Kamala Surayya

For the 1973 film, see Madhavikutty (film).
Kamala Das
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 Surayya (born Kamala; 31 March 1934– 31 May 2009), also known by her one-time pen name Madhavikutty and Kamala Das, 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. 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, 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

Kamala 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 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 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] English was the was the language she chose for all six of her published poetry collections.[4]

Literary career

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."[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" - 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. Her poems have been

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.

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]

Conversion to Islam

She was born in a conservative Hindu Nair (Nalapat) family having royal ancestry,[10] She embraced Islam on December 11, 1999, at the age of 65 and assumed the name Kamala Surayya.[11]

Her conversion was rather controversial, among social and literary circles, with The Hindu calling it part of her "histrionics".[8]


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.[12]

Personal life

Kamala Das had three sons – M D Nalapat, Chinnen Das and Jayasurya Das.[13] 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.[14] 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.

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.[15][16] Soon, Vidya Balan will portray her in a bilingual biopic film, directed by Malayalam movie director Kamal .[17]

Awards and other recognitions

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


¤ -  : Tattered blanket


See also


  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. Rumens, Carol (2015-08-03). "Poem of the week: Someone Else's Song by Kamala Das". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2016-10-08.
  5. 1 2 3 Booth, Jenny (13 June 2009). "Kamala Das: 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". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 28 May 2011.
  7. Love and longing
  8. 1 2 The histrionics of Kamala Das The Hindu, 6 February 2000
  9. Pisharoty, Sangeeta Barooah (2010-10-27). "Thus spake Das". The Hindu. ISSN 0971-751X. Retrieved 2016-10-08.
  10. Untying and retying the text: an analysis of Kamala Das's My story, by Ikbala Kaura, 1990. p.188
  11. http://tehelka.com/story_main48.asp?filename=hub181210He_asked.asp
  12. "Noted writer Kamala Das Suraiya passes away". Zee News. 31 May 2009. Retrieved 1 June 2013.
  13. Kamala Das passes away
  14. http://www.royalark.net/India/trava4.htm
  15. "Kerala pays tributes to Kamala Surayya". Chennai, India: The Hindu. 1 June 2009. Retrieved 4 June 2009.
  16. "Tributes showered on Kamala Suraiya". Chennai, India: The Hindu. 2 June 2009. Retrieved 4 June 2009.
  17. http://indianexpress.com/article/entertainment/regional/vidya-balan-to-portray-kamala-surayya-in-biopic/ http://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/vidya-balan-to-portray-writer-kamala-surayya-in-biopic/article8348737.ece
  18. http://www.enotes.com/poetry-criticism/das-kamala
  19. "Honorary degree by Calicut University" (PDF).
  20. Literary Awards – official website of Onformation and Public Relation Department


  1. The Ignited Soul by Shreekumar Varma
  2. Manohar, D. Murali. Kamala Das: Treatment of Love in Her Poetry. Gulbarga: JIWE, 1999.
  3. “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
  4. “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.
  5. “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.
  6. “Meet the Writer: Kamala Das”, POETCRIT XVI: 1 (January 2003): 83–98.
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