Kamala Surayya

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For the 1973 film, see Madhavikutty (film).
Kamala Das
Kamala das.jpg
Born (1934-03-31)31 March 1934
Punnayurkulam, Malabar District, Madras Presidency, British India
Died 31 May 2009(2009-05-31) (aged 75)
Pune, Maharashtra, India
Pen name Madhavikkutty
Occupation Poet, novelist,short story writer
Nationality Indian
Genre Poetry, novel, short story, memoirs
Notable awards Ezhuthachchan Puraskaram, Vayalar Award, Sahitya Akademi Award, Asan World Prize, Asian Poetry Prize, Kent Award
Spouse K. Madhava Das

Kamala Das (born Kamala; 31 March 1934 – 31 May 2009), also known by her one-time pen name Madhavikutty and Kamala Surayya, was an Indian English poet and littérateur and at the same time 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.

Her open and honest treatment of female sexuality, free from any sense of guilt, infused her writing with power, but also marked her as an iconoclast in her generation.[1] On 31 May 2009, aged 75, she died at a hospital in Pune.[2] Das has earned considerable respect in recent years.

Early life[edit]

Kamala Das was born in Punnayurkulam, Thrissur District in Kerala, 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 poetess.

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 Madhava 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.[3]

Literary career[edit]

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."[4] Her second book of poetry, The Descendants was even more explicit, urging women to:

Gift him what makes you woman, the scent of
Long hair, the musk of sweat between the breasts,
The warm shock of menstrual blood, and all your
Endless female hungers ..." – The Looking Glass

This directness of her voice led to comparisons with Marguerite Duras and Sylvia Plath[4]

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.[5]

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.

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[6] and Poetry editor of Illustrated Weekly of India.

Although occasionally seen as an attention-grabber in her early years,[7] 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".[4]

Conversion to Islam[edit]

She was born in a conservative Hindu Nair (Nallappattu) family having royal ancestry,[8] After being asked by her lover, whom she mentions as Sadiq Ali, an Islamic scholar and a Muslim League MP,[9] she embraced Islam in 1999 at the age of 65 and assumed the name Kamala Surayya.[10]

Notable writer Leela Menon, who was also a friend of Kamala revealed many years after her death that Sadiq Ali was a placeholder name for M. P. Abdussamad Samadani.[11]

After converting, she wrote:[10]

Life has changed for me since Nov. 14 when a young man named Sadiq Ali walked in to meet me. He is 38 and has a beautiful smile. Afterwards he began to woo me on the phone from Abu Dhabi and Dubai, reciting Urdu couplets and telling me of what he would do to me after our marriage. I took my nurse Mini and went to his place in my car. I stayed with him for three days. There was a sunlit river, some trees, and a lot of laughter. He asked me to become a Muslim which I did on my return home.

Her conversion was rather controversial, among social and literary circles, with The Hindu calling it part of her "histrionics".[7] She said she liked being behind the protective veil of the purdah.[12] Later, she felt it was not worth it to change one's religion and said "I fell in love with a Muslim after my husband's death. He was kind and generous in the beginning. But I now feel one shouldn't change one's religion. It is not worth it.".[13]

her revert to Islam was challenge full. she said "The policemen had come to me offering security. I have refused to accept their offer. I have left everything to Allah. He will protect me to the last. I don't need the security of mortals, when I have surrendered myself to Allah, the biggest Protector. I am sure He will take care of me. Her son M. D. Nalappad, former editor of Mathrubhumi and former resident editor of The Times of India in Bangalore, said that he received a number of threatening telephone calls, apparently from Hindu extremists. One caller threatened that he would kill her within 24 hours."[14] Her desire to revert to Hinduism was discouraged by her eldest son, who feared that Muslim radicals would murder her and the entire family.[15]http://www.janmabhumidaily.com/news117361


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.[16]

Personal life[edit]

Kamala Das had three sons – M D Nalapat, Chinnen Das and Jayasurya Das.[17] 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.[18] 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 an Islamic scholar who was much younger in age, whom she mentioned with the name Sadiq Ali. She herself describes her visit to Sadiq Ali's home as follows:[19]

“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."

