The Postcolonial Careers of Santha Rama Rau

The Postcolonial Careers of Santha Rama Rau

Next Wave: New Directions in Women's Studies

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Book Pages: 232 Illustrations: 6 illustrations Published: September 2007

Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies, History > World History, Postcolonial and Colonial Studies

Santha Rama Rau was one of the best known South Asian writers in postwar America. Born into India’s elite in 1923, Rama Rau has lived in the United States since the 1940s. Although she is no longer well known, she was for several decades a popular expert on India. She provided an insider’s view of Indian cultures, traditions, and history to an American public increasingly aware of the expanded role of the United States on the world stage. Between 1945 and 1970, Rama Rau published half a dozen books, including travelogues, novels, a memoir, and a Time-Life cookbook; she was a regular contributor to periodicals such as the New Yorker, the New York Times, McCall’s, and Reader’s Digest.

Drawing on archival research and interviews with Rama Rau, historian Antoinette Burton opens Rama Rau’s career into an examination of orientalism in the postwar United States, the changing idioms of cosmopolitanism in the postcolonial era, and the afterlife of British colonialism in the American public sphere. Burton describes how Rama Rau’s career was shaped by gendered perceptions of India and “the East” as well as by the shifting relationships between the United States, India, Pakistan, and Great Britain during the Cold War. Exploring how Rama Rau positioned herself as an expert on both India and the British empire, Burton analyzes the correspondence between Rama Rau and her Time-Life editors over the contents of her book The Cooking of India (1969), and Rama Rau’s theatrical adaptation of E. M. Forster’s A Passage to India, which played on Broadway in 1961 and was the basis for David Lean’s 1985 film. Burton assesses the critical reception of Rama Rau’s play as well as her correspondence with Forster and Lean.


“[A] valuable contribution to postcolonial studies. . . .” — Christina Klein, Journal of Colonialism & Colonial History

“Burton combines the archival precision of the historian with the insights of the literary critic . . . [and] demonstrates how an apparently minor figure can open up an era.” — Kate Teltscher, American Historical Review

“Burton skillfully leads her readers to appreciate what major lessons can be learned from a close examination of the minor. Burton uses Rama Rau to work through a complex argument about the complicities and continuities between British and U. S. imperialism, between colonial identities and cosmopolitanism, and between orientalist writing and a critique of the same.” — Rosemary Marangoly George, Journal of British Studies

“The issues Burton raises have been taken up before . . . but Burton extends and revises previous arguments. Highly recommended.” — S. E. Gikandi, Choice

“In The Postcolonial Careers of Santha Rama Rau, Antoinette Burton produces a notably intelligent and counterintuitive reading of the forgotten and/or trivialized genealogies of colonial/postcolonial cosmopolitanism. Focusing on the career of a putatively minor writer with a complex relationship to the project of decolonization, Cold War politics, U.S. civil rights movements, and corporate publishing, Burton re-inflects the ways we have been accustomed to thinking about gendered professionalism, celebrity status, minoritization, and the history of postcolonial theory. What is most impressive is the way that she manages to make something densely textured and timely out of materials that might otherwise be relegated to antiquarian interest alone.” — Parama Roy, author of Indian Traffic: Identities in Question in Colonial and Postcolonial India

“Once again Antoinette Burton proves to be a trailblazer in the study of imperial culture. Here Burton breaks new ground by forcing us to think anew the place of the postcolonial public intellectual. She takes a risk by focusing on the admittedly ‘minor’ and yet remarkable career of Santha Rama Rau, whose moment of celebrity in the United States was shaped by the particular conjunction of postwar decolonization with Cold War–U.S. imperialism and Nehruvian Indian nationalism. Burton’s dazzling account of Rama Rau’s career, told with characteristic verve and imagination, pays handsome dividends: it offers nothing short of a rich and multilayered genealogy of postcolonial cosmopolitanism. Her virtuoso reading of the production and reception of Rama Rau’s writings provides the mediation between an individual career and the larger social forces of the time.” — Mrinalini Sinha, author of Specters of Mother India: The Global Restructuring of an Empire


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Antoinette Burton is the Catherine C. and Bruce A. Bastian Professor of Global and Transnational Studies in the Department of History at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Among her books are the collections Archive Stories: Facts, Fictions, and the Writing of History; Bodies in Contact: Rethinking Colonial Encounters in World History (with Tony Ballantyne); and After the Imperial Turn: Thinking with and through the Nation, all of which are also published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
List of Illustrations vii

Acknowledgments ix

Introduction: The East as a Postcolonial Career 1

1. Cold War Cosmopolitanism: The Education of Santha Rama Rau in the Age of Bandung, 1945–1960 32

2. Interpreting British India in Anglo-America: The Cultural Politics of Santha Rama Rau’s A Passage to India, 1960x2005 71

3. Home to India: Cooking with Santha Rama Rau 109

Epilogue: Cosmopolitanism by Any Other Name 145

Notes 153

Selected Bibliography 195

Index 209
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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4071-3 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4050-8
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