Revolutionary writer Kamala Das passes away

I was shocked when one of my colleagues told me that Kamala Das passed away in Pune today afternoon. I had worked under her younger son for over one year.

kamaladas2She was one writers whom we all admired during our college days for her non-conservative voice. The respect towards her increased manifold while reading her poetry in my PG classes. I read her autobiography My Story and had wondered about her frankness. She had not only created controversy with her unorthodox views, but also with her frank and explicit expression on matters of sexuality, which even our teachers felt embarassed to explain. She focused on love, betrayal and the resultant agony in her writings that unsettled not only the orthodox readers. She had sought to expose the hypocrisies of a society living in an illusory world of pseudo morality, oblivious of the stark realities around. She never compromised with the aesthetics of medium, always succeeding in portraying characters and situations in a touching, lucid and charming style with great economy of words. Her major English works include Summer in Calcutta, Alphabet of Lust, Descendants and Collected poems, many of which stand out for their originality of theme and symbolism. The most sensational her work in English was her memoirs My story, which was a tell-all personal reminiscences of the 1970s.

kamala dasKamala Das hit the headlines when, though born in a conservative Hindu Nair family in Kerala with a royal lineage, embraced Islam in 1999 at the age of 65, assuming the name Kamala Suraiya. The conversion, just as the themes of her stories, generated much heat and dust in social and literary circles. Whereas Kamala Das saw Lord Krishna in Allah and converted to Islam, she reportedly regretted for converting to Islam, which was told by none other than controversial exiled Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen who met Kamal at her Kochi residence in August 2002.
The feminist author of Bengali book Lajja is in Kerala in connection with the release of the Malayalam translation of four of her books that were released in Thrissur on August 24.

“I don’t go to the streets, instead I write and that is my way of protest. I was born in a Muslim family and Muslim women suffer under Islam. No one told me to fight against oppression. It was inside me. Women are treated as slaves, sexual objects and childbearing machines,” Nasreen had said.

Contrast to that Kamala had said in an interview: “The purdah (Islamic face veil) that I wear protects me. I like the purdah which Muslim women wear. I like the lifestyle of Muslim women. Purdah is a wonderful dress. No man ever makes a pass at a woman in purdah. It provides her with a sense of security.”

According to Nasreen, Kamala Surayya, who was Kamala Das before she converted to Islam, had now realised that she had made a mistake in converting to Islam. She had met Surayya. “When I asked her if she regrets becoming a Muslim, she said ‘yes’. She has realised that Islam does not give equality,” said Nasreen.

Kamala Das had been admitted to a private hospital in Pune on April 18 following a complaint of respiratory distress. She had settled down in Pune a few years ago, leading a secluded life.

The writer who loved to tread the unorthodox path, had also made a foray into politics and floated ‘Lok Seva Party’, aiming at social and humanitarian work, providing asylum to orphaned mothers and to promote secularism. She unsuccessfully contested a Lok Sabha election in 1984.

Critics often place her Malayalam short stories, penned under the pseudonym Madhavikutty, much higher than her English writings by dint of their choice of themes, style and stunning impact.

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