Kamala Surayya (1934-2009) was an Indian poet in the English language. She was popularly known by her pen name Madhavikutty. Kamala was known for her poems. Her choice of topics for writing like female sexuality, child care, and politics, made her famous. At the age of 75, she passed away at Jehangir Hospital in Pune on 31 May 2009.
Kamala Surayya was born on Saturday, 31 March 1934 at Punnayurkulam, Ponnani taluk, Malabar District, British India (present-day Thrissur district, Kerala, India). Her Zodiac sign was Aries. She did her schooling in Calcutta and Malabar. At the age of six, she started writing and first got her poem published at the age of fourteen by P.E.N. India. She did not receive any proper university education. At the age of 15, she got married, and by the time she turned 18, she had become a wife and a very unhappy mother, which led her to spend almost all of her time writing.
Parents & Siblings
Kamala Surraya’s father, V. M. Nair, was a managing editor of the famous Malayalam daily Mathrubhumi and a senior officer in the Walford Transport Company that sold Bentley and Rolls-Royce automobiles, and her mother, Nalapat Balamani Amma, was a renowned Malayali poet. She had a brother, Shyam Sunder, and a sister, Sulochana Nalapat.
Husband & Children
In 1949, at the age of 15, she got married to Madhav Das, who was a bank officer. After marriage, she started adding “Das” to her name, i.e., Kamala Das. The couple had 3 sons, M D Nalapat, who is India’s first Professor of Geopolitics and the UNESCO Peace Chair at Manipal University, Chinen Das, and Jayasurya Das. She had a foster son, Irshad Gulam Ahmed.
Kamala Das’ great-uncle Nalapat Narayana Menon was a Malayalam language author from Kerala.
In 1999, at the age of 65, Kamala Das fell in love with 38-year-old Sadiq Ali, a man who was almost half her age and a Muslim League MP. She announced that she planned to marry her Muslim lover, but she never remarried.
For 65 years of her life, she was a great devotee of Lord Krishna, but at the age of 65, on 11 December 1999, she converted to Islam and changed her name to Kamala Surayya.
Kamala Das was born into an aristocratic Nair Hindu family in Malabar. Her maternal grandfather and great-grandfather were Rajas, a caste of Hindu nobility, whereas her father was of peasant origin and followed the simple ideals advocated by Mahatma Gandhi.
Surayya published her first book of poems, Summer in Calcutta, in 1965. She wrote about love, betrayal, and the consequent anguish. Later, she stopped writing about the “19th-century diction, sentiment and romanticised love” and moved on to write about more diverse topics like female sexuality, child care, and menstruation. Her second book of poetry, The Descendants, was more bold and explicit and talked about how easy it was for women to be loved by men, keeping it in a sarcastic tone. Due to her bold expressions and explicit content, she was compared to American poet and novelist Sylvia Plath and French novelist Marguerite Duras. At the age of 42, she published an autobiography “Ente Katha” in Malayalam, which she later published in English titled “My Story”. In her poems, her own yearning for love and freedom is reflected. She travelled to many places to read her poetry including Germany’s University of Bonn, the University of Duisburg, the Adelaide Writer’s Festival, and the Frankfurt Book Fair.
Her works are available in French, Spanish, Russian, German and Japanese. She was the Vice-chairperson of Kerala Sahitya Akademi, chairperson of Kerala Forestry Board, President of the Kerala Children’s Film Society, editor of the magazine, and poetry editor of Illustrated Weekly of India. Her last book titled The Kept Woman and Other Stories includes the translation of her short stories, which was published after she passed away.
In 1984, she started a national political party, the Lok Seva Party, with the agenda of promoting secularism and providing asylum to orphaned mothers. In the same year, she contested the Lok Sabha elections from the Trivandrum constituency but lost. She contested as an independent candidate and received only 1786 votes. After losing the elections, she went to stay with her sister, where she wrote the Anamalai Poems. She wrote over twenty poems in this series, but only eleven have been published: eight of them in the Indian Literature Journal by the Sahitya Akademi (1985), and an additional three of them in the book The Best of Kamala Das (1991).
