18 January, 2021

The Soul In Its Village

Pathbreaking stylistic invention and mystical yearning are the hallmarks of Raja Rao’s writing

The Soul In Its Village

Brahminhood. Casteism and untouchability. Mahatma Gan­dhi and the Indian independence struggle. These were the themes Raja Rao (1909-2006) obsessed over in his writing. The note resonating like an Omkaar over them all, however, is that of a passionate search for spiritual fulfilment. For this pioneering sage of Indian writing in English, the act of writing was an act of meditation (which it certainly can be for practising atheists too). What differentiated this process in Rao was its deep foundation in the Vedantic tradit­ion and its simultaneous questioning of social inequalities that run contrary to the unity Vedanta propounds. This is seen in Rao’s very first short story, Javni, written as a man in his twenties studying on a scholarship in France. Ram­­appa—a south Indian Brahmin, as many of Rao’s protagonists are—visits his sister in a village and interacts with her servant woman Javni, a widow in her forties from one of the lower castes. The young man, wafting in questions of existence, is amazed by her mute acceptance of her...



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