Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 175

Raja Rao 1909–

Indian novelist, short story writer, and editor.

Rao, who was educated in India and England, is one of India's most outstanding authors writing in English. His distinctive style captures the rhythms of Indian speech and idiomatic expression. His writing is complex but poetic. Intensely philosophical, Rao examines, in his fiction, the religious and mythic roots of India, at times offering a comparison to Western thought.

Rao grew up during colonial India's struggle for independence and his first novel, Kanthapura, depicts the impact of Gandhi's passive resistance movement on a South Indian village. The Serpent and the Rope, considered his best work, describes the dissolution of a marriage between an Indian student and his French wife. It is semi-autobiographical, and because of its extensive symbolism and the nature of its philosophical discussion, it is considered a metaphysical novel. The Cat and Shakespeare, also metaphysical, is an allegory which has been variously interpreted. The Cow of the Barricades and Other Stories is a 1947 collection of some early short stories.

(See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 73-76.)

Martin Tucker

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 435

The Serpent and the Rope is much more than the description of the spiritual journey of an Indian visitor to a new land…. In his main character, Ramaswamy, the author has the East turn West in its search for one of the fulfilling mysteries of the universal quest. Rama comes to Europe to study the Albigensian heresy and to complete his doctoral thesis. During his immersion in his studies he meets and marries a beautiful French girl, Madeleine….

Ostensibly, the story is about the dissolution of the marriage between Rama and Madeleine, told with "objectivity" (Rama's word) by an "historical scientist."…

[Madeleine] senses she must offer her womanhood, raise it to the point of a religious ecstasy if she is to hold on to Rama. Yet she cannot hold him. Something in her is rooted in the earth, and Rama is the air. Inevitably they separate, without having enunciated a quarrel. Characteristically, they understand the nature of their failure and do nothing but interpret it to each other and to themselves.

It is impossible to state the meaning of the novel, for to catch and hold onto the main thread one must tear the fabric. Where one ordinary stitch would do, Rao has woven thousands. (p. 471)

Rao does not merely confront East and West; he shows them working together and apart at the same instant. Yet the symbolism is easily apparent. Either one believes in the serpent or one believes in the rope. The serpent is the imagination; the rope is reality. Either the world is real and each man a part of it; or each man creates the world in his own image.

Rama believes in the serpent; Madeleine, in spite of her knowledge of Buddhist, Brahminic and Vedantio lore, and in spite of the fulfilment she has gained as a result of her forty-two-day fast, remains a believer in the rope. Madeleine needs a name and place for her knowledge to grow, while names and places must be destroyed before learning can exist for Rama. Thus, early in the novel, when Madeleine kisses Rama and feels she is "kissing a serpent or the body of death," the foreknowledge has its basis in their opposing personalities.

Rao has been widely acclaimed in his own land for the beauty of his style and thought. [The Serpent and the Rope], his first novel written directly in English, should contribute to his stature here, as it has already in England. (p. 472)

Martin Tucker, "Cultures in Conflict," in Commonweal (copyright © 1963 Commonweal Publishing...

(This entire section contains 435 words.)

See This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this study guide. You'll also get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

Co., Inc.; reprinted by permission of Commonweal Publishing Co., Inc.), Vol. LXXVII, No. 18, January 25, 1963, pp. 468-70.

Hortense Calisher

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 203

If Raja Rao's The Serpent and the Rope has a shape of its own, it is one altogether outside the duality of the Western mind. Such is both the intent and fascination of this first-person narration of a Hindu-French marriage in terms of the metaphysical quest on both sides. As one travels with it from France to India on its various threads of time-place description, seeing the persona at both the inner and the impersonal distance, participating in talk-reflection which ranges, with a scholar's emotion, from Judao-Christian ethic through all Vedanta lore, one is brilliantly seduced away from the a priori Western world into an Indian one that seems far more natural…. [The] ultimate sensation left by the book is deeper than instruction, and far and away from the fashion for such angularly repellent mimicry as Hesse's Siddhartha or even Mann's Transposed Heads. Rao's talent is to lead you as the two-dimensional creature was led in the mathematician Edwin Abbott's Flatland, into another dimension altogether, there to seat you, as you grow more Indian, at the round table of yourself. (p. 231)

Hortense Calisher, "Fiction: Some Forms Offshore," in The Nation (copyright 1963 The Nation magazine, The Nation Associates, Inc.), Vol. 196, No. 11, March 16, 1963, pp. 229-32.∗

Lois Hartley

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 297

Whether writing of sophisticates or peasants, Raja Rao has a style that is slow-moving and difficult, and his texts require, for the ordinary reader, many notes of explication. Nevertheless, there are passages of immense beauty in his novels, and his notes are often delightful brief essays on Indian customs, history, philosophy and religion.

Raja Rao's Kanthapura, written almost 35 years ago, has been belatedly published in the United States…. [Kanthapura] must be recommended to all interested in a sensitive and compassionate story of an Indian village during the Gandhi movement for independence, and in fact to all who have any interest in India.

The narrator is an Indian woman of the village of Kanthapura, in South India. Raja Rao sustains superbly the viewpoint, the mannerisms, the ways of thought and speech of this villager so different from himself. At the beginning of the events there are rumors of the activities of Gandhi; but Kanthapura reclines in the passivities and rhythms of centuries. Then a young, dedicated Brahmin, inspired by the Mahatma to a vocation to his village, returns and slowly leads the villagers fully into the freedom movement. Eventually this hero turns from Gandhi to Nehru; but his villagers remain faithful to the primary religious and political vision of the Mahatma. A major irony is that the way of the Mahatma—a way of nonviolence and victory through love—leads Kanthapura into extremes of violence and destruction.

Kanthapura is told somewhat as an old wives' tale, and one suspects an element of the mythical in such a tale; but it is a book of extraordinary veracity in its details of village life in India.

Lois Hartley, "A Look at Spring Fiction: 'Kanthapura'," in America (reprinted with permission of America Press, Inc.; © 1964; all rights reserved), Vol. 110, No. 9, February 29, 1964, p. 290.

Edward C. Dimock, Jr.

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 423

To some schools of Indian religion the cat has a metaphorical significance. There are two theories of Grace: In the first, man's responsibility is to cling to God as a baby monkey clings to its mother in flight. In the second, man depends wholly upon God for his protection and progress, as a kitten depends upon its mother to carry it about by the scruff of its neck.

