“If wrappings of cloth can impart respectability, the most respectable persons are the Egyptian mummies”
Such sassy lines, aren’t they? Kamala Das was the name and face behind them. A renowned poet and author, her works were and are known for exploring the fearless side of the female psyche and profound sexuality. Someone who was way ahead of her times, she was instrumental in unlocking a space for women, where they could finally speak freely about their desires. She paved the way ahead for women to voice out their angst’s and not fade into nothingness trapped within the four walls of the household and burdened with marital duties.
Doesn’t she sound like a phenomenal woman? She is definitely a woman worth knowing more about, especially with Women’s Day on the brink. So, let’s get to know her better and get ourselves inspired and motivated!
Kamala’s love for writing and poetry, sprouted at from quite an early age. Her mother Nalapat Balamani Amma, was a renowned poet herself. Besides this, her great-uncle Nalapat Narayana Menon was also an author.
Kamala Das got married when she was just 15. However, it wasn’t an unfortunate event as was the case with most women those days. Her husband Madhava Da, who was a bank officer, wholeheartedly supported his young wife’s literary pursuits. Through his encouragement, Kamala Das soon started writing and publishing in both English and Malayalam, under different pen names.
Pen names and fan name
Her actual name was Kamala Surayya. However, she was popularly known by her one-time pen names Madhavikutty and Kamala Das. In fact, her writings were so loved and she had such a following, that to her fans, she became Aami, a friend.
Her writing style was often compared to the likes of Marguerite Duras and Sylvia Plath. Some of her short stories like Pakshiyude Manam, Neypayasam, Thanuppu, and Chandana Marangal will remain unforgettable for their raw emotions and glimpses into the lives of people. One of her most controversial and talked about works, however, was her autobiography Ente Katha, which was later translated as My Story and published in 1973. The book shook the literary sphere for being so outspoken.
At the age of 65, Kamala Das embraced Islam and changed her name to Kamala Surayya. She did so after falling into the false love of Sadiq Ali, aged 38 who was a Muslim league MP. She had become a victim of love Jihad, which is still happening in Kerala. Later, she felt it was not worth changing her religion back to Hindu. In her own words, ‘I fell in love with a Muslim after my husband’s death. He was kind and generous in the beginning. But I now feel one shouldn’t change one’s religion. It is not worth it.’
Awards and achievements
Among her many awards, the most notable ones include the PEN Asian Poetry Prize which she won in 1963, the Kendra Sahitya Academy Award (English) for her Collected Poems in 1985, and the Ezhuthachan Award in 2009. She was one of the very first Indians to be nominated and shortlisted for Nobel Prize in Literature back in 1984. For her literary contributions, she was even granted an Honorary D.Litt by the University of Calicut in 2006.
Such was her love for words, that she continued to write until her demise in 2009. Her last book titled The Kept Woman and Other Stories featured her translated stories and was published posthumously.
Doesn’t her life-story and her works make you a fan of hers? I would like to conclude with another one of my favorites from her works:
“…and if love is not to be had, I want to be dead.”
(originally written for TopYaps.com)