.

 

Awards

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

 

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