Just published is a new critical anthology of essays on
the late Raja Rao (1998-2006), in which I am proud to have a
contribution (Christopher Rollason, “David McCutchion, Pioneer Critic of
Raja Rao”, pp. 9-20). McCutchion, whom I met when young, was a university fellow student and personal friend of my father’s.
RAJA RAO: THE MASTER AND HIS MOVES, ed. Jaydeep Sarangi, New Delhi:
Authorspress, 2007, pp. xiii + 217, ISBN 81-7273-369-0
Alessandro Monti, Christopher Rollason, Letizia Alterno, D. Maya, Pradip Kumarv Patra,
V. Lakshmanan, H.S. Komalesha, M.B. Gaijan, C. Kodhandaraman and Anandan Latha,
Vijay Kumar Pandey, R. Arunachalan, Himadri Roy, N. Sharada Iyer, P. Gopichand,
Sudhir K. Arora, Gauri Shankar Jha and K.S. Anish Kumar
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF BOOK:
RAJA RAO’s quest was not only a literary sadhana, but also the expression
of long spans of life spent abroad, mainly in France, Italy, England and
Texas. Yet India remained for him the only place to return to.
Rao has interpreted the reality surrounding him and the world he was
living in through his Vedantic lenses while also assimilating (re-creating)
the philosophy and thinking of distinguished Western writers like Malraux,
Valéry, Baudelaire, Rolland, Silone, Dostoevsky, and many others.
Raja Rao’s supra-intellectuality goes beyond the textual, at times too
philosophical (and burdensome) for a common reader. His complex metaphysics
of Advaita Vedanta may discourage a novice reading his works. Yet, for a
discerning critic, reading him is a sadhana.
The 18 chapters in this volume include studies focusing on Rao’s novels ‘Kanthapura’, ‘The Cat and Shakespeare’, ‘On the Gangha Ghat’ and ‘The Chessmaster and his Moves’, and also on his short stories and on more general aspects of Rao criticism. There is also a select bibliography. Particularly welcome are the two contributions by Letizia Alterno, the leading Rao scholar, already mentioned on this blog, who maintains the dedicated sites at: http.rajarao.free.fr and www.rajarao.com
The text of my own contribution can be found on-line at:
**David McCutchion (1930-1972), English-born scholar, Indophile and early critic of Raja Rao,
was an authentic pioneer: in his short lifetime, he not only made a major contribution to the
study of Bengali temples, but became one of the first scholars to write on the now much commented
subject of Indian Writing in English (IWE), a field in which his work is still
regularly read and quoted today. Born in Coventry, David attended that city’s King Henry
VIII Grammar School. He made it to Cambridge University the hard way, on intellectual
merit alone. He read Modern Languages (French and German) at Jesus College. After
graduating in 1953, he taught English for two years in southern France. He went to India in
1957. He worked there first as an English teacher at Visva-Bharati University, Shantiniketan,
and later, as Professor and then Reader in Comparative Literature at Jadavpur University,
Calcutta. He developed a keen interest in Indian literature in English, notably through his
friendship with P. Lal, the Calcutta scholar best known for founding the – still very much alive
– Writers Workshop, an institution combining the roles of publishing house and literary
cénacle and dedicated to the furthering of IWE (as testimony to this friendship, we may cite
the volume of David’s letters to P. Lal published posthumously in 1972). Another of his
friends was none other than Satyajit Ray, for a goodly number of whose films David – having
become sufficiently conversant in Bengali – provided the subtitles.
1972 saw David’s tragic and enormously premature death in Calcutta, from a sudden attack of
polio. His work, however, lived and lives on. His collection of 1969, Indian Writing in
English: Critical Essays, remains in print in India: it offers both general (and still highly
valuable) considerations on the IWE phenomenon and close readings of such writers as
Nissim Ezekiel, Balachandra Rajan and, crucially for our purposes, Raja Rao. A tribute
volume, David McCutchion: Shraddhanjali, edited by P. Lal and consisting of testimonies
from the most varied Indian and Western hands, Satyajit Ray included, was published in
1972. David’s ground-breaking study of Bengali brick temples, The Temples of Bankura
District, was published by Writers Workshop in 1972. 2000 of his temple photos are kept in a
Calcutta archive, and his collection of Bengali scrolls was bequeathed to Coventry’s Herbert
Art Gallery. His name is still cited in literary circles with great respect, as befits one who
helped open up key areas of subcontinental studies to the West.
(the chapter goes on to examine in detail McCutchion’s contribution to Raja Rao scholarship).
Note added 9 June 2009:
This book has been reviewed.
– by Sule E. Egya in REFLECTIONS: A BI-ANNUAL JOURNAL OF ENGLISH CREATIVE WRITING AND CRITICISM
(Bhagalpur, India) (Vol V, Nos 1 & 2, January & July 2006), 167-170 – see entry on this blog, 10 May 2007; review republished in INDIAN JOURNAL OF WORLD LITERATURE AND CULTURE (Bhubaneshwar, India) (Vols 3 & 4, 2009, 103-106 – see entry on this blog, 8 July 2010).
– and by Paula Garcia Ramírez in "The Grove: Working Papers on English Studies" (University of Jaén, Spain), No 15, 2008, 157-163
NOTE added 10 August 2009:
This article is now cited in the Wikipedia entry on David McCutchion at:
The same entry cites my late father’s 2006 tribute to David McCutchion, published by Jesus College, Cambridge – see blog entry for 23 November 2006.