Raja Rao has used this latter metaphor as a point of departure for his third novel…. The Cat and Shakespeare is a tender and deceptively humorous story of a South Indian ration-office clerk called Govindan Nair, narrated by his friend Ramakrishna Pai. Raja Rao calls his book "a metaphysical comedy," and indeed his pungent and thoroughly delightful observations of South Indian middle-class life provide a counterpoint to a sometimes difficult allegory. (p. 27)

Raja Rao's book is itself a little like a cat. It has grace and beauty, dignity and a sense of humor, a certain mystery, and even a quality of insubstantiality. Its meaning comes to you of its own accord, and cannot be coaxed or wheedled. You reach out toward it, and it turns its back and stalks unconcernedly away, or even, with a Cheshire grin, fades into nothingness. Sometimes, too, for no apparent reason, it leaps stiff-legged into the air and charges up the draperies. (pp. 27-8)

The book requires multiple readings; one is not enough to follow the thought and at the same time to obtain a sufficient reward from Raja Rao's graceful and austere English and his striking and witty imagery. Only after one is able to relax a little can he give in to the charm of the picture of Ramakrishna Pai "sitting and listening to himself like a lizard," or be caught up by the image, rather than the meaning, of kittens walking sure-footedly along a garden wall between reality and unreality. Only then does one have time to reflect on the sub-themes, guilt and responsibility, causation and existence, which crowd in almost unobtrusively.

Raja Rao has given us a beautiful book. The "Shakespeare" of the title (though Shakespeare was a "natural man") may be somewhat gratuitous; it does however add the quality of a mantra, a truth-containing spell that has the power, in its sound perhaps more than in its lexical meaning, to reach beyond the mind to understanding. (p. 28)

Edward C. Dimock, Jr., "The Garden Wall between Worlds," in Saturday Review (copyright © 1965 by Saturday Review; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Vol. XLVIII, No. 3, January 16, 1965, pp. 27-8.

Ahmed Ali

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1077

[Raja Rao] published his first novel Kanthapura in 1938, which, but for its title, would have met with greater success than it did. It had a pictorial quality of its own both in word and style, and an approach to life and its problems more serious than had hitherto been made by any Indian writing in English, while it carried a sensibility and intelligence not found in many vernacular writers of the day. It centres round a small village in Mysore and the struggle for Independence through Satyagrah and non-cooperation started by Mahatma Gandhi and the Indian National Congress. But it has more to tell than the political vicissitudes of India. The inner stream of the novel, though not its whole canvas, concerns Tradition….

Kanthapura narrates how the struggle for Independence came to this village, and tells of Moorthy and his band of satyagrahis in conflict with vested interests and the law. As compared with The Serpent and the Rope it has action. The characters have both shape and contour. They are living men and women, not mere symbols; and the story is not just a parable, but fiction. The telling may be strange, but it holds our interest. It is more satisfying than anything Indian that had appeared in English by 1938. (p. 17)

Indian that Raja Rao is, he is conscious, even over-conscious, of his Indian-ness. In Kanthapura he is also conscious of the fact that being an Indian he was writing in a language not his own, and that therefore his use of English was found to be different, akin to a dialect for, he said in the preface to that novel, 'one has to convey the various shades and omissions of a certain thought movement that looks maltreated'.

The emphasis, thus, right from the beginning in his writing, is on this thought movement. Only outlined in Kanthapura it is unfolded in his second and most considerable novel, The Serpent and the Rope, a 'serious and difficult book', in Raja Rao's own words, but which has made an understanding of the soul of the other India easier, the India free of the Fascist Jan Sangh movement which is blotting out the image of the real and traditional India. (pp. 18-19)

[The] form of The Serpent and the Rope is epic, sustained throughout, maintained at a pitch that carries the metaphysic in its train, the sweep of the rain-bearing clouds. Raja Rao is a superb narrator, and his narration carries with it wisdom, philosophy, scholarship, beauty of word and phrase and aphorism. The narrator in him is awake, ever moving, untired, even when the novelist, the weaver of tales, is asleep. His métier is the Vedas, not the Ramayana, that masterpiece of story-telling…. The machinery Raja Rao employs is weak—recourse to diaries and awkward manipulations of incidents. His powers of invention are negligible. There are false cries reported through the pages of the personalized diary, not different in tone from the rest of the book. There are abrupt introductions of extraneous characters …, whose only function is to provide an opportunity to enlarge on aspects of modern life, sex and frivolity. There are reflections on themes that have not found any place elsewhere in the book—contemporary European and Indian scenes with emphasis on the minor key in contrast to the high sensibility which throws the seriousness of thought and purpose Rama has inherited into carved relief. This method also serves the purpose (unnecessary in view of the main reflective theme of the novel) of showing the superiority of India by contrast. India does stand out, but the art, the fiction suffers. Such things are not part of the texture of the novel. It is, however, his power of narration and his sense of style that save him and carry him forward. Otherwise he skips, he jumps over from incident to narrative across time and space, though with a simplicity that is as sincere as it is disarming. (pp. 19-20)

In retrospect, the characters are unreal, except Georges perhaps, and the solutions of problems illusory—that of Madeleine in taking to Buddhism which was a revolt against Brahmanism and the Vedas; that of Savithri in accepting the bureaucracy and imperialism she had rebelled against: that of Rama in deciding to seek the Guru but giving up in tired hopelessness to relax in the plush chairs with his chocolate. As characters they could be said not to exist…. They are all moods or philosophizings, of motherhood and womanhood, body and soul in a losing conflict, religion, history. And yet, as the opposite is necessary for objectivity, contraries are essential for philosophy. Without Reality there would have been no Illusion. Without Madeleine and Savithri there would have been no Serpent and the Rope.

Things happen, but in the mind, not to the characters—awareness or affirmation, negation or failure. It's not the characters who stand out. It's the philosophy, and through the philosophy man's destiny, seen, however, not through the life of man but the mind of initiated Ramaswamy. Had it been presented through the men, the characters, The Serpent and the Rope would have been a great novel, and Raja Rao as great a novelist as Dostoevsky. As it is, The Serpent and the Rope is a reflective, a philosophical autobiography written in moments of deep contemplation. (p. 20)

The story of Tradition is left aside in his third and last novel with the curious name of The Cat and Shakespeare. It is different in tone and atmosphere—not so much a parable as a confession of faith. The frustrations of the last novel disappear. Their place is taken by a hope, as of Shantha, big with child, finding the happiness and fulfilment of becoming. Concern with Tradition is replaced by a conviction of Fate. Destiny plays the active role in this story as Tradition had done in The Serpent and the Rope. The writing is difficult, though more modern and resilient, the rhythm more staccato. (p. 27)

The Cat and Shakespeare contains the expression of inner joy embedded in Raja Rao's recent experiences, including the discovery of America and the re-discovery of the metaphysic of life in 'the way of the kitten'—surrender to Destiny. He calls it a 'metaphysical comedy'. (p. 28)

Ahmed Ali, "Illusion and Reality: The Art and Philosophy of Raja Rao" (copyright Ahmed Ali; by permission of Hans Zell Publishers, an imprint of K. G. Saur Verlag), in Journal of Commonwealth Literature, No. 5, July, 1968, pp. 16-28.

