Monday, May 10, 2010

The Ignored Legacy of Raja Rao

Times of India reports through the pen of Leitizia Alterno the sad unwillingness of any individual or institution to volunteer to housing the writer Raja Rao's literary papers. The article appears under an ad for "delivering mangoes to your home by Fedex." Took me completely by surprise, I must say. What has mangoes to do with literature? Was it the penchant for Indo-Anglian writers to write about "mango pickle", "blue mangoes", oh, never mind?! Guess it's the heat getting to me.

"In Rao's case, both the publishing industry and the academic world contributed to Rao's literary, and material, demise. While Raja Rao's profound spirituality has certainly hindered his active engagement in securing high profile and profitable publishing deals, as a Rao critic and editor-in-chief of the Raja Rao Publication Project, I am always struggling to campaign for the literary recognition he deserves as one of the leading anti-colonial literary voices coming from India, way ahead of Salman Rushdie or Arundhati Roy. Rao's writing remains a conveniently unacknowledged, yet almost palpable presence in some of their works."

I wonder why Raja Rao has gone into virtual anonymity while his coevals have been elevated to the literary hall of fame. The fact that he was considered for the Nobel Prize also indicates his prominence as a strong voice of the post-colonial Indian diasporas' writing. We have short memories and when it comes to literature our memory is even more limited. Nissim Ezekiel, Arun Kolhatkar, Santan Rodrigues are some poets who have been totally ignored after their deaths. (By the way, I picked out Kolhatkar's "Jejuri" from Strand Book Stall on Saturday. Luckily for me Shenoy [who took over from Shanbhag] recognized me and gave me some good discounts.)

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