Remembering Susanne Rudolph

By Raka Ray

When Susanne and Lloyd Rudolph retired from the University of Chicago and arrived at Berkeley, the Center for South Asia Studies at Berkeley struck gold. For a decade, the Rudolphs shared their vast knowledge of, and interest in, India to the Center. They were luminous fixtures at talks, seminars and cultural events, asking acute questions, engaging the speakers, and educating us all about the history of Indian politics and the rich world of Rajasthani feudalism. With Susanne’s passing, the Center has lost a great friend and intellectual interlocutor. 

An era passes with Susanne – an era of scholar-mentors the likes of which we will not see again. Speaking to her daughter Jenny about her experience of being a mother and a scholar in the academy, she once said: “they had no mercy”. But Susanne did. Just as she ushered in the period of perestroika during her leadership of the APSA, so too did she advise and mentor younger scholars with mercy -- in a way that was intellectually engaged and never patronizing. Her lifelong partnership with Lloyd, both in scholarship and at home, and her ability to sustain the highest level of intellectual engagement and productivity over a period of over fifty years, beginning at a time when academia had no commitment towards women, with her trademark steely grace and humor, made her a role model for generations of women who followed her. She was for me, personally, an inspiration. I always looked forward to seeing her and I was glad that she existed in this world.

We would periodically have dinner together. As any of the hundreds of people who have had dinner at the Rudolph home will attest, their dinners were like salons of yore, where the intellectual, the political, the social and the ridiculous were discussed across the dining table, over wonderful food, wine and coffee. Her 85th birthday celebration at Tilden park was the last time I saw her – and that is the image I will carry with me: There, surrounded by her beloved family and friends, sat Susanne, listening with a smile as those who loved and admired her spoke about what she meant to them. This photograph of her is how I should like to remember this remarkable scholar-human being.