Janet P. Gemmil

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 845

[The Serpent and the Rope] reflects the cultural synthesis effected in the mind of the author in his own encounter with Europe as epitomized by his intellectual French wife. Transcending these is his love for Savithri, a pseudonym for an Indian woman with whom Rao has maintained a Platonic relationship for some thirty years. To express the divine quality of their love, Rao borrows from the literature of Europe and India both, and the result is a monument to absolute love coupled with a series of metaphysical questions answerable only in terms of a lifelong philosophical quest. (p. 247)

In total, The Serpent and the Rope is an overwhelming novel, for Raja Rao a tour de force which encapsules and communicates a philosophical predicament which has occupied the better part of his life. In addition, this novel comprises a major synthesis of Eastern and Western cultures in the vast number of allusions to European and Indian literature, music and philosophy incorporated into the structure of the story. It further speaks to the eternal dichotomy between maleness and femaleness which is of concern periodically in the human cultural response to family and society. The novel as a whole represents a quest for an elusive unity, a resolution of the opposition between wisdom and goodness, East and West, male and female. It may be that these are polarities of human life which cannot be fully resolved, even through the means of Advaita Vedanta. As in every religious tradition, man continues to struggle with these conflicts, even though he knows of paths that offer him escape. If we are to accept Rao's third novel, The Cat and Shakespeare, as a resolution of sorts, we see that duality disappears only in play. But even then, we are reminded that duality is never resolved into oneness—only into non-duality. The distinction is a subtle one; the texture of the language is Eastern. It is a truth and therefore also a mystery. How can it be explained, except to say that in being one can know being?

This mysterious sense of non-duality, the possibility of something other than suffering and illusion, lies at the heart of The Serpent and the Rope. Ramaswamy's quest is directed toward that end. The first-person point of view, heavy use of description, and densely-textured language all work to create a strongly metaphysical atmosphere. In order to hint at the possibility of non-duality, the novelist can do little more than explain it in tautological terms and employ rhythmic patterns which offer a sense of some greater order beyond that of the story itself. For the reader who is himself searching for metaphysical solutions, it is worth the demands on his time and intellect to puzzle out the terms of such a possibility. The Serpent and the Rope is in effect a transmission of esoteric knowledge from writer to reader in the tradition of the Upanishads.

These scriptures, it should be noted, take the form of philosophical dialogues narrated as stories; with some exceptions, each has a protagonist who quests and makes mistakes and learns just as Ramaswamy does in Rao's novel. The meaning of upanishad in Sanscrit is "to sit near," and it is in this vein that the reader as student "sits near" the writer as teacher in order to learn of Truth. In such a context, the combination of strongly autobiographical and clearly metaphysical elements is particularly striking. Raja Rao's motive in writing the novel is akin to that of Augustine and Dante: having found Truth, he feels compelled to record the spiritual struggle which led him to that point. The line between reality and illusion, truth and fiction, is indeed a fine one. Obligated to record his experiences, the writer embroiders only slightly on the events of his own life and consequently presents the resulting story in a tone of utter seriousness.

The extreme lack of playfulness or humor in The Serpent and the Rope is … a characteristic of the metaphysical novel…. By taking seriously the events and insights that come his way, Ramaswamy forces us to do the same; at all costs, we must not laugh at him. This recognition is part of the compact which exists between writer and reader with a novel of this type. (pp. 256-57)

[The Serpent and the Rope concerns] the intellectual and spiritual predicament of the modern Western-educated Indian. The Serpent and the Rope is therefore also a metaphysical novel of the sort which in the modern age fulfills the traditional function of religious scriptures. The story comprises a value structure and a metaphysical system which, if followed, would enable a hypothetical reader to cope with conflicts in his own existence. This is not to say that Rao's novel replaces the Upanishads or Shankara's commentaries. Rather, it functions to point the reader toward the traditional scriptures by illustrating their relevance to the predicament of contemporary man. (p. 258)

Janet P. Gemmil, "Dualities and Non-Duality in Raja Rao's 'The Serpent and the Rope'," in World Literature Written in English (© copyright 1973 WLWE-World Literature Written in English), Vol. 12, No. 2, November, 1973, pp. 247-59.

R. Shepherd

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 954

In The Cat and Shakespeare (1965) the larger natural symbols of The Serpent and the Rope (1960) have been adapted for a deeper and more intensive examination of Truth, now sought in the familiar domestic details of the ordinary workaday life—houses, walls, cats, coffee, illness, and so on. These are the dominant symbols of the novel, which recur page after page. The wall defines a threshold between the physical and supraphysical worlds; the bilva-tree hangs over the wall, thereby sanctifying it through contiguity (as in the legend of the hunter explained at the beginning of the novel); the house of three storeys encompasses the three worlds, heaven, earth, and the underworld (according to one traditional interpretation of Hindu cosmology); the ration shop becomes a symbol of all mundane activity governed by clock time, while the cat stands for the fundamental regenerative and sustaining principle known variously as Brahman or the Great Mother. (p. 347)

[The cat] exists at two levels—at the level of actuality within time and space, and at a metaphysical level transcending time and space. At the level of actuality the cat figures as God Shiva, whose symbolic function is concerned with the creation, preservation and final dissolution of the physical universe. In the novel the cat presides over birth (creation), the course of law or dharma (preservation), and death (destruction). But Shiva also symbolizes what goes beyond Shiva; that is, the Brahman or Matrix. So at this metaphysical level the cat represents the Great Mother of the universe. (pp. 350-51)

A good deal of the play or comedy in The Cat and Shakespeare arises from the direct participation of the cat in the main events, a kind of divine intervention after the manner of much traditional literature. On the one hand, the cat is connected with the feminine principle, while on the other it is closely connected with Nair, who serves, so to speak, as the cat's apologist. Nair is a man who has learnt to understand the true (Vedantic) significance of symbols, and for him the cat stands as an ideal. (p. 351)

The cat too exists at several levels. At the naturalistic level its behaviour and cry are absurd, again reflecting the absurdity of life. When Nair says "All my language can be reduced to … meow, meow, meowooow,"… he means that language too is hopelessly inadequate, hopelessly absurd. He improvises on Hamlet's famous soliloquy in a way that deliberately disturbs the beauty of the poetry in order to reveal some of this absurdity, to reveal the potential ugliness of language:

      To be or not to be. No, No. (He looks at the cat.)       A kitten sans cat, kitten being the       diminutive for cat. Vide Prescott       of the great grammatical fame.       A kitten sans cat, that is the       question….

