Tuesday, March 14, 2006

googling for Raja rao

I thought that that there may have been some interesting posts on Raja Rao in the newsgroups (or I was just trying to pass time). Either way, I searched in groups.google.com and found that there indeed were some interesting links.

Searching for "Raja Rao Serpent Rope" lead to many links. One link mentions the encounter of a person with Raja Rao in UT-Austin.

>Sanjiva Prasad wrote:
>This old master, based at UT Austin, is definitely older than 56!
>Probably a good 20-30 years older than that.

The old master was born in 1907, I think. He is about 85 now and quite cogent, though frail. His first novel, 'Kanthapura', was published in 1929, inspired by Gandhism. His latest novel is titled 'The Chessmaster and His Moves'.

He lives in a red sandstone house close by the campus. The lawn is unkempt and the street very quiet and narrow. On the door a yellow note was stuck. It simply said: "Raja Rao". He was expecting us. He answered the door himself, stooped and wrapped up in a dressing gown. He waved us into some chairs and apologized for making us sit in almost total darkness. "The light hurts my eyes", he said smiling. Upstairs, I heard someone walking about, the wooden floor amplifying the sound. "My wife Susan", he explained, "she is not feeling too well".

We didnt talk much about books. In fact, he did most of the talking, and he talked clearly and passionately, late into the evening. About Gandhi, Nehru, De Gaulle, Churchill, Malraux, Diego Rivera, and a whole galaxy of others. People whom he had met and known; legendary figures like Subhash Bose, whom he had shown around Paris while at the Sorbonne. He argued with feeling about the relevance of Gandhism, and with more than a hint of seriousness, about why monarchy was necessary in India; about how the Brahmins had betrayed the soul of India, and about how he had disavowed his own Brahminical heritage: casting the sacred thread of the twice-born into the Ganges at Benares.

Later, as we sat in the darkness of his living room, the shelves and the chairs overflowing with books, he talked about his spiritual quest: about the Buddha, Ramana Maharishi, Krishnamurti, and about his guru: Atmananda, a policeman turned Vedantin, in Travancore. His last novel had borne a quote from Atmananda: "I am the light in the perception of the world".

We accepted his invitation to visit again, as he showed us to the door. Next time, we will talk about Mathematics, we said, and the Novel, and Nagarjuna, and the decline of the erotic in Indian culture.

Nice encounter indeed!


sj said...

Does Raja Rao really live in Austin? Wouldn't it be wonderful to listen to him. How I wish I was part of the conversation where he talked about Buddha and Krishnamurti in the same breath. Maybe we should ask Sanjiva Prasad to post his notes from those converstations ...

amar said...

@SJ: Note that the post is dated 1993! Whenever it was, it would have been wonderful to be part of those discussions.