After bidding goodbye to March, we are now warming up to April. But we cannot really move on without remembering an inspiring literary figure born on the last day of March in 1934. Kamala is known to us by many names Kamala; Kamala Das; Madhavikutty, the pen name she used in her Malayalam writings; Ami, her pet name she mentioned in her memoirs; and Kamala Surayya, the name she assumed after converting to Islam later in her life.
Just like her many names, Kamala Das boasts of many talents: a poet and a litterateur in English and an author in Malayalam. Her writings in Malayalam: short stories, such as Pakshiyude Manam (1964), and autobiography, Ente Katha (1982), made her a well-known name in Kerala while her work in English language – poems and her autobiography in English My Story – gained her wider popularity. My Story has the accolade of being the best-selling woman’s autobiography in India. Kamala was one of the early female Indian authors to openly and strongly approach themes such as female sexuality, womanhood, domestic violence, and love; for which she is regarded as an iconoclast of her generation.
“My Story is my autobiography which I began writing during my first serious bout with heart disease. The doctor thought that writing would distract my mind from the fear of a sudden death… Between short hours of sleep induced by the drugs given to me by the nurses, I wrote continually, not merely to honour my commitment but because I wanted to empty myself of all the secrets so that I could depart when the time came, with a scrubbed-out conscience… This book has cost many things that I held dear but I do not for a moment regret having written it. I have written several books in my lifetime, but none of them provided the pleasure the writing of My Story has given me.”
– Kamala Das, about her autobiography “My Story”
Along with short stories, poems, novels, and memoirs, Kamala was also popular for her syndicated newspaper column where she maintained her style of writing and included politics as a subject matter. She unsuccessfully contested for a seat in Indian Parliament in 1984 and even started a short-lived political party Lok Seva.
With over 20 books to her credit, Kamala won many literary awards as well, from Sahitya Academy Award (1985) to Asian Poetry Prize (1998); she was also nominated and shortlisted for Noble Prize for Literature in 1984.
– Article by Priyanka Kharbanda
– Photo Credit: Sreedharantp at Malayalam Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) via Wikimedia Commons