At the same time he extends Shakespeare's meaning to embody a metaphysic that is strictly Indian. The famous question now becomes a question as to whether or not the finite world (kitten) can exist independent of, and unrelated to, the infinite universe (cat). Shakespeare epitomizes man's capacity for knowledge, understanding and expression but mainly within the realms of the physical world. The cat implies the possibility of a sustaining principle beyond what can be ordinarily known. The novel's title links together the physical and supra-physical realities. The startling juxtaposition of symbols demonstrates the Advaitic premise that all difference is only apparent, that everything can be ultimately related to everything else. (p. 352)

Both the absurdity and the profundity of the cat can be seen in the ration office and courtroom episodes. In the court it is the cat rather than the judge who presides over proceedings. The judge, as Nair proves, is not even certain of his own identity—that is, he does not know his own Self, in the metaphysical sense…. The cat is the focus of all attention. And yet its movements are by no means spectacular or even especially unusual or interesting. Rather its movements are unexpected and difficult to explain. It is not a logical creature and in this sense it serves as an ideal paradigm in Nair's philosophy. The ways of God are inscrutable, often apparently downright absurd. But they offer the only proof we have of God's existence. (p. 353)

Raja Rao creates a world which symbolically closes in upon itself and in which all the usual sort of problems and contradictions of life are finally resolved in a vision of the beyond. He exploits, in novel form, one traditional Indian view of cosmic order, albeit a view that is peculiarly modern on account of a heightened sense of intellectual awareness. To describe the book's form as cyclic or as symphonic is helpful, but such a description does not go far enough. The subject of the novel is that relation of the physical and the supra-physical life, and the quest for self-identity. The formal elements of the novel reflect this preoccupation. Every symbol, wherever it occurs, seems to imply all other symbols connected either directly or indirectly. Each occurrence serves as a reminder of the beginning (of the universe, of the quest, of the novel) as well as of the end. The role played by Shiva in the varied aspects of cat, Nair and the world at large is reflected in the formal cycle (creation, preservation, destruction) of the story. Characters, places and events separate and then merge together in a convergent dialectic. The book itself becomes the universe in the same way that the Indian mandala becomes equivalent to the whole existential order in the eye of the beholder. (pp. 355-56)

R. Shepherd, "Raja Rao: Symbolism in 'The Cat and Shakespeare'," in World Literature Written in English (© copyright 1975 WLWE-World Literature Written in English), Vol. 14, No. 2, November, 1975, pp. 347-56.

Charles R. Larson

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1435

[In Kanthapura,] Raja Rao has abandoned his position as story teller, giving it over to his fictive female persona [Achakka]. I can think of few other instances in Third World fiction where a male novelist has done this. (p. 134)

With the exception of Afro-American fiction, I would have to say that in most Third World novels female characters play lesser roles than their male counterparts—no doubt in large part because Western (romantic) love is missing as a theme. If women are present in any of these books, they tend to be of incidental importance, functional objects in an otherwise masculine-oriented world….

[But in] Kanthapura, women are the vanguard for an entire revolutionary change. (p. 135)

Raja Rao's structural device of relinquishing his omniscient position to the [fictive narrator] within the story, coupled with that narrator's use of plural pronouns, is responsible for much of the effectiveness of the basic story and the rooting that it has in the communal consciousness. Not surprisingly, the reader learns very little about Achakka, the narrator…. We know that she owns a little land ("I have seven acres of wet land and twelve acres of dry land …" … and that she is a Brahmin, but these are the only facts directly revealed about her in the entire narrative.

The most significant of these characteristics undoubtedly are her Brahmin position and the fact that she is female. Achakka's Brahmin status initially presents some problems for her as a narrator, since her past education has told her to uphold the caste system…. Since Achakka is much like the other villagers, she must learn to accept the changes that are taking place in Kanthapura…. Flexibility, however, typifies Achakka's character; quite early in the story she adopts Gandhi's teachings. In the riots that culminate at the end, Achakka is out there, proudly marching with the others—Brahmins and Pariahs, potters and weavers, coolies, even Mohammedans. Altogether, she becomes an admirable character—perhaps all the more surprising because she is no longer young.

The female point of view, however, is much more important than her Brahmin status, giving us, as I have already indicated, something atypical of most Third World fiction. Much of the novel's power is Raja Rao's determination to keep the viewpoint totally feminine. For this reason, it is especially important that the village protector is a goddess, Kenchamma, not a god. Her power resides in her past actions, and the origin of the village is attributed to her initial accomplishments…. Symbolically, Kenchamma's power, incarnated in the women of Kanthapura such as Achakka (engaging in a similar battle), brings about the great social change that radicalizes the village, for Gandhi and Moorthy are only the catalysts, the inspiration for what eventually happens. They become increasingly insignificant as the narrative continues. Moorthy even disappearing from the village itself. The women are the force, they bring about the real revolution, since their husbands have had to hide in the jungles around the village. Without the force of the women, there would not, in fact, have been a revolution in Kanthapura.

Achakka's entire story—her narrative of the events that take place in Kanthapura—is told in retrospect to other women listeners. There are constant references to these listeners who are identified as "sisters," but what is of more importance is that Kanthapura is thereby rooted in oral storytelling. The novel itself is one long oral tale, told by a mature woman who has survived the ordeal she is describing to her listeners. There are other tales also, usually digressions within the main narrative itself, tales related by Achakka that other people have told her…. Other oral characteristics of the narrative include the multiple use of songs and prayers and the more limited use of proverbs, mythology, and epic lists and catalogs. So strong is the oral tradition that if it were eliminated there would be no Kanthapura.

