Santha Rama Rau
|Born||January 24, 1923|
Madras, British India (now Chennai, India)
|Died||April 21, 2009 (aged 86)|
Amenia, New York, United States
|Alma mater||Wellesley College, Wellesley, Massachusetts|
|Genre||Travel writer, novelist, playwright|
|Notable works||This is India (1953) (novel)|
A Passage to India (1960) (play adaptation)
|Spouse||Faubion Bowers (1951-1966; divorced)|
Gurdon Wattles (1970-1995; his death)
Santha was born the daughter of Sir Benegal Rama Rau, an Indian public servant, and his wife Dhanvanthi Rama Rau, an early advocate of Planned Parenthood. Santha's father was a member of the elite and prestigious Indian Civil Service, and he held the longest ever tenure (1949-57) as Governor of the Reserve Bank of India. Santha's paternal family was highly distinguished. Her grandfather, Benegal Raghavendra Rau, had been one of the earliest Indian doctors educated in western medicine. Her father's elder brother, Benegal Narsing Rau, was a renowned civil servant, jurist and statesman who had had an important role in drafting the Constitution of India. Another uncle, Benegal Shiva Rao, was an eminent journalist and member of Parliament.
While Santha's father was a south Indian Saraswat Brahmin from Canara whose mother-tongue was Konkani, her mother was a Kashmiri Brahmin from the far north of India, who had however grown up in Hubli, not very far from Canara.
In her early years, Rama Rau lived in an India under British rule. When aged 5 and a half, with her 8-year-old sister Premila, she briefly attended an Anglo-Indian School where the teacher anglicized their names. Santha's name was changed to Cynthia and her sister's was changed to Pamela. The environment there they found to be condescending, as their teacher told them that "Indians cheat". They walked home, and never returned to that school. The incident was recounted in Rama Rau's short memoir entitled "By Any Other Name".
Around 1929, she accompanied her father on a political trip to England. There she was educated at St Paul's Girls' School, and left in 1939. After short traveling through South Africa, she returned to India to discover a different place than she remembered. She applied to Wellesley College, Wellesley, Massachusetts, in the United States, and was the first Indian student to be accepted there. She graduated with honors in 1944. Shortly afterward, she published her first book Home to India.
When India won its independence in 1947, Rama Rau's father was appointed as his nation's first ambassador to Japan. While in Tokyo, Japan, she met her future husband, an American, Faubion Bowers. After extensive traveling through Asia and a bit of Africa and Europe, the couple settled in New York City, New York. Rama Rau became an instructor in the English language faculty of Sarah Lawrence College, Bronxville, New York, in 1971, also working as a freelance writer.
She adapted the novel A Passage to India, with author E. M. Forster's approval, for the theater. The play of the same name was produced for the Oxford Playhouse, Oxford, United Kingdom, moved to the West End in London, United Kingdom, in 1960 for 261 performances, and then on to Broadway in New York City where it was staged 109 times. It was adapted by John Maynard and directed by Waris Hussein for BBC television's Play of the Month in 1965. Although the film rights originally required Rama Rau to write the screenplay, director David Lean found her draft unsatisfactory and was able to reject it, although she is still credited in the titles because he still used some of her dialogue.
Rama Rau is the author of Home to India, East of Home, This is India, Remember the House (a novel), My Russian Journey, Gifts of Passage, The Adventuress, (a novel), View to the Southeast, and An Inheritance, as well as co-author (with Gayatri Devi) of A Princess Remembers: the memoirs of the Maharani of Jaipur.
She married Faubion Bowers in 1951 and had one son, Jai Peter Bowers in 1952. The couple divorced in 1966. In 1970, Rama Rau married Gurdon B. Wattles, and had no children. Faubion Bowers died in November 1999 and is survived by his son, Jai. Jai is currently living in Scottsdale, Arizona, with his wife, Deborah Bowers, and has a daughter, Whitney Bowers. Jai also has two stepchildren, Morgan and Ross Mandeville.
Here Rama Rau details how her mother's ancestors had fled Muslim invaders three hundred years ago ("to settle inappropriately enough, in another Muslim stronghold, Allahabad"). Despite being migrants-and, of course, because of it-the women of the family preserved Kashmiri customs such as brewing green tea, cooking in ghee as opposed to oil, and preferring a variety of breads to rice. In all of this, their fierce sense of origins, their strong feeling for the "Kashmiri Brahmin" community," remained undiminished even though they were exiled in uncomprehending, if not hostile territory.