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A Hermit in Texas*

Meenakshi Mukherjee

It was in the mid-nineteen seventies during my very first teaching assignment abroad that I had this memorable encounter with Raja Rao. My doctoral dissertation had appeared as book a few years earlier in which Raja Rao was one of the major writers discussed. I suspect it was on the basis of that book on Indian novels in English that I was invited to teach a course in the University of Texas at Austin. I knew Raja Rao taught Indian Philosophy in the same university and had planned to get in touch with him as soon as I settled down. I was going to be there for the entire semester – so there was no hurry. Going to see Raja Rao would be for me like making a pilgrimage – I wanted to do that in a duly reverential frame of mind. But before the first week was over I had a phone call at my office – a gentle voice introducing himself as Raja Rao and welcoming me to Austin. He said he learnt about my arrival from the campus newspaper and wanted to meet me because he had read my book. I was quite overwhelmed. Nothing like this had ever happened to me. He suggested lunch at his place on Saturday. He said he did not own a car so I would have to take a taxi and gave me the address. This was the first surprise. I did not know that there were university professors in the US who did not drive. The second surprise came when I reached my destination on Saturday and saw the way he lived. His apartment was literally one room on top of someone’s garage with a small kitchen and a dining alcove – all sparsely furnished. The room had a single bed and a desk – one bookshelf and a couple of chairs—no carpet on the floor.   We sat on those two straight-backed chairs and he narrated stories of his life to an eager wide-eyed listener. It was a rare privilege to be sitting with a man whom I had studied in such detail and written about. I had read everything he had written at that point of time (I must confess later I slipped up) and hung on to each word uttered by him. He pointed to his wife’s photograph on the wall who looked to me like Virginia Woolf. She was ...

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