Unknown | 2/10/2015 |


Every single human being is born with two basic elements of conscience; one is his or her PSYCHE whereas the other one is INSIGHT. These two elements form the personality and intellect of a human being and the same elements differentiate him from other creatures of divine entity.

The conscience and psyche, both mingled, become the forcing factor that brings into existence a strong urge in human beings to shell out what they feel and sense. The psyche, which is aesthetically stronger as compared to insight because it is the product of various traits of human nature, creates an impulse in them to have colourful gamut of feelings and emotions. Whereas the insight is somewhat a little bit material in its true sense, the same insight is based on the subjective manipulations and calculations which finally necessiate the impulse of expression. The urge to express one’s own self is found in both, men and women. But even till the occurrence of renaissance, the women voice was not evident even in Europe.

India is the land of cultural practices and traditions, customs and rituals and paradoxically, women in India had been under the strict surveillance of social bindings and cultural taboos. They were not allowed to express themselves in any form of art including literature. The condition of Indian women can be well explained in the words of an Urdu poetess Rafia Shabnam Abedi who says :
                        Dasht mein, shahr mein,  gulzar me kab jaatee hai?
                                Meri aawaz mere ghar hi  me   dab jaatee   hai.
(My voice does not reach the jungles, cities and gardens. It is suppressed even within the four walls of my own house. )

This has been the condition of women all over India and in about every religious or social community. It was in this condition when Kamala Das was born in Punnayurkulam, Thrissur District in Kerala, on March 31, 1934, to V. M. Nair, a former managing editor of the widely-circulated Malayalam daily Mathrubhumi, and Nalappatt Balamani Amma, a renowned Malayali poetess. 

Kamala Surayya / Suraiyya formerly known as Kamala Das, (also known as Kamala Madhavikutty, pen name was Madhavikutty) was a major 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 fiery poems and explicit autobiography. 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 Nalappatt ancestral home in Punnayurkulam. Like her mother, Kamala Das also excelled in writing. Her love of poetry began at an early age through the influence of her great uncle, Nalappatt 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. On 31 May 2009, aged 75, she died at a hospital in Pune, but has earned considerable respect in recent years.


Kamala Das was noted for her many Malayalam short stories as well as many poems written in English. She 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.

Resistance And Protest In Her poetry:
Kamala Das was a voice which could be very well distinguished from far away while someone reads Indian English poetry. Her protest actually took a start in the form of resisting her own entity the secrets of which could have been laid down well in her personal life. It was about the same period when an Urdu fiction writer and a renowned feminist Ismat Chughtai was bravely treading the path of protest against male chauvinism in Urdu and she was facing the ire of common man as well as of the courts of law where the cases of humiliating religious and emotional ethos were being run against her along with another champion of Urdu fiction, Saa’dat Hasan Manto in Lahore, the then province of India.

Kamala Das emerged on the scene creating literature in Malayam first, her mother tongue.  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.

She protested against the male chauvinism which was the most binding element of human attitude affecting directly the development of female social status. She bravely taunts this male chauvinism in the following words, by advising her fellow 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 was the tone not expected from a traditionally middle class woman. People started frowning on her courage to tread this untrodden path. But this was Kamala Das, and her very own style of expressing herself. This expression started with the protest against the sufferings of Indian women still treated as a bonded labour at home and elsewhere. Though she is not exactly against manhood, she protests the social bindings and resists her feminine existence and entity. She says :
How can my love hold him when the other
Flaunts a gaudy lust and the lioness
To his beasts? Men are worthless, to trap them
Use the cheapest bait of all, but never
Love, which in a woman must mean tears
And a silence in the blood.  ( A Losing Battle )

Yes, this is the language of protests that Das generally uses in all her writings, either as a poetess or as a regular columnists that she was for many national English dailies in her prime days. In another of her poems, she uses the same insistence of her own entity, her own feminist self. In her poem, An Introduction, she is outspoken about how she became so detesting about the manhood and its manly pressures. She submits about her poetry and her attitude that :

It voices my joys, my belongings, my
Hopes, and it is useful to me as cawing
Is to crows or roaring to the lions, it
Is human speech, the speech of the mind that is
Here and not there, and mind that sees and hears and
Is aware. Not the deaf, blind speech
Of trees in storm or of monsoon clouds or of rain or the
Incoherent mutterings of the blazing Funeral pyre.

