Kamala Das was a major Indian English poet and literateur and at the same time a leading Malayalam author. Her popularity in Kerala is based chiefly on her short stories and autobiography, while her oeuvre in English, written under the name Kamala Das, is noted ...
Kamala Das was a major Indian English poet and literateur and at the same time a leading Malayalam author. Her popularity in Kerala is based chiefly on her short stories and autobiography, while her oeuvre in English, written under the name Kamala Das, is noted for the fiery poems and explicit autobiography.
Kamala Das was born in Kerala. Her father was the editor of a popular Malayalam daily, and her mother a well known Malayalam poetess. She was educated at home, married at 15, and bore her first child at 16. She started writing professionally much later.
Kamala Das is bilingual, and has written poetry and novels in both English and Malayalam. Her writings, and her life itself, have attracted controversy for years. Her autobiography My Story shocked her native Kerala with its candid narration of her encounters with different men. In 1999, Kamala Das converted to Islam (and became Kamala Suraiya), claiming that only Islam could provide a woman with love and protection. This action, too resulted in a furore.
Her open and honest treatment of female sexuality, free from any sense of guilt, infused her writing with power, but also marked her as an iconoclast in her generation. On 31 May 2009, aged 75, she died at a hospital in Pune.
Kamala Das was born in Punnayurkulam, Thrissur District in Kerala, on March 31, 1934, to V. M. Nair, a former managing editor of the widely-circulated Malayalam daily Mathrubhumi, and Nalappatt Balamani Amma, a renowned Malayali poetess. She spent her childhood between Calcutta, where her father was employed as a senior officer in the Walford Transport Company that sold Bentley and Rolls Royce automobiles, and the Nalappatt ancestral home in Punnayurkulam.
Like her mother, Kamala Das also excelled in writing. Her love of poetry began at an early age through the influence of her great uncle, Nalappatt Narayana Menon, a prominent writer.
At 15, she got married to bank officer Madhava Das, who encouraged her writing interests, and she started writing both in English and in Malayalam. Calcutta in the 1960s was a tumultous time for the arts, and Kamala Das was one of the many voices that came up and started appearing in cult anthologies along with a generation of Indian English poets.
Kamala wished to begin writing, and her husband supported her decision to augment the family's income. She would often wait until nightfall after her family had gone to sleep and would write until morning: "There was only the kitchen table where I would cut vegetables, and after all the plates and things were cleared, I would sit there and start typing".She was noted for her many Malayalam short stories as well as many poems written in English. Das was also a syndicated columnist. She once claimed that "poetry does not sell in this country", but her forthright columns, which sounded off on everything from women's issues and child care to politics, were popular.
Das' first book of poetry, Summer In Calcutta was a breath of fresh air in Indian English poetry. She wrote chiefly of love, betrayal, and anguish. Her second book of poetry, The Descendants was even more explicit and the directness of her voice led to comparisons with Marguerite Duras and Sylvia Plath. At the age of 42, she published her autobiography, My Story; it was originally written in Malayalam and later she translated it into English. Later she admitted that much of the autobiography had fictional elements.
Although occasionally seen as an attention-grabber in her early years, she is now seen as one of the most formative influences on Indian English poetry. In 2009, The Times called her "the mother of modern English Indian poetry".
Conversion to Islam
She was born in a conservative Hindu Nair family having royal ancestry, she embraced Islam in 1999 at the age of 65 and assumed the name Kamala Surayya. Her conversion was rather controversial, among social and literary circles, with The Hindu calling it part of her "histrionics". She said she liked being behind the protective veil of the purdah. Later, she said it was not worth it to change one's religion.
This is what one of the writers observed about her: Das had shocked conservative Indians many times in her lifetime. It began with her autobiography, My Story, which told the story of her sexual life, her relationships with men and her views on the world in general. Then, in the 1970s, Keralites saw an active Madhavikutty (Kamala Das) enter politics. She contested the assembly election, traversing the countryside, asking for votes from people in villages. She lost, but that did not deter her from kicking off another controversy -- through nude paintings of females. Thus when Madhavikutty released her first nude painting in the 1980s, she proclaimed, "I find the nude female body the most beautiful in the world." So her paintings that depicted nude females shocked the Malayalees again. Next, she wore the purdah and bangles and announced that she had converted to Islam.
Kamala Das had three sons - M D Nalapat, Chinnen Das and Jayasurya Das. On 31 May 2009, aged 75, she died at a hospital in Pune. Her body was flown to her home state of Kerala. She was buried at the Palayam Juma Masjid at Thiruvanathapuram with full state honour.
Awards and other recognitions
Kamala Das has received many awards for her literary contribution, including:
* Nominated and shortlisted for Nobel Prize * Asian Poetry Prize * Kent Award for English Writing from Asian Countries * Asian World Prize * Ezhuthachan Award * Sahitya Academy Award * Vayalar Award * Kerala Sahitya Academy Award * Muttathu Varkey Award