Dear Kamala Das,
You were the voice for the voiceless of yesterday,
You are the martyr for the revolutionaries of today, You are the reason for the dreamers of tomorrow!
I couldn’t say much about this charismatic personality which Malayalis knew better than most other writers in the history of Kerala. Kamala Das, known by her many names – Madhavikutty, Kamala Surayya and Aami – was a prominent writer in English and Malayalam. She was famous in Kerala for her controversial life and incomprehensible ideologies rather than the real talent for which she was admired by millions across the world.
On a personal note, I was perplexed by the fact that a lot of people frowned upon me when I tried discussing her and her works with them. “Nee avarde book oke vayikkum alle” was the cringiest of responses I received. So, here is my take on why and how Madhavikutty was admired and loathed at the same time.
Little did I know of her legacy when I first read My Story a couple of years ago. Little did I understand the meaning of her lines which I read through the shield of the conservative veil that encompassed my moral principles. She was the purest of the souls who sought love till her last breath. But it should be acknowledged with a little guilt that it was the attitude of her people, Malayalis, that made her leave her birthplace and eventually, this world.
Quoting her words from an interview to the Rediff news published on July 19, 2000, she stated about Kerala society as follows:
“I think they make fun of people. They make fun of achievers. You have to be very ordinary to fit in here. If you have talent, they will consider you to be abnormal, which I suppose is true in one sense. I think talent is an abnormality. Ultimately, the young people have taken me into confidence. College girls are coming and joining my party. They will grow up without prejudices in their minds.”
I found this in fact to be true considering the general direction of attitude towards everything we know beyond the bounds of normativity.
She later came to be known as the “Mother of Modern Indian English Poetry”. She was shortlisted for the Nobel Prize in literature in 1984 and her poems were compared to the greats of Sylvia Plath, Robert Lowell etc. Even the heights of her achievements couldn’t replace the staunch sarcasm people here had for her.
Her feministic writing style explored love and female sexuality from a woman’s point of view. This was the main reason for disappointment as taboo topics were being addressed by a woman coming from a highly orthodox family that too, a well-known poet’s daughter (Balamaniyamma). When her creativity poured down, people saw a lack of virtue in it. Her conversion to Islam and election participation were also met with the same idiosyncrasy. She was fearless and unstoppable and couldn’t care less about the judgements from anyone. That is the very reason which put her apart from every other author.
“It was not to gather knowledge
Of yet another man that I came to you but to learn
What I was, and by learning, to learn to grow, but every
Lesson you gave was about yourself. You were pleased
With my body’s response, its weather, its usual shallow
Convulsions. You dribbled spittle into my mouth, you poured
Yourself into every nook and cranny, you embalmed
My poor lust with your bitter-sweet juices. You called me wife,
I was taught to break saccharine into your tea and
To offer at the right moment the vitamins. Cowering
Beneath your monstrous ego I ate the magic loaf and
Became a dwarf. I lost my will and reason, to all your
Questions I mumbled incoherent replies.”
– Lines from Das’s poem The Old Playhouse
“A woman who never desired to live by the rules of Manusmrithi”, as her son says. A woman who stood for her beliefs even when the world called out her conversion as an international conspiracy. Aami was an enigma no one could ever comprehend.
Generations passed, and critics and aesthetes discovered her works for their true meaning in it. We celebrate the works of Kamala das for their artistic value. But like someone said, “All love Aami, but do not desire an Aami at their own homes”.
Also Read: 9 Greatest Malayali Poets Of All Times