Kamala Surayya

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Kamala Surayya
Kamala das.jpg
(1934-03-31)31 March 1934
Punnayurkulam, Madras Presidency, British India
Died31 May 2009(2009-05-31) (aged 75)
Pune, Maharashtra, India
Resting placePalayam Juma Masjid, Thiruvananthapuram, India
Pen nameMadhavikutty
OccupationPoet, novelist, short story writer
GenrePoetry, novel, short story, memoirs
Notable worksEnte Katha, My Story, The Descendants
Notable awardsEzhuthachan Puraskaram, Vayalar Award, Sahitya Akademi Award, Asan World Prize, Asian Poetry Prize, Kent Award
SpouseK. Madhav Das

Kamala Surayya (born Kamala; 31 March 1934–31 May 2009), popularly known by her one-time pen name Madhavikutty and married name Kamala Das, was an Indian poet in English as well as an author in Malayalam 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.[1] On 31 May 2009 , aged 75, she died at a hospital in Pune.[2]

Early life[edit]

Kamala Surayya was born in Punnayurkulam, Malabar District in British India (present-day Thrissur district, Kerala, India) on 31 March 1934, to V. M. Nair, a 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 Surayya 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 married 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.[3] English was the language she chose for all six of her published poetry collections.[4]

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.

Kamala's 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."[5] 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[5]

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.[6]

"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" An Introduction is very bold poem in which she express es her true feelings about men.

- excerpts from the translation of her autobiography in Malayalam, Ente Katha

Kamala's "An Introduction" is an autobiographical poem written in the colloquial style. She presents her feelings and thoughts in a bold manner. She realises her identity and understands that it is the need of every woman to raise a voice in this male-dominated society. The poet longs for love it is the result of her loneliness and frustration.

The poem "A Hot Noon in Malabar" is about climate, surrounding in a town in Malabar. The people may be annoyed by the heat, dust and noise but she likes it. She longs for the hot noon in Malabar because she associates it with the wild men, wild thoughts and wild love. It is a torture for her to be away from Malabar.

Kamala Surayya is essentially known for her bold and frank expression. The prominent features of her poetry are an acute obsession with love and the use of confession. The main theme of her poetry is based upon freedom, love and protection. She 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 those of 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[7] and Poetry editor of Illustrated Weekly of India.

"Dance of Eunuchs" is a fine poem by Kamala Das. It has an autobiographical tone. The poet sympathises with eunuchs.

The eunuchs dance in the heat of the sun. Their costumes, makeup and their passion with which they dance suggest the female delicacy. Their outward appearance and joy is contrasted with their inward sadness. Actually there is no joy in their heart, they can't even dream of happiness.

In the poem 'A Request' ,the poetess Kamala Das realises that her life is meaningless. She is alone and her life colourless designed of crumbling patterns.

Although occasionally seen as an attention-grabber in her early years,[8] 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".[5]

Her last book titled The Kept Woman and Other Stories, featuring translation of her short stories, was published posthumously.[9] Kamala Das is known for her controversial writings where she openly talks about the restriction imposed on women. She is known for her rebellious nature against the conventions.[10]

Personal life[edit]

Kamala married Madhav Das at the age of 15. The couple had three sons – M D Nalapat, Chinen Das and Jayasurya Das.[11] Her husband predeceased her in 1992, after 43 years of marriage.[12] Madhav Das Nalapat, her eldest son, 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.[citation needed] He holds the UNESCO Peace Chair and is a Professor of geopolitics at the Manipal University. He had been a resident editor of The Times of India. Kamala Surayya converted to Islam in 1999 and announced that she planned to marry her Muslim lover, but she never remarried.[13][14]

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 interred at the Palayam Juma Masjid at Thiruvananthapuram with full state honour.[15][16]


Though never politically active before, she launched a national political party, Lok Seva Party, aiming at the promotion of secularism and providing asylum to orphaned mothers. In 1984 she unsuccessfully contested in the Indian Parliament elections.[17]

Conversion to Islam[edit]

She was born in a conservative Hindu Nair (Nalapat) family having royal ancestry,[18] She converted to Islam on December 11, 1999, at the age of 65 and assumed the name Kamala Surayya.[19][20]


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.[21]

A biopic on her titled Aami directed by Kamal, released on 9 February 2018.

Awards and other recognitions[edit]

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



  • 1976: Alphabet of Lust
Short stories
  • 1977: A Doll for the Child Prostitute
  • 1992: Padmavati the Harlot and Other Stories
  • 1964: The Sirens
  • 1965: Summer in Calcutta
  • 1967: The Descendants
  • 1973: The Old Playhouse and Other Poems
  • 1977: The Stranger Time
  • 1979: Tonight, This Savage Rite (with Pritish Nandy)
  • 1984: Collected Poems
  • 1985: The Anamalai Poems
  • 1997: Only the Soul Knows How to Sing
  • 1999: My Mother at Sixty-six
  • 2001: Yaa Allah
  • Punishment in the kindergarten


  • 1964: Pakshiyude Manam (short stories)
  • 1966: Naricheerukal Parakkumbol (short stories)
  • 1968: Thanuppu (short story)
  • 1973: Ente Katha (autobiography)
  • 1987: Balyakala Smaranakal (childhood memoirs)
  • 1989: Varshangalkku Mumbu (novel)
  • 1990: Palayan (novel)
  • 1991: Neypayasam (short story)
  • 1992: Dayarikkurippukal (novel)
  • 1994: Neermathalam Pootha Kalam (novel)
  • 1996: Kadal Mayooram (short novel)
  • 1996: Rohini (short novel)
  • 1996: Rathriyude Padavinyasam (short novel)
  • 1996: Aattukattil (short novel)
  • 1996: Chekkerunna Pakshikal (short stories)
  • 1998: Nashtapetta Neelambari (short stories)
  • 2005: Chandana Marangal (novel)
  • 2005: Madhavikkuttiyude Unmakkadhakal (short stories)
  • 2005: Vandikkalakal (novel)

