Raja Rao, the famous Indian English writer, was born on 8th November 1908 in Hassan, Karnataka . He lost his mother at the age of four, which left a lifelong impression on him. This could be the reason for the absence of mother and orphanhood being recurring themes in his work. He received his early education at a Muslim school and later went to Aligarh Muslim University. He graduated from Madras University with English and History. He won the Asiatic Scholarship of the government of Hyderabad in 1929 and went abroad for higher studies.
Nationalism was a theme of many of his novels. His novel Kanthapura is an account of Mahatma Gandhi’s teachings. It is the story of national struggle through the view point of a villager in Karnataka. Raja Rao wrote another short story on the theme of Gandhism, the ‘The Cow of the Barricades’. He also published Mahatma Gandhi’s biography: Great Indian Way: A Life of Mahatma Gandhi. He wrote a semi autobiographical novel , The Serpent and the Rope. The novel narrates the relationship of east and west and his experiences related to west. In the Title the Serpent refers to the illusion and the Rope is the reality of the life. He emigrated to the United States in 1960s and taught at the University of Texas at Austin. In United States he remarried Katherine Jones, an American stage actress in 1965, but after relationship of 20 years this marriage also ended in divorce. In 1986 he married for the third time to Susan, He was awarded the famous Internationl Neustadt Prize for literature in 1988. Raja Rao died on 8th July 2006 at the age of 97, at Austin, Texas. The life and works of raja Rao can be best summarized in the words of R. Parathasarthy, poet, critic, and Director of Program in Asian Studies at Skidmore College in New York, when he said: “Rao is one of the most innovative novelist now writing. Departing boldly from the European tradition of the novel, he has indegionized it in the process of assimilation material from the Indian literary tradition. He has put the novel to uses to which it had not perhaps been put before by exploring the metaphysical basis of writing itself, of, in fact, the word. As a writer Rao’s concern is with the human condition rather than with a particular nation or ethnic group. The house of fiction that Rao has built is founded on the metaphysical and linguistic speculations of the Indians. It is to the masters of fiction in our time, such as Proust and Joyce, that we must ultimately turn for a writer of a comparable stature.”
He went to the University of Montpellier in France to study French language and literature. He later joined the Sorbonne University of Paris. He married Camille Mouly, a French language teacher at Montpellier, in 1931 and came back to India in 1939. Though studied abroad, Raja Rao was a nationalist at heart. After returning to India, he joined the National struggle for independence. He was the co-editor of Changing India, an anthology of modern Indian thought. He also edited ‘Tomorrow’, a journal from Bombay. He actively took part in the Quit India Movement of 1942. Apart from being a nationalist he was a social activist also. He was at the forefront of the formation of a cultural organization, Sri Vidya Samiti, devoted to reviving the values of ancient India and was associated with Chetna, another organization involved in propagation of Indian thoughts and values.