Noted writer Kamala Das Suraiya passes away

Last Updated: Sunday, May 31, 2009 - 23:37

Pune, May 31: Well-known Indian writer Kamala Das
Suraiya, who courted controversy with her unorthodox views,
died here on Sunday.

She was 75 and is survived by three sons.

The Malayalam writer and poetess, who earned fame for her
works in English, breathed her last in a city hospital where
she had been admitted on April 18 following a complaint of
respiratory distress.

Kamala, winner of many national and international
literary awards, had settled down in the city a few years ago,
leading a secluded life.

Known for her frank and explicit expression on matters of
sexuality, Kamala focused on love, betrayal and the resultant
agony in her writings that unsettled the orthodox readers.

Kamala hit the headlines when, though born in a
conservative Hindu Nair family in Kerala with a royal lineage,
she 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.

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.

A prolific author who was widely acclaimed for her short
stories and novels in Malayalam, Kamala also became famous for
her poetry in English that won her many international awards.

Her books in English include `Summer in Calcutta`, `The
Descendants`, `The Old Playhouse`, `Alphabet of Lust`, `My
story` (Autobiography), etc.

Meanwhile, Das` body was brought to `Kerala House` in
Navi Mumbai in Thane district. The writer`s son and
daughter-in-law Laxmibai Nalapat accompanied the body, Janata
Party national general secretary Jagadish Shetty said.

Shetty had earlier visited `Kerala House` to pay last
respects to the writer.

The body will be flown to Cochin tomorrow from where it
will be taken to the Sahitya Akademy in Trichur. The body will
be buried at the Palayam Mosque in Trivandrum on Tuesday, he
said.

Dissenting voice of wounded womanhood

A writer who shocked the
custodians of conventional values, Kamala Surayya Das has been
a dissenting but poignant voice of wounded womanhood against
the value systems of a male-dominated society.

Whether in her poems in English or highly-appreciated
short stories in Malayalam, Kamala had sought to expose the
hypocrisies of a society living in an illusory world of pseudo
morality, oblivious of the stark realities around.

However, in doing so, 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.

An artist who refused to be governed by accepted norms in
art as well as life, Kamala`s life was as sensational as her
works, and, often faced the barbs of the orthodox society for
her decisions such as embracing Islam well past the middle-age
and appearing in public wearing burqua.

"She stands out on account of her resourcefulness,
imagination and uncanny ability to tell the tale," critic and
academic M N Karassery said.

Her major English works includes `Summer in Calcutta`,
`Alphabet of Lust`, `Descendants` and Collected poems, many of
which stand out for their originality of theme and symbolism.

Perhaps, the most sensational of the writer`s work in
English was her memoirs `My story`, which was a kind of
tell-all personal reminiscences by the standards of the 1970s.

But on that work, she later said, that it was as literary
a creation as any other piece and the central character of the
narrative had been the creation of imagination.

Critics have often placed 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.

Kamala was born in the ancient Nair `Tharvadu` Nalappat
in Punnayurkkulam in Thrissur district. The head of family at
the time of her birth, Nalapat Narayana Menon, was a literary
stalwart of the time who, apart from his own works, translated
Victor Hugos French classic Les Miserables into Malayalam.

Her mother Balamaniyamma was a noted poet, whose works
were appreciated for their exploration of various aspects of
motherhood. Kamala spent her childhood in Mumbai and Kolkata,
where her father V M Nair was top executive in leading
companies, who later became the Managing Director of Malayalam
daily `Mathrubhumi`.

Married early to K Madhava Das, Kamala was supported
by her husband to take to writing when she expressed the wish
to supplement family earnings.

In Malayalam, her widely acclaimed stories include
Pakshiyude Manam, Neypayasam, Thanuppu, and Chandana
Marangal.

Kamala took literary and social circles by storm when
she embraced Islam in 1999 at the age of 65 and assumed the
name Kamala Suraiya. Like the themes of her stories, the
conversion too generated much heat and dust.
Her interest in politics surfaced when she contested for
a parliamentary seat in 1984 elections and lost. She had also
launched a political party called Lok Seva Party, aiming
humanitarian causes and succour to orphaned mothers.

Summer in Calcutta, the collection of poems written in
English by Kamala in 1965 won her the Kent award for English
writing from Asian countries. She travelled widely to recite
her poems to foreign audience.

In addition to this, she was also honoured with Asian
poetry Prize, Sahitya Academy award, Vayalar award and Kerala
Sahitya Academy award.

She held positions as Vice chairperson of Kerala
Sahitya Academy and Kerala Forestry Board, President of Kerala
Children Film Society and poetry editor of Illustrated Weekly
of India.

Bureau Report



First Published: Sunday, May 31, 2009 - 23:37
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