Biography of Kamala Suraiyya
Kamala Das had three sons – M D Nalapat, Chinnen Das and Jayasurya Das. Madhav Das Nalapat, the eldest, is married to Princess Lakshmi Bayi (daughter of M.R.Ry. Sri Chembrol Raja Raja Varma Avargal) from the Travancore Royal House. He holds the UNESCO Peace Chair and Professor of geopolitics at the Manipal Academy of Higher Education. He was formerly a resident editor of the Times of India.
She had a sexual relationship with Sadiq Ali, an Islamic scholar who was much younger in age. She herself describes her visit to Sadiq Ali’s home as follows:
“I was almost asleep when Sadiq Ali climbed in beside me, holding me, breathing softly, whispering endearments, kissing my face, breasts … and when he entered me, it was the first time I had ever experienced what it was like to feel a man from the inside.” (- Merrily Weisbord)
Womanhood in her Poetry
Das’ uncanny honesty extends to her exploration of womanhood and love. In her poem “An Introduction” from Summer in Calcutta, the narrator says, “I am every/ Woman who seeks love” (de Souza 10). Though Amar Dwivedi criticizes Das for this “self imposed and not natural” universality, this feeling of oneness permeates her poetry (303). In Das’ eyes, womanhood involves certain collective experiences. Indian women, however, do not discuss these experiences in deference to social mores. Das consistently refuses to accept their silence. Feelings of longing and loss are not confined to a private misery. They are invited into the public sphere and acknowledged. Das seems to insist they are normal and have been felt by women across time. In “The Maggots” from the collection, The Descendants, Das corroborates just how old the sufferings of women are. She frames the pain of lost love with ancient Hindu myths (de Souza 13). On their last night together, Krishna asks Radha if she is disturbed by his kisses. Radha says, “No, not at all, but thought, What is/ It to the corpse if the maggots nip?” (de Souza 6-7). Radha’s pain is searing, and her silence is given voice by Das. Furthermore, by making a powerful goddess prey to such thoughts, it serves as a validation for ordinary women to have similar feelings.
Eroticism in her Poetry
Coupled with her exploration of women’s needs is an attention to eroticism. The longing to lose one’s self in passionate love is discussed in “The Looking Glass” from The Descendants. The narrator of the poem urges women to give their man “what makes you women” (de Souza 15). The things which society suggests are dirty or taboo are the very things which the women are supposed to give. The “musk of sweat between breasts/ The warm shock of menstrual blood” should not be hidden from one’s beloved. In the narrator’s eyes, love should be defined by this type of unconditional honesty. A woman should “Stand nude before the glass with him,” and allow her lover to see her exactly as she is. Likewise, the woman should appreciate even the “fond details” of her lover, such as “the jerky way he/ Urinates”. Even if the woman may have to live “Without him” someday, the narrator does not seem to favor bridling one’s passions to protect one’s self. A restrained love seems to be no love at all; only a total immersion in love can do justice to this experience. Much like the creators of ancient Tantric art, Das makes no attempt to hide the sensuality of the human form; her work seems to celebrate its joyous potential while acknowledging its concurrent dangers.
Das once said, “I always wanted love, and if you don’t get it within your home, you stray a little”(Warrior interview). Though some might label Das as “a feminist” for her candor in dealing with women’s needs and desires, Das “has never tried to identify herself with any particular version of feminist activism” (Raveendran 52). Das’ views can be characterized as “a gut response,” a reaction that, like her poetry, is unfettered by other’s notions of right and wrong. Nonetheless, poet Eunice de Souza claims that Das has “mapped out the terrain for post-colonial women in social and linguistic terms”. Das has ventured into areas unclaimed by society and provided a point of reference for her colleagues. She has transcended the role of a poet and simply embraced the role of a very honest woman.
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 in 1984.
Asian Poetry Prize-1998
Kent Award for English Writing from Asian Countries-1999
Asian World Prize-2000
Sahitya Academy Award-2003
Kerala Sahitya Academy Award-2005
Muttathu Varkey Award
She was a longtime friend of Canadian writer Merrily Weisbord, who published a memoir of their friendship, The Love Queen of Malabar, in 2010.
- 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)
- 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)
- 1996: Chekkerunna Pakshikal (short stories)
- 1998: Nashtapetta Neelambari (short stories)
- 2005: Chandana Marangal (Novel)
- 2005: Madhavikkuttiyude Unmakkadhakal (short stories)2x
- 2005: Vandikkalakal (novel)