Appearances in the following poetry Anthologies[edit]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  1. Aami, a Malayalam biopic on her released in 2018.
  2. The Ignited Soul by Shreekumar Varma
  3. Manohar, D. Murali. Kamala Das: Treatment of Love in Her Poetry.indear Kumar Gulbarga: JIWE, 1999.
  4. "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
  5. Summer in Calcutta is a poem by Kamala Das written in joyful mood.

She says that hot sun is squeezed like an orange in her glass. She drinks it which makes her mind shouting with laughter. The poem celebrates the poet's temporary victory over the defeat of love. Actually Kamala Das has described her creative reaction to the torture of an Indian summer.

  1. "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.
  2. "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.
  3. "Meet the Writer: Kamala Das", POETCRIT XVI: 1 (January 2003): 83–98.


  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". The Hindu. Chennai, India. 31 May 2009. Retrieved 4 June 2009.
  3. ^ "Book Excerptise: strangertime: an anthology of Indian Poetry in English by Pritish Nandy (ed)". cse.iitk.ac.in. Retrieved 30 July 2018.
  4. ^ Rumens, Carol (3 August 2015). "Poem of the week: Someone Else's Song by Kamala Das". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 8 October 2016.
  5. ^ a b c Booth, Jenny (13 June 2009). "Lalit Shakya: Indian poet and writer". The Times. London. Retrieved 28 May 2011.
  6. ^ Shahnaz Habib (18 June 2009). "Obituary: Kamala Das – Indian writer and poet who inspired women struggling to be free of domestic oppression". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 28 May 2011.
  7. ^ "Love and longing in Kerala". The Times of India. Retrieved 30 July 2018.
  8. ^ The histrionics of Kamala Das Archived 26 June 2008 at the Wayback Machine The Hindu, 6 February 2000
  9. ^ Pisharoty, Sangeeta Barooah (27 October 2010). "Thus spake Das". The Hindu. ISSN 0971-751X. Retrieved 8 October 2016.
  10. ^ Habib, Shahnaz. "Kamala Das". The New Yorker.
  11. ^ "Kamala Das passes away". The Times of India. Retrieved 30 July 2018.
  12. ^ "'She lived her life her way': Kamala Das' son opens up about his fearless mother". The News Minute. 7 February 2018.
  13. ^ "Rediff On The NeT: When the temptress dons the purdah..." www.rediff.com.
  14. ^ "Kamla Das". The New Yorker. Retrieved 13 February 2020.
  15. ^ "Kerala pays tributes to Kamala Surayya". The Hindu. Chennai, India. 1 June 2009. Retrieved 4 June 2009.
  16. ^ "Tributes showered on Kamala Suraiya". The Hindu. Chennai, India. 2 June 2009. Retrieved 4 June 2009.
  17. ^ "Noted writer Kamala Das Suraiya passes away". Zee News. 31 May 2009. Retrieved 1 June 2013.
  18. ^ Untying and retying the text: an analysis of Kamala Das's My story, by Ikbala Kaura, 1990. p.188
  19. ^ George Iype (December 14, 1999). "When the temptress dons the purdah". Rediff. Retrieved February 11, 2018.
  20. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 16 December 2010. Retrieved 2 June 2013.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  21. ^ "Celebrating Kamala Das". www.google.com.
  22. ^ a b "Literary Awards". kerala.gov.in. Government of Kerala. Retrieved 30 April 2018.
  23. ^ Amar Nath Prasad, Rajiv K. Mallik (2007). Indian English Poetry and Fiction: Critical Elucidations. New Delhi: Sarup & Sons. p. 100. ISBN 978-81-7625-730-5.
  24. ^ "AKADEMI AWARDS (1955-2016)". sahitya-akademi.gov.in. Sahitya Akademi. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 30 April 2018.
  25. ^ "Awards and achievements of Kamala Das". Retrieved 3 March 2021.
  26. ^ "Honorary degree by Calicut University" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 7 November 2013. Retrieved 8 April 2013.
  27. ^ "Literary Awards – official website of Onformation and Public Relation Department". Archived from the original on 24 May 2007.
  28. ^ "Writer Kamala Surayiya receives Ezhuthachan prize". The Times of India. 1 January 2003. Retrieved 30 April 2018.
  29. ^ "Ten 20th Century Indian Poets". cse.iitk.ac.in. cse.iitk.ac.in. Retrieved 23 August 2018.
  30. ^ "The Oxford India Anthology of Twelve Modern Indian Poets". cse.iitk.ac.in. cse.iitk.ac.in. Retrieved 23 August 2018.
  31. ^ "Book review: 'Twelve Modern Indian Poets' by Arvind Krishna Mehrotra". indiatoday.in. indiatoday.in. Retrieved 23 August 2018.
  32. ^ "Rubana Huq, ed. The Golden Treasury of Writers Workshop Poetry. Review : ASIATIC, VOLUME 3, NUMBER 1, JUNE 2009". journals.iium.edu.my. journals.iium.edu.my. Retrieved 4 September 2018.

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