And she is not content with this, in fact, she goes on to further justify her tone of resistance and protest as she felt it her own conscience calling her loudly to do so in the larger interests of the universal feminism. She admits in the same poem:
I was child and later they
Told me I grew, for I became tall, my limbs
Swelled and one or two places sprouted hair.
When I asked for love, not knowing what else to ask
For, he drew the youth of sixteen into the
Bedroom and closed the door. He did not beat me
But my sad woman-body felt so beaten

This is the agony that she lived whole of her literary life. It was, of course, a blatant admission of being what Das was throughout her life. Further, again she justifies her courageous incarnation of a poetess dealing with the bold topics ranging from women sexuality to ego to self respect to prestige and grace and so much more. She says:
Then --- I wore a shirt and my
Brother’s trousers, cut my hair short and ignored
My womanliness.

Wearing the trousers and shirt of was a rebellion against the social trends which were prevailed in the Nair community in southern India in particular and elsewhere in India, in general. But Das dared do it. She further describes how she resisted the freedom of her womanliness in the same poem:
It is I who drink lonely
Drinks at twelve, midnight, in hotels of strange towns
It is I who laugh, it is I who make love
And then feel shame, it is I who lie dying
With a rattle in my throat, I am sinner
I am saint. I am the beloved and the betrayed
I have no joys that are not yours
No aches which are not yours.
I too call myself I.

And the whole dispute in her life was of being “I”. This  “I”  made her Kamala Das from Kamala Nair. But for being what she became in her later years, she had to undergo an inner pressure to come out with a rebellious woman who did never defy her in coming days of her life. At one point of writing this article, I thought about comparing Kamala Das with Parveen Shakir, the very much acclaimed celebrity of Urdu poetry. But I later discovered that Parveen could not go beyond her limited version of manhood against which she seems to be complaining in her Urdu poetry. Parveen Shakir also has a more romantic tone.  Whereas, Kamala Das has a vivid range of topics that she has elaborated in her poetry. The intensity of emotions and feelings in Das’s poems is aggressive and overwhelming. Even in her depiction of a man with a woman, her poem The looking Glass begins with the suggestive note to a woman:
Getting a man to love you is easy
Only be honest about  your wants as
Woman. Stand nude before the glass with him
So that he sees himself the stronger one
And believes it so, and you, so much more
Softer, younger, lovelier. Admit your
Admiration. Notice the perfection
Of his limbs, his eyes reddening under
The shower, the shy walk across the bathroom floor,
Dropping towels and the jerky way he

This is what Das is specially adamant with, i.e, her tone, her rebellious nature, her poetic excellence, her motivational feminism and all that she could wrap under the garb of her poetry. In the poem, The Maggots, Das is so obvious about her sense of womanhood. She says:
That night in her husband’s arms, Radha felt
So dead, that he asked, what is wrong?
Do you mind my kisses, love? And she said
No, not at all, but thought, what is
It to the corpse if the maggots nip?

This is purely a woman’s unwillingness disguised in a very intellectual assertion in the form of an answer by Radha, the wife of the man who is having a peck of sexual gratification with his wife. Das always wished joy of life which she has always be bereft of throughout her life, as she herself has asserted. She wants love and to be loved. In her poem The Suicide, she flatly expresses her desire:
O sea! I am fed up
I want to be simple
I want to be loved
And if love is not to be had,
I want to be dead, just dead.

And this was just the way she did. Kamala Das was a poetess of one generation farther in her thoughts and implications. I wish we could deliberate more over her art and skill of writing poetry, yet, we shall need more words to say something about her.

[ KHAN HASNAIN AAQIB (Qadam Hasnain Khan)          M.A  (English, History,Urdu)M.S.W,M.Ed.]

Works and references cited:

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.      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.         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 2 June 2013.

6.      Old Playhouse and Other Poems (poetry)

7.      Summer in Calcutta (poetry; Kent's Award winner)


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