Along with R.K. Narayan and Mulk Raj Anand, he belonged to the "grand three of Indian English writing"

New Delhi: Celebrated writer Raja Rao, whose novels like Kanthapura and The Serpent and the Rope gave eminence to Indian writing in English in its early days, died in Austin, U.S., early on Saturday, his publishers said here.

Mr. Rao (96), died peacefully just before noon, said Kapil Malhotra of Vision Books.

Mr. Rao's wife Suman and a number of friends and admirers were by his side when he breathed his last, he said.

Mr. Rao had been living in Austin for the past 30 years, and regularly visited India.

Winner of the Padma Vibhushan in 1969, Mr. Rao was a member of the trinity of Indian writers in English along with contemporaries Mulk Raj Anand and R.K. Narayan.

Mr. Rao burst on to the literary scene in the 1940s with his first novel Kanthapura when little was known outside the country about Indian writing in English.

The novel was praised by British novelist E.M. Forster as "perhaps the best novel to come out of India."

Kanthapura was followed by four other novels: The Serpent and the Rope (1960), That Cat and Shakespeare (1966), Comrade Kirillov (1976) and The Chessmaster and His Moves (1988).

His last published work was The Great Indian Way (1998), the biography of Mahatma Gandhi. His new novel, Daughter of the Mountain, was to be published on November 8, his 97th birthday.

Born in Mysore, Mr. Rao went to Europe at the age of 19 to study literature at the University of Montpellier and at Sorbonne. He later moved to the U.S., teaching Indian philosophy and Buddhism at the University of Austin. "The grand three of Indian English writing are now gone. Each one was very distinctive in what he wrote about. R.K. Narayan wrote comic irony, Mulk Raj Anand about the poor and the downdrodden while Raja Rao was philosophical," said Mr. Malhotra, who knew all three writers. UNI