The controversial writer, whom Kerala knows as Madhavikutty, and who liked to be called Dr Kamala Sorayya after her conversion to Islam in 1999, died on May 31
Nilanjana S Roy in the Business Standard:
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. ....
— An Introduction, Kamala Das
A name, a role, a religion, a language: all her life, Kamala Das questioned and rejected belonging even as she longed for it. By the time of her death this weekend, 75 and still settling into an identity, Kamala Das stood for certain things in the public imagination: she was the short story writer, the woman who wrote of sexuality with a freedom unthinkable for the times, and then retreated into purdah, an apostate turned convert who rejected Krishna for Islam. [More here]
In Kafila, J Devika offers a very moving Beauty, More Beauty: A Tribute to Madhavikutty:
...All of Kerala is getting ready for a grand funeral; even the middle class which once recoiled with horror from her, is celebrating. But how can one forget what Malayalees did to her? How they hated her because she refused to trivialise the body? How they insisted on reading her subtle defence of aesthetic womanhood as a crass expression of masculinised desire? How they could not see her kinship with Mahadevi Akka and Meera? How they rubbished her as useless to women because she was sceptic of rationalistic feminism? How they heaped insults, calling her a ‘dainty little madam with literary talent’? How her amazing range in short stories was reduced to a tailpiece of modernism in Malayalam literature?
Leave the Malayalees to their fate. They celebrate perhaps because only death could domesticate this woman.
And also offers a translation of chapter 16 from Madhavikutty’s autobiography in Malayalam, Ente Katha:
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 [Read on at Kafila]
Also read - from Outlook archives:
- On her conversion: 'I Am Allah's Handmaiden'
- On her favourite book: My Book of the Century
- Zestful Poetry
From elsewhere on the web:
- Bibliography with links to some English poems at Indulekha
- At Little Magazine, her short story, ‘Neipayasam’
- Havovi Anklesaria, in the Hindu on The histrionics of Kamala Dasin 2000 [on her 1999 conversion]:
"...some great lines of verse, a few good poems, some very bad prose and a series of contentious statements that have little consistency of thought and little regard for the consequences incurred in the publicising of a private decision"
The Indian Express has two pieces on Kamala Das. First, Geeta Doctor:
...As Eunice de Souza remarked in an introduction to her anthology of Nine Indian Woman Poets: “While Kamala Das plays out her various roles in the poems, unhappy woman, unhappy wife, reluctant nymphomaniac, she also talks of the ‘sad lie / of my unending lust’, a line which cautions us against thinking we have got at the ‘truth’ of this apparently forthright persona.” ...
...She belonged to a literary aristocracy. Her father V.M. Nair was managing director of the popular Kerala publication Mathrubhoomi. Her mother Nalapatt Balamani has always been cited as a better poet in Malayalam. Aubrey Menen was her Uncle; does anyone remember him and his Pavillion of Women today? Her rebellions came within a secure framework. That is perhaps what makes her special. She may have blinked many times, but she did so with a certain charm and warmth that made her all woman, a child-princess of her times.
The best revenge is that like her or not, Kamala Das will continue to be read.
And Sagnik Dutta quotes these wonderful lines:
In An Introduction, she uses the archetypal image of the union between the rivers and the sea to describe the ultimate union with her lover, “In him...the hungry haste Of rivers, in me....the oceans’ tireless Waiting”