On-line piece by my late father, on the India scholar David McCutchion

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

p. 117



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)




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