Stylistically, all of these aspects contribute a rather fast-paced quality to the prose itself, at times reminiscent of a kind of oral stream of consciousness or automatic writing because of the declarative sentences that go on and on, connected by conjunction after conjunction. (pp. 137-39)

[There] is a sense of a heightened pace—of time rushing by so quickly that it can never be recaptured. Most of the novel is told as a summary of past events, with endless digressions, as is often typical of longer oral narratives, and only limited use of dialogue. The combination of these aspects creates a style that is altogether breathless, vividly recapturing the abruptness of the social change within the culture itself. Time is not only marching on, but it is bringing about major social changes. (pp. 139-40)

Towards the end of the novel, when nothing can stop the women from marching against the soldiers sent in by the British, the change has been so complete that the women (in spite of the fact that many of them have been killed) make the voluntary choice to continue their protests…. The women envision a nationwide women's revolt, liberating all of India. Kanthapura itself has become insignificant—it is simply the village where the riots began. That is why these same women decide to burn down what is left of the village, rather than return to it. For them, life can never again be as it was in Kanthapura. The revolution is now self perpetuating.

In retrospect, this change from passivity to activity is explained by Achakka as a kind of uncontrollable religious possession, growing out of the foundation of the villagers' beliefs. (pp. 140-41)

We have only to remember that Kanthapura was published in 1938—nine years before independence—to realize [its] revolutionary nature…. It is surprising that the novel was not banned in India or that its author was not imprisoned. (p. 141)

[Kanthapura] is built around several significant events in Gandhi's political career that eventually culminated in India's independence. Time is not presented through cyclical events in the novel, though there are some references to the natural seasons; we are not shown a closed system of which only the timeless present has any reality for the people. Rather, there is a sense of past and future—a sense of history marching on. Achakka herself is aware of this feeling as becomes apparent in her retrospective narrative of what has taken place. The other women also realize that they are a part of history on the march. No doubt much of this sense of historical time is a reflection of events in Gandhi's political life, plus the merging of his image with the oral tradition. Historically, for the Indians, Gandhi became a kind of myth in his own day, and this sense—almost of sainthood—permeates much of Kanthapura…. (pp. 141-42)

At the end of the story, when Range Gowda—one of the Pariah leaders who has gone back to Kanthapura to look at the site that was once the village—tells Achakka "'There's neither man nor mosquito in Kanthapura …' "…, it might be easy to conclude that what has taken place in Kanthapura is essentially negative. After all, the village no longer exists. Moorthy has run off and joined forces with the Communists, Gandhi has made a truce with the viceroy, and it is suspected that "the peasants will pay back the revenues, the young men will not boycott the toddy shops, and everything they say, will be as before."… It is then however that Achakka makes one of the most emphatic statements in the narrative, relating it to her comment about what has happened to their hearts: "'No, sister, no, nothing can ever be the same again.'"… (p. 142)

In the concluding summary, Achakka expresses her beliefs that what has happened in Kanthapura is to be interpreted as essentially positive: "They say the Mahatma will go to the Red-Man's country and he will get us Swaraj" …, that is, independence. The time is propitious, the culture has been renewed, things will never again be as they were. The pessimism that has for so long been a controlling factor in Third World fiction has begun to shift toward optimism. Cultural renewal can only begin within the culture itself, from within its basic foundations; the village and the family. (pp. 142-43)

Charles R. Larson, "Revolt and Rebirth, Cultural Renewal: Raja Rao's 'Kanthapura', Kamala Markandaya's 'Two Virgins'," in his The Novel in the Third World (copyright © 1976 by Charles R. Larson; reprinted by permission of the author), Inscape, Publishers, 1976, pp. 131-52 [the excerpts of Raja Rao's work used were originally published in his Kanthapura (copyright © 1963 by New Directions Publishing Corporation; reprinted by permission of New Directions), New Directions, 1963].∗

Richard R. Guzman

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 3283

Of the few [Third World] writers who have managed to synthesize forms and idioms out of the clash of the native and Western, one certainly thinks of Raja Rao, whom many consider the most brilliant Indian ever to write fiction in English. Forty years ago, in a preface to his first book Kanthapura, he wrote one of the first manifestos on Third World literary style.

… English is not really an alien language to us. It is the language of our intellectual makeup—like Sanskrit or Persian was before—but not of our emotional make-up…. We cannot write like the English. We should not. We cannot write only as Indians. We have grown to look at the large world as a part of us. Our method of expression therefore has to be a dialect which will someday prove to be as distinctive and colorful as the Irish or the American. Time alone will justify it.

After language the next problem is that of style. The tempo of Indian life must be infused into our English expression…. We, in India, think quickly, and when we move we move quickly. There must be something in the sun of India that makes us rush and tumble and run on…. The Mahabharata has 214,788 verses and the Ramayana 48,000…. Episode follows episode, and when our thoughts stop our breath stops, and we move on to another thought. This was and still is the ordinary style of our storytelling.

This 1937 preface remains to my mind the most eloquent and enticing guide to style a Third World writer can have, and Raja Rao's growing understanding of his own statement has manifested itself in two other celebrated works, The Serpent and the Rope (1960) and The Cat and Shakespeare (1967). Together with Kanthapura, they have become prime models in world literature, showing how profoundly one language can be made to serve the very soul of another culture.

Kanthapura is set in the early 30's, around the time Gandhi made his salt marches. Moorthy, a young Brahmin transformed by Gandhi's spirit into a revolutionary, comes back from the city to Kanthapura and attempts to cut across traditional boundaries of caste in order to create a unified front against the British…. Until he himself has a spiritual awakening …, his efforts remain relatively ineffectual. When Kanthapura finally is unified, it inspires more rebellion. The British retaliate, wasting the village and dispersing its inhabitants, but the impact has been made. Surprisingly, Raja Rao was not arrested for sedition, for he clearly meant tiny Kanthapura to be an example of the type of courage and unity that could expel the British.

Outwardly, the book's form is quite Western. It is told, first of all, by a narrator in the first person with a limited point of view. Most important, it has, in the tradition of Western historical narrative, a pointed, linear plot which Raja Rao has shaped with tight logic on a balanced curve which reaches its apex in chapter ten, the book's exact center. Chapter one is balanced with chapter 19, chapter two with 18, and so on. (p. 34)

Yet tight, logical structure is neither the first nor last impression Kanthapura makes. Rather the novel sprawls and digresses, and features, besides, 60 pages of notes on Indian culture and history arranged by chapter at the back of the book. At times these notes seem as interesting as the novel itself; so when the narrator, Achakka, mentions Ravanna, for example, one turns to the notes; and since Ravanna, or the Cauvery River, or Shakuntala is likely to be mentioned in a digression, the notes extend that digression, sometimes forcing slow movement through the text.