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.[20][21]

Awards and other recognitions[edit]

Kamala Das has received many awards for her literary contribution, including:



  • 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)
  • 1979: Tonight,This Savage Rite (with Pritish Nandy)
  • 1999: My Mother at Sixty-six (Poem)
  • –  : My Grandmother House (Poem)


  • 1964: Pakshiyude Manam (short stories)
  • 1966: Naricheerukal Parakkumbol (short stories)
  • 1968: Thanuppu (short story, Sahitya Academi award)
  • 1982: Ente Katha (autobiography)
  • 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)
  • "Ente Kadha" (Autobiography)
  • 2005: Chandana Marangal (Novel)
  • 2005: Madhavikkuttiyude Unmakkadhakal (short stories)2x
  • 2005: Vandikkalakal (novel)
  • 1999: My Mother at Sixty-six (Poem)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The Rediff Interview/ Kamala Suraiya". Rediff.com. 19 July 2000. Retrieved 1 June 2013. 
  2. ^ "PM mourns Kamala Das's death, praises her sensitive poems". Chennai, India: The Hindu. 31 May 2009. Retrieved 4 June 2009. 
  3. ^ http://www.cse.iitk.ac.in/users/amit/books/nandy-1977-strangertime-anthology-of.html
  4. ^ a b c Booth, Jenny (13 June 2009). "Kamala Das: Indian poet and writer". The Times (London). Retrieved 28 May 2011. 
  5. ^ Shahnaz Habib (18 June 2009). "Obituary : Kamala Das – Indian writer and poet who inspired women struggling to be free of domestic oppression". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 28 May 2011. 
  6. ^ Love and longing
  7. ^ a b The histrionics of Kamala Das The Hindu, 6 February 2000
  8. ^ Untying and retying the text: an analysis of Kamala Das's My story, by Ikbala Kaura, 1990. p.188
  9. ^ Weisbord, Merrily (9 February 2011). "Exclusive excerpt: The rebirth of Kamala Das's passion – The Globe and Mail". The Globe and Mail (Toronto). 
  10. ^ a b http://tehelka.com/story_main48.asp?filename=hub181210He_asked.asp
  11. ^ മാധവിക്കുട്ടിയെയും സമദാനിയെയും ബന്ധപ്പെടുത്തിയുള്ള ലീലാ മേനോന്റെ വെളിപ്പെടുത്തല്‍ വിവാദമാകുന്നു
  12. ^ http://www.islamicbulletin.com/newsletters/issue_19/embraced.aspx
  13. ^ Kohli, Suresh (13 August 2006). "Still a rebel writer". The Hindu (Chennai, India). Retrieved 23 June 2009. I fell in love with a Muslim after my husband's death. He was kind and generous in the beginning. But I now feel one shouldn't change one's religion. It is not worth it. 
  14. ^ http://www.islamicbulletin.org/newsletters/issue_19/embraced.aspx
  15. ^ https://web.archive.org/web/20130607120357/http://www.janmabhumidaily.com/jnb/News/117361 The fabricated story was reported by Janmabhoomi | publisher=Janmabhoomi news | date=02 Jun 2013 മാധവിക്കുട്ടി മതം മാറിയത് അബ്ദുള്‍ സമദ് സമദാനിയെ വിവാഹം കഴിക്കാന്‍ - JANMABHOOMY 2013/06/02
  16. ^ "Noted writer Kamala Das Suraiya passes away". Zee News. 31 May 2009. Retrieved 1 June 2013. 
  17. ^ Kamala Das passes away
  18. ^ http://www.royalark.net/India/trava4.htm
  19. ^ The Love Queen of Malabar: Memoir of a Friendship with Kamala Das, Volume 3 By Merrily Weisbord page.225
  20. ^ "Kerala pays tributes to Kamala Surayya". Chennai, India: The Hindu. 1 June 2009. Retrieved 4 June 2009. 
  21. ^ "Tributes showered on Kamala Suraiya". Chennai, India: The Hindu. 2 June 2009. Retrieved 4 June 2009. 
  22. ^ http://www.enotes.com/poetry-criticism/das-kamala
  23. ^ "Honorary degree by Calicut University". 
  24. ^ Literary Awards – official website of Onformation and Public Relation Department

8. The Ignited Soul by Shreekumar Varma

Manohar, D. Murali. Kamala Das: Treatment of Love in Her Poetry. Gulbarga: JIWE, 1999.

---. “Cheated and Exploited: Women in Kamala Das’s Short Stories”, In Mohan G Ramanan and P. Sailaja (eds.). English and the Indian Short Story. New Delhi: Orient Longman (2000).117–123

---.“Man-Woman Relationship with Respect to the Treatment of Love in Kamala Das’ Poetry”. Contemporary Literary Criticism Vol. 191. Ed. Tom Burns and Jeffrey W. Hunter. Detroit: Thomson-Gale, 2004. 44–60.

---.“Individuality” in Kamala Das and in Her Poetry”. English Poetry in India: A Secular Viewpoint. Eds. PCK Prem and D.C.Chambial. Jaipur: Aavishkar, 2011. 65–73.

---.“Meet the Writer: Kamala Das”, POETCRIT XVI: 1 (January 2003): 83–98.

External links[edit]