The time since my literary senses began to mould the myself in me, I have been quite familiar with the questions and cross-questions that might have shaped in a feminist writer like Kamala Das’s mind when she , for the first time in Indian English Literature, celebrated womanhood, criticised the superiority of the opposite sex in conventional Hindu families and gave the desires of women a definite shape. Yes, when a woman expressed her sexual desires, her feminine self, she was branded as anti-social and immoral. Centuries differ, but minds don’t easily alter. My attachment with Kamala (her poems, short-stories, novels) began when I started finding myself in her, rather the striking similarity of thoughts we share. It’s quite accidental, no imitation or something if you want to name it that way, maybe because the backgrounds we shared were the same. That outspoken, fearless nature kamala had, to be precise, her disregard for the conventions, taboos on subjects sensational, her intense depiction of personal self, are genres where I draw a match to her.
This is how K. Sachidandan(a renowned Malayalam novelist) has written, as a blurb to her autobiography, My Story(published in 1973): “I can’t think of any other Indian autobiography that so honestly captures a woman’s inner life in all its sad solitude, its desperate longing for real love and its desire for transcendence, its tumult of colours and its turbulent poetry.” Enumerating her story in 50 chapters(English Version), Kamala keeps her readers on the edge of their seats, drawn into a charming and intriguing life of love and longing, of desire and disloyalty. First published(serialised in a weekly) in Malayalam, the autobiography, shook the prudish Malayali community and its orthodox readers soon branded Kamala as a seductress. The access to read her story was denied to the young girls( reference: Sachidanandan).
Kamala has always been controversial,till date(yes, after her death too). She has always been misunderstood, by men, women also, the conservative, purely traditional women. She dropped a controversial hint, at many a place throughout her writing, her interviews. Truth, in its true sense is often controversial.
“Today, let this paper receive my dripping blood. Let me write like one not in the least burdened by the thoughts about the future, turning each word into a negotiation with my life lived so far. I like to call this poetry.” The opening page of My Story is right into the flesh of the readers, touching those zones untouched so far, being true to the core. In one of her poems, Anamalai, she beautifies her body, she was conscious of the ultimate moment when her bones and flesh would announce to the world man’s mortality through its pungent odours. She’s so honest that she tears her own self image into pieces. She has made no attempt to project herself as a super woman.
At six, Kamala started writing poems. The one on dolls without heads that remained headless for eternity suggests her childhood loneliness, the trauma she underwent which haunted her lifelong. Perhaps Kamala was lost in that land of alienation and sense of fleetingness with everyone around her. This is where, Kamala and I draw another match!
In one of her interviews with the legendary Takazhi Shivashankara Pillai( Author of the classic novel, Chemmeen ), Kamala was seen intriguing the legend about his tastes and most influential literary figures, especially Russian literary figures. Whenever I read and write on my gender, my emotions, my fantasies, often Virginia Woolf crosses my mind, who had influenced Kamala too. Chekhov, Flaubert, Maeterlinck, Katherine Mansfield had their share of impact on Kamala’s thoughts and writing.
I don’t touch her poetry in this episode. I only wish more of Kamala cast a spell on me!
- I have taken the reference of K Sachidanandan while drafting this as it is an exclusive guide to Kamala’s autobiography.