Kamala Surayya (born Kamala Das on March 31, 1934-May 31, 2009), is a well-known Indian writer who writes in English as well as Malayalam, her native language. She is considered to be one of the outstanding Indian poets writing in English, although her popularity in Kerala is based chiefly on her short stories and autobiography. Much of her writing in Malayalam came under the pen name Madhavikkutty. She was born in Malabar in Kerala, India. She is the daughter of V. M. Nair, a former managing editor of the widely-circulated Malayalam daily Mathrubhumi, and Nalappatt Balamani Amma, a renowned Malayali poetess. Kamala Das is probably the first Hindu woman to openly and honestly talk about sexual desires of Indian woman, which made her an iconoclast of her generation.
Kamala Das spent her childhood between Calcutta, where her father was employed as a senior officer in the Walford Transport Company that sold Bentleys and Rolls Royce, and the Nalappatt ancestral home at Ponnayoorkulam in south Malabar region. Her husband often played a fatherly role for both Kamala and her sons. Because of the great age difference between Kamala and her husband, he often encouraged her to associate with people of her own age.
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. However, she did not start writing professionally till she was married and became a mother. When Kamala wished to begin writing, her husband supported her decision to augment the family’s income. Being the housewife, she could not use the morning-till-night schedule enjoyed by her great uncle. She would 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” (“Warrior” interview). This rigorous schedule took its toll upon her health, but she views her illness optimistically. It gave her more time at home, and thus, more time to write.
She is famous for her many Malayalam short stories as well as many poems written in English. This Keralite is recognized as one of the foremost poetesses of India. She is also a syndicated columnist. She has moved away from poetry because she claims that “poetry does not sell in this country (India)”, but fortunately her forthright columns do. Her columns sound off on everything from women’s issues and child care to politics.
Her eldest son M D Nalapat is married to a princess from the Travancore Royal House. He holds the UNESCO Peace Chair and Professor of geopolitics at the Manipal Academy of Higher Education. He was the former resident editor of Times of India. Her second son Chinem is placed in Bangalore.
Kamala Surayya died on 31st May 2009 in Pune and buried on 02 June 2009 at Jum-a-Masjid Palayam, Thiruvananthapuram.
Her first book, Summer In Calcutta was a promising start. She wrote chiefly of love, its betrayal, and the consequent anguish, and Indian readers in 1965 responded sympathetically to her guileless, guiltless frankness with regard to sexual matters. Ms. Das abandoned the certainties offered by an archaic, and somewhat sterile, aestheticism for an independence of mind and body at a time when Indian women poets were still expected to write about teenage girlie fantasies of eternal, bloodless, unrequited love.
Musing of a lonely heart is a common theme in her poems. It seeks love with never ending passion. Lust, greed and hunger never satiate and finally the mind becomes an old playhouse with all its lights put out. For Das, poetry (or love?) is “The April sun squeezed like an orange juice”, the heat permeates into the reader’s mind. When she is moving to a new city, “Sadness becomes a silent stone in the river’s unmoving core”. She bid farewell to “the shadows behind the windowpane, the rain, the yellow moon, the crowd and the sea”. This sensitivity is the strength of her poetry.
At 42, she published her autobiography, My Story, baring the secrets of her heart. It creates a lot of interest and controversies though not for any literary value.She herself later made it clear that it WAS after all a work of fiction and should not be read that literally.She alleges that many translators have not done justice to the original and it is one of the reason that complicated the whole matter. The book was translated into many foreign languages—about 15.
Kamala Das, better known as Madhavikutty is one of the foremost short story writers in Malayalam. In any listing, she figures among the top 5 writers, even after considering the personal choices and socio-cultural background of the readers. She writes, with dexterity, the story of poor old servant in Punnayoorkulam or the sexual disposition of upper middle class women living near a metropolitan city or in the middle of the ghetto.
Her writing style is economical and the use of language is very precise. Her widely acclaimed stories include Pakshiyude Manam, Neypayasam, Thanuppu, and Chandana Marangal. She wrote a few novels, among which Neermathalam Pootha Kalam stands out, which was received favourably by the reading public as well as the critics. It recreates the nostalgia of an old ancestral home with it adjacent snake shrine. It is often said that even her casual talks falls in the genre of short stories. Such is her creative genius that even after succumbing to several unwanted controversies, she remains a widely popular figure.
Awards and other recognitions
Kamala Das has received many awards for her literary contribution. Some of them are
- Asian Poetry Prize
- Kent Award for English Writing from Asian Countries
- Asan World Prize
- Ezhuthachan Award
- Sahitya Academy Award
- Vayalar Award
- Kerala Sahitya Academy Award
She has traveled extensively to read poetry to Germany’s Essen, Bonn and Duisburg universities, Adelaide Writer’s Festival (Adelaide, Australia), Frankfurt Book Fair, University of Kingston, Jamaica, Singapore, and South Bank Festival (London), Concordia University (Montreal, Canada), Columbia University (New York), Qatar, Dubai, Sharjah, Abu Dhabi, etc. Her works are available in French, Spanish, Russian, German and Japanese.
