Kamala Das, one of India’s prominent poets and a Malayalam author who dared to write about women’s sexual lives and marital problems at a time when open discussion about such topics was taboo, was honoured by Google with a doodle on Thursday. Born to a Hindu family, she converted to Islam at the age of 68 and was known as Kamala Suraiya.
Regarded as one of the influential feminist author in the post-colonial era, Das wrote in her mother tongue Malayalam as well as in English. For her vernacular readers, she adopted the pen name Madhavi Kutty. Her work inspired women struggling against domestic and sexual oppression and is documented in more than 20 books. On account of her extensive contribution to the poetry in our country, she earned the label ‘The Mother of Modern Indian English Poetry’.
Das also ran unsuccessfully for a Parliament seat in 1984, but did not pursue politics later on. Her conversion to Islam in December 1999 had created a storm in Kerala. Born into a traditional Nair family on March 31, 1934 in Kerala’s Thrissur with one of the richest literary lineages, Kamala Das (her mother Balamaniyamma was a leading poetess of Kerala and great uncle Nalapat Narayana Menon a literary giant) was ever willing to court controversies with the content of her writings, especially her autobiography My Story (English), which was considered too liberally laced with sex by puritans, later when she converted or when she tried to donate a portion of her ancestral property in Punnayoorkulam in north Kerala, with a temple, to the Kerala Shastra Sahitya Parishad (KSSP).
In “My Story”, which was published in 1976, Das recounts her childhood, spent in Kerala and Kolkata, her unfulfilling arranged marriage to an older man before her 16th birthday; the emotional breakdowns and suicidal thoughts that she faced as a young wife and mother; her husband’s apparent homosexuality and the sexual and romantic yearning that ran through most of her married life. After suffering from acute diabetes and related illnesses, she passed away at the age of 75 in Pine on May 31, 2009.
Das has been in the news lately as a biopic on her, titled Aami and directed by Kamal, has come in for rough weather. As the film is gearing up for release, a petition has been filed in the Kerala High Court seeking a ban on the film stating that it justifies love jihad. The petitioners want the court to the ask CBFC to not issue a certificate to the film starring Manju Warrier. Earlier, Vidya Balan was supposed to play the role of Kamala Das in the movie.