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Monday, December 14, 2009

“I am a man of silence. And words emerge from that silence with light, of light, and light is sacred…” And that “light”—Raja Rao—has rejoined the “perennial” light.

Raja Rao
(1908 – 2006)

Raja Rao—“a proud Indian” Sadhaka of Sabda as Mantra — left for his heavenly abode on July 8,  2006 leaving behind his “magic casement(s)”—Kanthapura, The Serpent and the Rope, The Chess Master and his Moves, The Cat and Shakespeare for us to meditate upon for times to come.

His Kanthapura is “the finest novel to come out of India…” The idiom he has chosen to describe the peasant life in it has a touch of the spiritual and the religious, while its inspiration tilted more towards moral and humanistic values. The author’s longing for co-existence of all sections with no discrimination is well conveyed when Moorthy—the young brahmin boy, and  the protagonist  of the novel who enters a pariah’s house much before entering a jail during the freedom struggle—said: “you know, brothers and sisters, we are here in a temple, and the temple  is the temple of the One, and we are one with everything that is in the One, and who shall say he is at the head of the One and another at the foot?

The intense passion of the author for “putting aside the idea of holy brahmin and the untouchable pariah” was displayed through Moorthy’s assertion: “brothers, and this too ye shall remember, whether brahmin or bangle seller, pariah or priest, we are all one, one as the mustered seed in a sack of mustered seeds, equal in shape and hue and all.

His magnum opus —The Serpent and the Rope, is more than a novel, for he has used it as a conduit to illuminate the minds of readers with the profound themes of “Vedantic conception of illusion and reality”. Through his philosophical pilgrimage he made his novel to state: “India lies beyond sorrow” (for, how else, as Nehru wondered once, can one explain its “endurance amidst the horror of poverty and misery?”) The novel articulates that reality is not an “object” but a living experience—its ground is Sat-chit-ananda (being-consciousness-bliss).

The art of “objective detachment” has been well demonstrated in Saroja’s dialog with her brother on marriage: “you had better wait till you see any in-laws. They already think I am a cloth in their wash basket: they’ll know when to beat me against the stone, to make me white as milk. We girls are thrown to other families as the most intimate, and most private of our clothes are thrown to the dhobi on Saturday morning. Like cotton, we women must have grown on trees…” But the same Saroja, once decision was taken, assures her brother—the head of the family: “brother, I shall bring but a fair name to the household. Do not worry”. So she says with no “rancour, fury or accusation”, as though she was debating a social evil rather than her own imminent plight.

His concern to depict every nuance of Indian ethos to perfection is well reflected from the way Little Mother deliberates upon the absence of her husband: “… as long as He was there, there was someone to look after the house, and now I ask and wonder what will happen to everything …” How gracefully the author depicted the psyche of a typical Indian woman, who never refers to her husband either by name, or as “my husband” except by using “He”. This shows his sensitivity to the minutest details of the social fabric of India. The Serpent and the Rope is indeed a journey into the very meaning of love, marriage, compassion, duty, and reverence, all through the medium of fiction

In all his novels Raja Rao had consciously chosen English, which is quite different from that of the native speakers. For instance, the characters in Kanthapura sound so natural in their suffering and gaiety under the barbarity of caste-system for they speak an English that is more “Indianized” which aptly conveys their “movement of thoughts”. While the English used in Kanthapura is more akin to the language of folklore, in case of The Serpent and the Rope it is more “Sanskritized”, akin to the Latinated English of Milton in Paradise Lost—a best fit for the “sophisticated narration and debate” that one encounters in it. It is such concerns of Raja Rao for accuracy in portrayal of characters which make a reader believe that what Tolstoy said of Maxim Gorky—“the man seems to be all eyes”—is equally applicable to Raja Rao.

His writings, true to the definition of Albert Camus about a novel that makes its novelistic great, are “but a philosophy expressed in images”: His philosophy dissolves into images resulting in a “fusion of experience and thought, of life and reflection on the meaning of life”. And this Exercitia Spiritualia is what reflects in Moorthy’s prayer in Kanthapura: “O fire, O soul,/give us the spark of god-eternal,/ that friend to friend and friend to foe,/One shall we stand before HIM.”

If only, the Indians of post-independence would imbibe his thoughts!

- GRK Murty


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