One of India’s most distinguished writers, Raja Rao (1908-2006) won his country’s highest literary prizes and was also a Nobel Prize nominee. He wrote three major novels: Kanthapura, The Serpent and the Rope, and The Cat and Shakespeare, plus collections of short stories like The Cow and the Barricades and The Policeman and the Rose.
The Saint and the Sage
One of my first big articles, “The Saint and the Sage: The Fiction of Raja Rao,” is considered one of the best introductions to his work, especially as it puts Rao in the context of Vedanta and the Indian Revolution. (See below.) After its appearance Rao sent me a copy of The Policeman and the Rose with the inscription, “In grateful appreciation for the clear, perceiving mind of Richard Guzman – from Raja Rao.”
I last saw Raja in 2002 before a trip to India. He had been very ill and was sitting up in bed. People asked why I was going to India in August, one of the hottest times of the year and with the monsoons threatening. Well, that was when I had been invited to give a talk using Raja’s work at a conference in Calcutta on philosophy and spirituality. I complained half jokingly about the heat and rain, and suddenly his mind seemed to snap into sharp focus. “But it’s a privilege to go during the monsoons,” he said. “The monsoons are the elephants of God bringing life to creation.” He was charming and mystical to the very end, one of India’s most spiritual writers, playful yet deep and serious.
For more on Raja Rao at this site:
- Read “Car Seats and Destiny: Meeting Raja Rao”
- Read “The Saint and the Sage” Part 1 / Part 2.
- Read “Neckties,” my poem for Raja
- Read “Against Pure Purity,” a re-reading of the “Saint and Sage” essay above.
- Read “Raja, Milosz, and Me,” comparing my poem for Raja to Czeslaw Milosz’s poem for Raja—a humbling experience!
- Listen to Raja Rao reading some of his work.