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31 March 1934
Punnayurkulam, Trichur, Cochin
31 May 2009 (aged 75)|
Pune, Maharashtra, India
|Occupation||Poet, novelist, short story writer|
|Genre||Poetry, novel, short story, memoirs|
|Notable awards||Ezhuthachan Puraskaram, Vayalar Award, Sahitya Akademi Award, Asan World Prize, Asian Poetry Prize, Kent Award|
|Spouse||K. Madhav Das|
Kamala Surayya (born Kamala; 31 March 1934– 31 May 2009), popularly known by her one-time pen name Madhavikutty and Kamala Das, was an Indian English poet as well as a leading Malayalam author from Kerala, India. 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 poems and explicit autobiography. She was also a widely read columnist and wrote on diverse topics including women's issues, child care, politics among others.
Her open and honest treatment of female sexuality, free from any sense of guilt, infused her writing with power and she got hope after freedom, but also marked her as an iconoclast in her generation. On 31 May 2009, aged 75, she died at a hospital in Pune.
On 1 February 2018, Google Doodle by artist Manjit Thapp celebrates the work she left behind, which provides a window into the world of an engrossing woman.
Kamala was born in Punnayurkulam, Thrissur District in Kingdom of Cochin (present-day Kerala, India) on 31 March 1934, to V. M. Nair, a former managing editor of the widely circulated Malayalam daily Mathrubhumi, and Nalapat Balamani Amma, a renowned Malayali poet.
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 Nalapat ancestral home in Punnayurkulam.
Like her mother, Balamani Amma, Kamala Das also excelled in writing. Her love of poetry began at an early age through the influence of her great uncle, Nalapat Narayana Menon, a prominent writer.
At the age of 15, she got married to bank officer Madhav Das, who encouraged her writing interests, and she started writing and publishing both in English and in Malayalam. Calcutta in the 1960s was a tumultuous 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. English was the language she choose for all six of her published poetry collections.
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 [India]," 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, its betrayal, and the consequent anguish. 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 poets were still governed by "19th-century diction, sentiment and romanticised love." Her second book of poetry, The Descendants was even more explicit, urging women to:
At the age of 42, she published a daring autobiography, My Story; it was originally written in Malayalam (titled Ente Katha) and later she translated it into English. Later she admitted that much of the autobiography had fictional elements.
"Some people told me that writing an autobiography like this, with absolute honesty, keeping nothing to oneself, is like doing a striptease.
True, maybe. I, will, firstly, strip myself of clothes and ornaments. Then I intend to peel off this light brown skin and shatter my bones.
At last, I hope you will be able to see my homeless, orphan, intensely beautiful soul, deep within the bone, deep down under, beneath
even the marrow, in a fourth dimension" - excerpts from the translation of her autobiography in Malayalam, Ente Katha
Kamala Das wrote on a diverse range of topics, often disparate- from the story of a poor old servant, about the sexual disposition of upper middle class women living near a metropolitan city or in the middle of the ghetto. Some of her better-known stories include Pakshiyude Manam, Neypayasam, Thanuppu, and Chandana Marangal. She wrote a few novels, out of which Neermathalam Pootha Kalam, which was received favourably by the reading public as well as the critics, stands out.
She travelled extensively to read poetry to Germany's University of Duisburg-Essen, University of Bonn and University of Duisburg universities, Adelaide Writer's Festival, Frankfurt Book Fair, University of Kingston, Jamaica, Singapore, and South Bank Festival (London), Concordia University (Montreal, Canada), etc. Her works are available in French, Spanish, Russian, German and Japanese.
Kamala Surayya was a confessional poet whose poems have often been considered at par with Anne Sexton and Robert Lowell.
She has also held positions as Vice chairperson in Kerala Sahitya Akademi, chairperson in Kerala Forestry Board, President of the Kerala Children's Film Society, editor of Poet magazine and Poetry editor of Illustrated Weekly of India.
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".
Her last book titled The Kept Woman and Other Stories, featuring translation of her short stories, was published posthumously.
Though never politically active before, she launched a national political party, Lok Seva Party, aiming asylum to orphaned mothers and promotion of secularism. In 1984 she unsuccessfully contested in the Indian Parliament elections.
Kamala Das had three sons – M D Nalapat, Chinnen Das and Jayasurya Das. Madhav Das Nalapat, the eldest, is married to Princess Thiruvathira Thirunal Lakshmi Bayi (daughter of Princess Pooyam Thirunal Gouri Parvati Bayi and Sri Chembrol Raja Raja Varma Avargal) from the Travancore Royal House. He holds the UNESCO Peace Chair and Professor of geopolitics at the Manipal University. He was formerly a resident editor of the Times of India.
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 Jama Masjid at Thiruvananthapuram with full state honour.
Kamala Das has received many awards for her literary contribution, including:
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