She has also held positions as Vice chairperson in Kerala Sahitya Academy, chairperson in Kerala forestry Board, President of Kerala Children Film Society, Orient editor of Poet magazine and Poetry editor of Illustrated Weekly of IndiaISSN 0019-2430
Conversion to Islam
Born in a conservative Hindu Nair (Nallappattu) family having Royal anscestry, she embraced Islam in 1999 at the age of 65 and assumed the name Kamala Suraiya. Like the themes of her stories, conversion too, kicked up much heat and dust in the social and literary circles.
Her statements like “I’m converting Krishna into Allah and making him the Prophet after naming him Mohammed. If you go to Guruvayur now Krishna will not be there he will be with me” infuriated many conservative Hindus. They cannot digest when some one who has written
Krishna, I am melting,
I perceive the Prophet’s features, as
yet unrevealed, on my beloved’s
Her serious readers observed the same undercurrents lying beneath both lines, this time more lively.
She was also active in politics in India, and has launched a national political party known as the Lok Seva Party, to concentrate on humanitarian work as well as to provide asylum to orphaned mothers and promote secularism. In 1984, she contested election to enter parliament, but lost.
- 1964: The Sirens (Asian Poetry Prize winner)
- 1965: Summer in Calcutta (poetry; Kent’s Award winner)
- 1967: The Descendants (poetry)
- 1973: The Old Playhouse and Other Poems (poetry)
- 1976: My Story (autobiography)
- 1977: Alphabet of Lust (novel)
- 1985: The Anamalai Poems (poetry)
- 1992: Padmavati the Harlot and Other Stories (collection of short stories)
- 1996: Only the Soul Knows How to Sing (poetry)
- 2001: yaa Allah (collection of poems) published by [IPH]
- 1964: Pakshiyude Manam (short stories)
- 1966: Naricheerukal Parakkumbol (short stories)
- 1968: Thanuppu (short story, Sahitya Academi award)
- 1987: Balyakala Smaranakal (Childhood Memories)
- 1989: Varshangalkku Mumbu (Years Before)
- 1990: Palayan (novel)
- 1991: Neypayasam (short story)
- 1992: Dayarikkurippukal (novel)
- 1994: Neermathalam Pootha Kalam (novel, Vayalar Award winner)
- 1996: Chekkerunna Pakshikal (short stories)
- 1998: Nashtapetta Neelambari (short stories)
- 2005: Chandana Marangal (Novel)
- 2005: Madhavikkuttiyude Unmakkadhakal (short stories)2x
- 2005: Vandikkalakal (novel)
- ^ rediff.com: The Rediff Interview/Kamala Suraiya
- ^ K e r a l a . c o m – God’s own country Keralam India-Celebrities
- ^ http://magnamags.com/magna_savvy/node/521
- ^ Love and longing
- ^ The Hindu : Magazine / Personality : Still a rebel writer
I don’t know politics but I know the names
Of those in power, and can repeat them like
Days of week, or names of months, beginning with Nehru.
I amIndian, very brown, born inMalabar,
I speak three languages, write in
Two, dream in one.
Don’t write in English, they said, English is
Not your mother-tongue. Why not leave
Me alone, critics, friends, visiting cousins,
Every one of you? Why not let me speak in
Any language I like? The language I speak,
Becomes mine, its distortions, its queernesses
All mine, mine alone.
It is half English, halfIndian, funny perhaps, but it is honest,
It is as human as I am human, don’t
You see? It voices my joys, my longings, my
Hopes, and it is useful to me as cawing
Is to crows or roaring to the lions, it
Is human speech, the speech of the mind that is
Here and not there, a mind that sees and hears and
Is aware. Not the deaf, blind speech
Of trees in storm or of monsoon clouds or of rain or the
Incoherent mutterings of the blazing
Funeral pyre. I was child, and later they
Told me I grew, for I became tall, my limbs
Swelled and one or two places sprouted hair.
WhenI asked for love, not knowing what else to ask
For, he drew a youth of sixteen into the
Bedroom and closed the door, He did not beat me
But my sad woman-body felt so beaten.
The weight of my breasts and womb crushed me.
I shrank Pitifully.
Then … I wore a shirt and my
Brother’s trousers, cut my hair short and ignored
My womanliness. Dress in sarees, be girl
Be wife, they said. Be embroiderer, be cook,
Be a quarreller with servants. Fit in. Oh,
Belong, cried the categorizers. Don’t sit
On walls or peep in through our lace-draped windows.
Be Amy, or be Kamala. Or, better
Still, be Madhavikutty. It is time to
Choose a name, a role. Don’t play pretending games.
Don’t play at schizophrenia or be a
Nympho. Don’t cry embarrassingly loud when
Jilted in love … I met a man, loved him. Call
Him not by any name, he is every man
Who wants. a woman, just as I am every
Woman who seeks love. In him . . . the hungry haste
Of rivers, in me . . . the oceans’ tireless
Waiting. Who are you, I ask each and everyone,
The answer is, it is I. Anywhere and,
Everywhere, I see the one who calls himself I
In this world, he is tightly packed like the
Sword in its sheath. It is I who drink lonely
Drinks at twelve, midnight, in hotels of strange towns,
It is I who laugh, it is I who make love
And then, feel shame, it is I who lie dying
With a rattle in my throat. I am sinner,
I am saint. I am the beloved and the
Betrayed. I have no joys that are not yours, no
Aches which are not yours. I too call myself I.