Rau, Santha Rama (Vasanthi Rama Rau Wattles)

Encyclopedia of the Literature of Empire - Mary Ellen Snodgrass 2010

Rau, Santha Rama (Vasanthi Rama Rau Wattles)

Rau, Santha Rama (Vasanthi Rama Rau Wattles) (1923- ) Indian biographer, essayist, travel writer, and journalist

A feminist and Brahmin, Santha Rama Rau writes of imperialism from a cosmopolitan perspective. A native of Madras, she is the daughter of Sir Benegal Rama Rau, a civil servant and diplomat, and Dhanvanthi Handoo Rama Rau, a memoirist and the international president of Planned Parenthood. Rau's family occupied embassy quarters around the world. She entered primary school in England at St. Paul's Girls' School, London. When she was in her mid-teens, the Raus began an assignment to the South African embassy, then moved to Bombay during World War II. With an English degree from Wellesley College, she established a journalistic career as editor of Trend magazine. Her AUTOBIOGRAPHY, Home to India (1944), describes her mother and grandmother's lives and the reaction to the loosening of restrictions on Indian female behaviors and choices. Another autobiographical work, Gifts of Passage (1961), set during the decline of the British Raj, reveals a loss of respect for the English as the “we” versus “they” mentality marginalized even high-caste Indians. One of Rau's personal embarrassments occurred at the Bombay Yacht Club, where staff banned her because of her race.

Rau made her name by studying ethnic quandaries under colonialism. While her father served as India's first ambassador to Tokyo, she taught English at a Christian academy, Mrs. Moto Hani's Garden School of Freedom. As Japan recovered from the collapse of its empire, Rau became a devotee of Kabuki theater and acting troupes, recognizing them as the cultural voice of the Japanese people. In 1951, she married Faubian Bowers, an American theater expert, former interpreter, and aide to General Douglas MacArthur during the American occupation of Japan. From tours of Afghanistan, Bali, Burma, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Laos, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, the Suli islands, Thailand, and Vietnam, she gathered themes and travel topics for East of Home: The Discovery of Asia by an Asian Educated in the West (1950). The debut on Broadway in January 1962 of her stage version of E. M. Forster's sociopolitical novel A Passage to India preceded a 1965 BBC television production and influenced director David Lean's 1984 screenplay. In 1966, Rau divorced her husband, with whom she had had one son, born in 1952. In 1977, she married Gordon Wattles, a legal counsel at the United Nations.

While covering news for Holiday magazine in Africa, Asia, and Russia, Rau composed vignettes and serialized novellas for Eros, Flair, Horizon, New Yorker, New York Times Magazine, Reader’s Digest, Reporter, Saturday Evening Post, and Vogue. She ghostwrote Gayatri Devi's biography, A Princess Remembers: The Memoirs of the Maharani of Jaipur (1974), the story of one of the last of queens of Jaipur, who defied purdah, the forced seclusion of women. Rau summarized “The Trial of Jomo Kenyatta” (1976), a detailed essay on the Kenyan leader's banishment from British East Africa five years before it gained independence. Police arrested him in 1952 in Nairobi, Kenya, for conspiracy and abetting an uprising of the Mau Mau, a secret Kikuyu society feared for its terrorism, murder, and the plunder of land and herds belonging to colonists. The text charges whites with monopolizing the coffee- and sisal-growing central plateau and with forbidding land purchase by blacks and Asians. In tribute to Kenyatta's contribution to black nationalism, Rau characterized him as “the only African to emerge as anything approaching a national leader in that curious association of colonies, trust territories, and protectorates” (Rau 1969, 176). Her subsequent works repudiate the residue of British imperialism.


Klein, Christina. Cold War Orientalism: Asia in the

Middlebrow Imagination, 1945-1961. Berkeley:

University of California Press, 2003.

Mehrotra, Arvind Krishna. A History of Indian Literature in English. New York: Columbia University Press, 2003.

Rau, Santha Rama. A Princess Remembers: The Memoirs of the Maharani of Jaipur. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1976.

----- . “The Trial of Jomo Kenyatta.” In The Reporter Reader, edited by Max Ascoli, 176-201. New York: Doubleday, 1969.