As a young girl, Santha Rama Rau lived in an India under British rule. She was sent to England to be educated, and graduated from school there in 1939. She applied to Wellesley College in the United States, and was the first Indian student to be accepted there. She graduated with honours in 1944.
When India won its independence in 1947, Santha Rama Rau's father was appointed as his nation's first ambassador to Japan. While in Tokyo, she met her future husband, an American, Faubion Bowers. The couple settled in New York City. Rau became an instructor in the English faculty of Sarah Lawrence College in 1971, also working as a freelance writer.
Rau is the author of Home to India, East of Home, This is India, Remember the House (a novel), My Russian Journey, Gifts of Passage, The Adventuress, (a novel), View to the Southeast, A Princess Remembers, An Inheritance. She adapted the novel A Passage to India, with author E. M. Forster’s approval, for the theatre. The play was produced for Oxford Playhouse, moved to the West End in 1960 for 261 performances, and then on to Broadway for 109 showings commencing in January, 1963. It was adapted by John Maynard and directed by Waris Hussein for television by the BBC in 1965. In 1984 the play was adapted for film by director David Lean. Her short story, "By Any Other Name", is one of the essays in Gifts of Passage. It is in the Norton Anthology of English Literature and is widely studied.
Santha Rama Rau married Faubion Bowers in 1951 and had one son, Jai Peter Bowers in 1952. The couple was divorced in 1966 when Jai was fourteen years old. In 1977 Santha Rama Rau married Gurdon Wattles, and had no children. Faubion Bowers died in November 1999 and is survived by his son, Jai Peter Bowers. Jai is currently living in Scottsdale, Arizona with his wife, Deborah Lee Bowers, and has a daughter, Whitney Elizabeth Bowers. Jai also has two stepchildren, Morgan and Ross Mandeville.
She wrote an autobiographical short story called "By Any Other Name". She and her older sister, who was 8, briefly attended an Anglo-Indian School where the teacher anglicized their names. (Santha was changed to Cynthia and her sister Premila was changed to Pamela.) When confronted with the additional indignity of being told by the teacher that "Indians cheat", her older sister came immediately to her little sister's classroom and they walked home, never to return to that school.