The text, however, does not move slowly, for Achakka, a fantastically garrulous old woman presumably telling her tale to a group addressed only as "sisters," is perhaps the fastest, most prolix talker in world literature…. She is something of a poet—especially in her descriptions of nature and evocations of Indian culture—but also a master gossip, telling us of squabbles, and houses, and who is jealous of whom (and why). Serious or frivolous, her words always pour forth in a near-breathless, near-torrential, near-endless rush which the American critic Charles Larson describes as an "oral stream of consciousness" [see excerpt above].

Another American critic says, however, that the book's style becomes monotonous over its 180-page length. The style is "dominated by and, then, but, when, and now," says Robert J. Ray, and "one sequence follows another without emphasis or control." In fact, though Rao had promised just this relentless rush of words and episodes, he appears to have run into a problem that has plagued many other literary works, Third World or otherwise, that use simple country or native narrators: the usually flat, repetitious syntax of such speakers is unable to buoy a long written narrative. In The Serpent and the Rope and The Cat and Shakespeare (which are better books) the narrators are quite sophisticated, and while the rhythm of Indian speech is still fully retained, the syntax of parataxis and simple coordination dominating Kanthapura gives way to what Robert J. Ray now describes as "paradoxical language patterns that are stunning, subtle, profound, and beautiful." Rao's artistic craft, says Ray, has become "the most profound in the history of Indo-Anglian literature, perhaps in the history of contemporary literature."

Ray's somewhat justified criticism of Kanthapura may be lessened, however, if we can learn to hear the rhythm and inflection of Indian speech and understand the peculiar literary synthesis Raja Rao is attempting…. Kanthapura is modeled not so much after the novel as the shthala-purana, or legendary history, which—oral or written—is chatty, digressive, amply laced with allusions, hymns, stories, and sayings. Even though Kanthapura has a few interesting characters and a tight, logical framework, Achakka's torrential, digressive voice overwhelms—and was meant to overwhelm—all and work against the sense of controlled, historical progress or sequence. For the real protagonist of Kanthapura has neither personal character nor history: it is India—the idea, the metaphysic…. (pp. 34-6)

The idiom of the sage has been the language of the venerable Sankara, of Sri Aurobindo, and Gandhi, and is based on the central text of Hinduism. Tat tvam asi (Thou art that)…. Tat tvam asi gives rise to the doctrine of radical monism, which holds that all things are ultimately one. It rejects subject-object dualism, moves away from the object and from history, and believes the word illusory—not materially real, but arising from the perceptions of the self, which is ultimately identical with the Absolute Self whose highest expression is ahimsa. "Seeing oneself," says the central figure in The Serpent and the Rope, "is what we always seek; the world, as the great sage Sankara said, is like a city seen in a mirror." (p. 37)

To varying degrees each major leader of the Indian Revolution tried to blend the call for political unity with this sagely spirit of radical oneness found in the scriptures and rooted deeply in Indian culture. That spirit is India the idea, the metaphysic, and it is the connection between politics and tat tvam asi that Moorthy realizes during his awakening.

Only partially transformed by Gandhi's example, Moorthy is at first a mere modern trying to remake the traditional without the transcending power of the sagely vision. (p. 37-8)

In the end, feeling that Gandhi is not practical enough, Moorthy seems to turn away from the sagely vision and go to Nehru, the modern. But, as Raja Rao has said, Moorthy is immature and impatient: the only "practical" way, finally, is the way of the sage. Thus, except for a one-paragraph wrap-up by Achakka, Kanthapura ends not with Moorthy's tentativeness but with Gandhi's 1931 trip to England. That event, however, is not spoken of in historical terms, but, significantly, in terms of Indian myth and tradition…. The ever-present India mythos finally absorbs the characters and history it has all along been bathing and overwhelming.

For Raja Rao, myth is more real than fact, for myth leads fact out of itself, into the general, and finally into the realm of the nonmaterial Absolute, the One whose highest expression is ahimsa. Tat tvam asi gives to Indian aesthetics a movement diametrically opposed to the aesthetic tendencies of the West, especially as manifested in realism. (pp. 38-9)

In Raja Rao's synthesis … there is an exquisite contrariety of motion between establishing individuality on the one hand—as with the unforgettable Govindan Nair in The Cat and Shakespeare—and undermining that individuality with constant, overt pressure towards the general, towards the revelation that that individual is not himself but the Absolute. Of course, for Raja Rao the Absolute must prevail, and as he pursues the implications of tat tvam asi further and further, his style becomes more antirealistic in a way that is kin to, but, one should note, much more radical than the antirealism that animates so many of the classics of modern and contemporary literature in the West…. Revolted by both historical chaos and historical determinism, the West nonetheless remains historical, committed to redeeming history, or unwilling, at least, to consider it illusory. For Raja Rao the function of myth is to dispel history. Yet myth is only a halfway house to the real. "I want to bring myth up to the Real," says Rao, "not down to history."

Philosophy carries us beyond myth. Gabriel Marcel once told Rao that the Indians scared him because whereas the West went from philosophy to God, they went from God to philosophy. It is just this element of philosophical disquisition, generally absent from Kanthapura, that saturates the pages of The Serpent and the Rope and The Cat and Shakespeare, taking us further away from the object, from history, from the world.

The mala or threadlike storyline of The Serpent and the Rope concerns the breakup of a remarkable marriage between Rama, a Brahmin, and Madeleine, a Westerner and teacher of history. Rama, himself a history student and writing a dissertation for a French university, narrates the story, saying at one point:

I am not telling a story here, I am writing the sad and uneven chronicle of a life, my life, with no art or decoration, but with the "objectivity," the discipline of the "historical sciences," for by taste and tradition I am only an historian.

Yet to be thus dedicated to history is to be dedicated to the object, to the world, and Rama is uneasy about this. In fact, the tone of the book's first line constitutes an unconscious admission of this uneasiness: "I was born a Brahmin," says Rama, "—that is, devoted to Truth and all that."

