Posted on April 4, 2013 at 7:22 am

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Indian cinema loses a great non-Indian friend – RIP Ruth Prawer Jhabvala

Many assumed that screenwriter, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, was Indian, because of her passion and love for the country and its culture.  However, she was a German Jew who had to relocate to England due to the war. 1951 was a life changing year for her as she graduated with an English literature degree from Queen Mary College in London and also met the man who would be her husband.  Jhabvala fell in love with a Persian Indian architect, Cyrus S.H. Jhabvala, and ultimately fell in love with India itself, where she spent the next 24 years of her life.

Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. Photo Credit - Fay Godwin.
Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. Photo Credit – Fay Godwin.

Jhabvala wrote many novels incorporating Indian elements – writing on topics like swamis, social climbers, duplicitous landlords, among many others.  Her writing was so good, many often compared it to Jane Austin!  Jhabvala has written over 20 screenplays (winning Academy Awards for “A Room With a View” (1986) and “Howards End” (1992), and was the author of 19 novels and short story collections.

To Indians – Jhabvala is probably best known as the one of the main screenwriters for Merchant-Ivory Productions. Her partnership with Ismail Merchant and James Ivory lasted four decades!

Perhaps her most successful novel was “Heat and Dust”, which released in 1975. The book was about an English woman’s quest to uncover a family scandal. She finds herself in India, which leads to her discovering herself as well as the past. The novel garnered Jhabvala the Booker Prize, Britain’s top literary award, and was later turned into a movie directed by Ivory directed in 1983.

Her daughter Firoza tells the media that her mother’s health had been poor for some time now.  Jhabvala died on Wednesday, at the age of 85, in her home in Manhattan, NY.  Rest in Peace!