Raja Rao (1908-2006)

Victor Rangel-Ribeiro on Raja Rao, who died this Saturday in Texas at the age of 97:

Because I belong to the generation of Nissim Ezekiel (b. 1924), which came two decades after the triumvirate of Indian fiction writers (Mulk Raj Anand, born December 12, 1905; R.K. Narayan, born October 10, 1906; Raja Rao, born November 21, 1909) who burst on the Indian and international literary scene in the 1930s, I would like to bear witness to the impact their writing had on us when we were college students. Since in those days one had just eight years of school and then immediately went on to college, it meant that many of us when we began our undergraduate studies were just 15 years old or younger: a most impressionable age. Between them, Mulk Raj and Raja Rao, and to a lesser extent R. K. Narayan, changed our way of thinking and our world.

My tribute is here; Amardeep has a lovely post on Raja Rao and Czeslaw Milosz; and here’s the link to the Milosz poem addressed to Raja Rao that many of us instinctively thought of when we heard of Rao’s death.

At the Raja Rao website, his former student David Iglehart has a note on the Raja Rao Publication Project:

The task before us is formidable. Raja Rao’s wife, Susan, has filled half a room with boxes of his highly creative, insightful manuscripts, the outpouring of a lifetime. This includes four unpublished novels, stacks of short stories, hundreds of articles and essays, interviews, poetry in French, class notes, informal notes, plans for scholarly projects, and correspondence with Indira Gandhi, Octavio Paz, and Andre Malraux.
As a part of the Raja Rao Publication Project, I have edited The Daughter of the Mountain, which is the second volume of his trilogy based on The Chessmaster and His Moves. The manuscript for this second book consists of over 750 typed pages–many are covered densely with his hand-written notes.

At Samvad India, Makarand Paranjpe writes of a meeting with Raja Rao that took place five years ago. They discussed Daughter of the Mountain, among other things, and Makarand quotes the first paragraph:

Behind all sorrow is the Mahadukkha, the great sorrow of the sorrow that will be. What is can never become. Between is and is the stolen space where becoming vaunts its existence. But in truth, even the in-between is, thus becoming never was nor will ever be. Sorrow, the becoming, surfing, and eddying over the vastitude of our oceanic reality. Fools suffer for they take the wave to be the ocean. Water never becomes anything, but remains ever water. The waves – I was crossing the Japan sea – spill high on the rocks of Ninimuttu, from where Buddhist monks sailed over to Nippon, but the waves go back, again and again, having made aeons of effort to become land – they always reach back to the ocean. La mer, la mer, toujours recommence. In the ocean fishes eat fishes, coloured, many-limbed and many-headed, eaten by monsters ever heavier and longer but with one single head, and finally man comes with his boats, nets and electronics and drags them out of their home, to eat them for his own being: becoming eats back becoming to be. Thus samsara ends – in nirvana. And the cycle rolls on.

The Babu has to admit that he has often found Raja Rao’s more philosophic work elusive, and suspects this might be the case here, but don’t let that stop you from reading Chessplayer, The Cat and Shakespeare, and indeed, Daughter of the Mountain.

2 comments

  1. The quote in the Raja Rao para, “La mer, la mer, toujours recommence” is from Paul Valery’s long poem, “La Cimetiere Marin” (the graveyard by the sea)– is it not? I think it’s fascinating how far he has cast his net of references, and reading. Rao may have been in danger of turning into a self-styled “Indian” guru, as Milosz, on the side of E.M. Cioran (and me for that matter), wryly indicates; but at the same time Rao seems to have had a natural sense of internationalism, early on, a sensibility that, in its range and in its depth, might put our current batch of both “inward looking” and “globalist” writers to shame.

  2. Mahdukkha – I get it.The sorrow of what may be. I am living it as my daughter has recovered from brain cancer treatment. I sit like a deer in the headlights, immobile. Its time to shake myself loose. This passage from Raja Rao that I reached from a Google search of”Jaipur” to Caferati-Jaipur to Hurree.

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