The Truth Rama is at first so tentative about concerns the relationship between the self and the world. The vision defined by tat tvam asi sees that the world persists because the ego persists, for the world is really only the self seen as the other. Thus The Serpent and the Rope revolves around the question, will one or will one not give up the world?—which is the same as asking, will one or will one not give up the self and see that one is not oneself, but the Absolute? Raja Rao's great achievement is to be able to pursue such questions with an almost manic philosophical drive without robbing them of the passion, pathos, and even sentimentality which must attend questions that threaten the realm of the self. (pp. 40-1)

Rama's dissertation has to do with possible connections between the Western, saintly Cathari and the Eastern, sagely Vedantin. The connections, however, exist only superficially, for although both sects forsake the world through the acquisition of knowledge and the practice of an extreme asceticism, the Cathari—whose doctrines descend from the Gnostics and Manichaens—base their attitudes on a fiercely maintained dualism. The "West"—understood throughout the book not so much as a geographical term, but a shorthand term for the affirmation of the object—means something quite different when it speaks of giving up the world. It means, ultimately, "The world must be more perfect or it must leave me alone." Yet the more intensely it rejects the world, the more intensely is the world's unsatisfying presence affirmed. (p. 42)

Even though he seems to understand the differences between Saint and Sage quite deeply, Rama still works at finding possible connections and confesses "a tender heart for the Cathars." Indeed, tenderness of heart, rising from a deeply felt compassion for the difficulty of life, is one of his most endearing qualities. Because he is tender we respect his wavering between knowing the sagely vision true and desiring to affirm the world. And never does he waver so intensely between knowledge and desire than in his relationship to Madeleine. At times he feels that he and Madeleine can truly marry, become one, but at others he knows that the best he can do is possess her, play for her the hero as saint; for in her great love for Rama and India she longs to be made over in their images. "Oh to be born in a country where tradition is so alive," she says. Yet Madeleine is the quintessence of the West: she can only reject the world, not truly give it up. Shortly after their second child is born, she writes a remarkable letter to Rama, whose father's death has forced him to return to India. The letter is the pure voice of the West addressing India. "You people are sentimental about the invisible," she writes, "we about the visible." "I wondered," she continues, "whether I could really love you—whether anyone could love a thing so abstract as you." She closes by saying she can, but this declaration is just bravura, for throughout, with great pathos and humor, she has been virtually confessing the opposite. (p. 43)

The Serpent and the Rope might be merely a short, touching, somewhat sentimental story were it not for the prodigious volume of philosophy that swells the book to more than twice Kanthapura's length and brilliantly transforms the storyline into small, seemingly ephemeral bits imbedded in vast realms of thought. (pp. 44-5)

As Kanthapura is, so to speak, centered on myth and tradition, and The Serpent and the Rope on philosophy, so The Cat and Shakespeare, while encompassing both myth and philosophy, is centered on the problem of perception. "Freedom is only that you see that you see that you see," says Ramakrishna Pai, the book's main character. Merely to see is to affirm the object: to see you see is to affirm perception. But, untransformed in the beginning, Pai had said: "Time ticks. You close your eyes and open. I want to be free," thereby echoing what Rama had said in The Serpent and the Rope: "… all ends in our stomach. There must be a way out, Lord."

The style of The Cat and Shakespeare rises out of its preoccupation with perception. Raja Rao intends his prose to be referentially difficult, ambiguous, as a way of de-emphasizing what is merely seen. Indeed, it is often difficult to figure out what, if anything, has happened, and Rao's determination to convey the vision of tat tvam asi deeply affects even the very grammar of written English. As in "you close your eyes and open," he makes many sentences elliptical by dropping, appropriately, subjects and objects. Many sentences move by indirection, switching subjects or objects in mid-flow, using logical connectives to imply connections not there, winding up where they did not set out to go. Also, the contrariety of particularization and generalization, so lovely in Rao's works, operates here more pervasively than ever. One of the main symbols of the book, for example, is a wall which Ramakrishna Pai must learn to cross…. Ultimately the wall is only ahankara, the limitations of the ego, which keeps him from seeing what he sees he sees.

"The definition of Truth is simple," says Pai, "—you wake up and you are in front of Truth." The book's plot is so tenuous because Truth is finally more a matter of what is, not what happens. It is not action, but recognition. Ahankara, however, blocks recognition by leading one to try to fulfill the longing for Truth with things which are lesser than the Truth…. Like Rama working on his dissertation, Ramakrishna Pai is involved in a project closely related to, but lesser than, his desire for freedom and Truth: he wants to build a three-story house.

Just as he begins seriously questioning his ability to do this, one of the great character creations in all literature makes his appearance. Govindan Nair, Pai's friend, easily jumps back and forth across the wall. "Hey there, be you at home?" he asks. A significant first question; for Govindan is really asking Pai how he conceives of his own being. Are you or are you not yourself? "I tell you, God will build you a house of three stories."… Govindan Nair is Ramakrishna Pai's guru, and for him the mother cat is symbol of Truth, of the Absolute.

In one of the book's most bizarre sequences, Nair's office mates present him with a cat they have placed in a rat cage. It is a joke of metaphysical proportions, and there ensues a weird parody on Hamlet's famous soliloquy. "To be or not to be. No, no," says Govindan Nair. "A kitten sans cat, that is the question." The vision shaped by Tat tvam asi sees that the world is but the play—lila—of the Absolute. Kittens are cats—the diminutive, playful aspect of cats, just as "To be" is the play of "Not to be," or the serpent (the unreal) the play of the rope (the real). To choose, like Hamlet, is to affirm duality, to maintain the illusion that one is different from the other. To put a cat in a rat cage is to treat the Absolute like an object; and if the Absolute is an object, if it is not free, then there is no hope of freedom.

"We have no feline instinct. We live like rats," says Govindan in an atypical moment of despair. That is, we live as if we were objects. But on the whole Govindan Nair, like the book itself, exudes hope. In lovely accord with the concept of lila, The Cat and Shakespeare is a roguish, uproarious, but exceedingly gentle comedy which, despite its general abstruseness, strikes one with great warmth. "Life is so precious," says Pai near the end of the book, "I ask you why does not one play?" Man, like a kitten, plays because he perceives himself to be lila, and no one perceives this more profoundly and compassionately than Govindan Nair. One comes to love him not only for his delightful, teasing language but also for the fearless freedom with which he lives. (pp. 46-9)

The Cat and Shakespeare pulses with the very heartbeat of revolutionary India, for it is the most sophisticated extension to date of India as idea, as metaphysic. One may also sense in Govindan Nair's fearlessly free style something of the courage that animated Sri Aurobindo, and Gandhi, and so many of those early strugglers for freedom. To know that the world is but one's self seen as the other is to have, as Rama says, the courage "to dare annihilation." The metaphysic of tat tvam asi assures us that one's freedom is truly one's own creation. It is not, however, in one's hands: it is in one's eyes—in vision. (pp. 49-50)

Richard R. Guzman, "The Saint and the Sage: The Fiction of Raja Rao," in The Virginia Quarterly Review (copyright, 1980, by The Virginia Quarterly Review, The University of Virginia), Vol. 56, No. 1 (Winter, 1980), pp. 33-50.


