I have just found on-line this piece by my late father Robert Rollason (who left us in August 2007), written in tribute to
the India scholar and friend of his David McCutchion,
from the Jesus College Cambridge Annual Report for 2005. David was a pioneer
in the study of Indian Writing in English. I met him myself twice when I was young,
and have myself written (cf. entry on this blog for 23 Nov 2006):
‘David McCutchion, Pioneer Critic of Raja Rao’, in Raja Rao: The Master and his Moves, ed. Jaydeep Sarangi, New Delhi: Authorpress, 2007, pp. 9-20,
Jesus College Annual Report 2005
A Short but Memorable Life
Robert Rollason (1950) writes of an old friend: the late David McCUTCHION, who came up,
also in 1950, to read modern languages under Freddie Brittain and Trevor Jones, died in
1972 when he was only 41. In his short life he achieved more than many of us in our three
score years and ten, and his scholarship is still very much alive today.
At Cambridge he was a keen member of the Tagore Society and after graduating went out to
Calcutta where he worked for most of the rest of his life, eventually as a reader in
comparative literature at Jadavpur University. During his two decades in India, David made
major – and pioneering – contributions to the study of both temples and scroll paintings.
The monumental Brick temples of Bengal (Princeton, 1983) used his writings and hundreds of
the 10,000 temple photographs he had taken. In the preface to this book his great
friend the film director Satyajit Ray wrote of ‘David’s adventures’ in collecting this mass of
original material, ‘for adventures they truly were, comic and tragic by turns, triumphant
and despondent in equal measures.’ In spite of the hazards, David’s expertly shot
transparencies and prints have a serene quality; the collection is now housed in the Victoria
and Albert Museum.
The other original strand of David’s scholarship was his work in the field of ‘Indian writing
in English’, now fashionable in many western universities. His 1961 publication The novel as
sastra on the writer Raja Rao was a critical landmark and led to his 1969 collection Indian
writing in English which helped to open up this new subject of study, until then all but ignored
in Europe and the USA. After the success of such writers as Salman Rushdie, Vikram Seth
and Anita Desai, this subject has risen to prominence both in universities and among the
reading public. David’s work is still in print and is regularly cited, most recently in 2004 in
a new study of Rao by Letizia Alterno, a young Italian academic at Manchester University.
David came back to England as a visiting lecturer in the School of African and Asian Studies
at Sussex University for the year 1970–1 and was due to return to the UK again in 1972 to
complete his book on Indian temple architecture and another on Bengal terracottas. He also
had in mind a study of ‘pata’ painting and ‘patua’ scrolls, but sadly none was completed by
him. Briefly back in Calcutta, he suffered a virulent attack of polio and died shortly
afterwards, to the consternation of his family and many friends in England and India.
Besides David’s major work on temples, his study of scroll painting was also completed after
his death, in this case by Professor Shurid Bhownick of Midnapore University who published
it in 1999. In 1972 a volume of tributes, David McCutchion Shraddhanjali, appeared in India and,
shortly after, David was posthumously awarded the Tagore Prize for literature. Those who
knew him will be pleased to hear that this Jesus graduate is still remembered on the subcontinent
and in Europe. David McCutchion made his mark: as The Times concluded in its
obituary in February 1972, ‘he did more for Anglo-Indian friendship than a government or
an ideology can undo’ and this good effect continues today.
NOTE added 10 August 2009: This piece by my father is now also cited in the Wikipedia entry on David McCutchion at:
The same entry cites my own essay on David McCutchion and Raja Rao, as mentioned earlier in this post.
BELOW: photos of my late father (in Luxembourg; with my mother,
in Place Stanislas. Nancy, France; and with my mother and myself in the Pépinière
park, Nancy, France; all 2006)