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1304

Raja Rao's The Serpent and the Rope, the classic of Indo-English literature, portrays the encounter between East and West on the intimate plane of sex, love, and marriage. The recurring theme of interracial and intercultural relationships in Indo-English literature is explored in Raja Rao's novel with a set of variables not used elsewhere….

Rama, who is a curious mixture of sensuousness and asceticism, is as strongly attracted by the beauty of Madeleine's body as by the virtues of her character. Being an Indian Brahmin, Rama is obviously impressed by Madeleine's active interest in Indian philosophy and religion and by her virtuous character; she is well known among her relatives and friends for being a person of great virtue and piety. Her cousins teasingly warn her that she will end up in a convent. She shares Rama's interest in the Cathars, because she finds in them kindred souls of purity. This streak of asceticism endears her to Rama, who never tires of talking about his purity and Brahminism.

Madeleine also combines a sensuous nature with her well-known asceticism, at least at the beginning. (p. 94)

The two love each other deeply and their married life is marked by mutual understanding, sympathy, and trust. They spend the early years of their marriage in playful fun and amusement, like children. Madeleine shows great concern for Rama's health and serves him with total devotion. Even when things cease to go well with them, their love remains unaffected. Rama continues to hold her in the highest regard, and Madeleine continues to think of his welfare. She initiates the action of divorce so that Rama can go back to the warmer climate of India which is good for his lungs; she also presents him with his freedom so that he can marry a young Hindu wife.

Rama and Madeleine are, broadly speaking, alike in temperament and character, and they seem to be made for each other. Looking at them from a distance, theirs will appear a marriage of true minds. They indeed enjoy a reputation among friends and relatives as an ideal couple. (p. 95)

The Serpent and the Rope contains numerous possible causes which could be cited for the dissolution of the marriage of Rama and Madeleine. What is, however, significant is that the novel does not show how any of the reasons given in it, separately or together, build up a crisis and bring about the breakup of the marriage.

First, there are problems created by the personality and makeup of the two. We know that Rama had lost his mother at an early age and had the feeling of being an orphan…. Madeleine was also an orphan, having lost both her parents at an early age. This shared situation probably arouses an initial sympathetic response in the hearts of Rama and Madeleine, which may be sympathy, but not the firm base for a marriage.

We are told that Madeleine is by nature a woman who can give herself to a cause. Rama knows this and thinks that Madeleine really loved him "partly because she felt India had been wronged by the British, and because she would, in marrying [him], know and identify herself with a great people."… (pp. 95-6)

When one examines the problems caused by cultural differences, one notices that Rama is unhappy with Madeleine's indifference to his gods and superstitions. He knows that to wed a woman one must wed her beliefs, and, after some inner struggle, he accepts them. He notices with regret, however, that she does not do the same.

Rama's love for Madeleine is, in a way, impersonal and abstract. The nature of this love is described in [the Indian philosopher] Yagnyavalkya's words: "For whose sake, verily, does a husband love his wife? Not for the sake of his wife, but verily for the sake of the Self in her."… Rama does not think that Madeleine could possibly appreciate this transcendental approach, for she "smelt the things of the earth, as though, sound, form, touch, taste, smell, were such realities that you could not go beyond them—even if you tried."…

To Madeleine, purity gradually comes to mean desisting from all physical and sexual contact. She implores Rama to practice the brahmacharya of his ancestors. She herself starts practicing a rigorous form of celibacy, and shrinks from the touch of even Rama. She would not expose any part of her body and certainly would not allow Rama to touch her. When Rama sees her sitting in her room in yogic posture with beads in hands and chanting mantras, he ruefully thinks, "This was the Madeline I had made."… Rama, on the other hand, could go to bed with Lakshmi, the wife of a friend of his, without violating his sense of purity. Similarly, he could receive the worship due to a husband from a wife from Savitri without any sense of guilt or infidelity. Purity is a mental and spiritual state to Rama, whereas it is a matter of physical touch to Madeleine.

In a similar way, Madeleine's India is not the same as Rama's. To Madeleine, India means saris, worship of cows, and Buddhism. Rama's India cannot be summed up neatly along these lines. It means many things to him, big and small, and evokes many feelings. It is a country with a rich tradition and culture. (p. 96)

Though Madeleine transcends her own cultural orientation to a certain extent, she is unable to acquire an inward knowledge of Rama's Indian culture. Though Rama quotes from Paul Valéry and gives beautiful lectures on French history, he cannot for a moment forget that he is an Indian Brahmin from Hariharapura of Mysore, and a grandson of Kittanna.

Important as some of these differences are, they are not accumulated and intensified so that a crisis forces the couple to separate. Further complications are caused by their declarations of everlasting love which occur right in the middle of the eruptions of their bitter thoughts. The reader's confusion is compounded by these expressions of love which continue even while their divorce arrangements progress.

The author himself is perhaps not very clear as to precisely what brought about the separation of Rama and Madeleine. Having chosen to present these sensitive, intelligent characters as two people who continue to show every possible consideration for each other's feelings in spite of their collapsing marital relations, the author does not seem to know how to explain their final estrangement. He reviews various events, thoughts, and words in the hope of finding the reason for separation…. When the book ends, neither Rama nor the author has resolved the problem.

The inconclusiveness referred to above need not, however, detract from Raja Rao's skill as an artist. He has chosen to present a difficult real life situation, one that does not always lend itself to logical explanations. The author should be commended for resisting the temptation to twist and turn situation or character, producing thereby a simple novel of East-West encounter.

The separation of Rama and Madeleine is a moving story. They respect one another, and yet they part. They are intelligent, mature, and enlightened; they are free from the usual narrow racial and cultural prejudices, and yet they cannot prevent themselves from drifting apart. The comforting aspect of this sad story of separation is that the end of marriage need not mean the end of love. Love between members of different races and cultures is possible, even if marriage is not. Having lived through the kind of situation presented in the novel in his own personal life, Raja Rao is able to give a point and force to his conclusion. (p. 97)

S. Krishnamoorthy Aithal and Rashmi Aithal, "Interracial and Intercultural Relationships in Raja Rao's 'The Serpent and the Rope'," in The International Fiction Review (© copyright International Fiction Association), Vol. 7, No. 2, Summer, 1980, pp. 94-8.