Kamala Das converted to Kamala Surayya
Born into a Hindu family and after following Hinduism for almost 64 years of her life, Kamala Das converted to Islam in 1999. This attracted controversy, and people all over the country were not pleased. Kamala’s life was also threatened, and the leader of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad took her to court for abusing Hinduism in her remarks about Guruvayur and also said that she converted because Muslims had promised her a government post or a seat in assembly elections. Talking about her conversion in an interview, she said, The Pamphleteer
No one came home when I was a Hindu. Islam brought me, friends and love. Several poor women and children come to me, they love me and I reciprocate their affections.”
In the memoir written by Das’ Canadian friend Merrily Weisbord, it is mentioned that Kamala converted to Islam because her lover Sadiq Ali wanted her to convert to a Muslim. Written in the book, Kamala Das’ exact words were,
Dearest Merrily,Life has changed for me since November 14, when a young man named Sadiq Ali walked in to meet me. He is 38 and has a beautiful smile. Afterwards, he began to woo me on the phone from Abu Dhabi and Dubai, reciting Urdu couplets and telling me of what he would do to me after our marriage. I took my nurse Mini and went to his place in my car. I stayed with him for three days. There was a sunlit river, some trees, and a lot of laughter. He asked me to become a Muslim which I did on my return home.
A Social Activist AP Mohammad claimed that there was a wider International conspiracy behind the conversion of Malayalam writer Kamala Das from Hinduism to Islam. According to Mohammad’s report, Das’ friend Merrily Weisbord mentioned in her book ‘The Love Queen of Malabar” that there was an international conspiracy behind her conversion. In addition to this, Mohammad states that the man behind Madhavikutty’s conversion was a Muslim League leader and writer Abdussamad Samadhani, who had received $10 lakh for converting Madhavikutty to Islam. Merrily Weisbord claims in her book that Samadhani received money from an organization based in Saudi Arabia for his service to convert the famous writer. Mohammad added,
Foreign money is being pumped into the state of Kerala for the singular purpose of converting people to Islam. Prominent personalities are being pursued for conversions because it provides credence to the conversion and more ordinary folks are motivated to embrace conversion.”
Some sources claim Das’ conversion to Islam to be one of the earliest instances of Love Jihad in the country.
Kamala das was one of the earliest victim of love Jihad which is still happening in kerala. According to Govt records @ 9000 Hindu girls got converted to islam by falling prey to the false love of muslim boys.Most of them undergone through the same fate of Kamla.
Thread Story 👇 pic.twitter.com/xh5siZsn6X
— 🇭🇮🇳🇩🇺🚩 (@indiangujarati1) August 8, 2020
Awards, Honours, Achievements
- In 1963, she won the PEN Asian Poetry Prize.
- In 1968, she won the Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award for Story – Thanuppu.
- In 1984, she was shortlisted for the Nobel Prize in Literature.
- In 1985, she won the Kendra Sahitya Academy Award (English) for Collected Poems.
- In 1988, she won the Kerala State Film Award for Best Story.
- In 1997, she won the Vayalar Award for Neermathalam Pootha Kalam.
- In 1998, she won the Asian Poetry Prize.
- In 2002, she won the Ezhuthachan Award.
- In 2006, she won the Honorary D.Litt by the University of Calicut.
- In 2006, she won the Muttathu Varkey Award.
At the age of 75, on 31 May 2009, she died after battling cancer at Jehangir Hospital in Pune. She was buried as per the Islam rituals at Palayam Juma Masjid in Trivandrum by the state government with no close attendees. Reportedly, after she converted from Hinduism to Islam, all her children and relatives abandoned her, and the man she wanted to marry left very soon to join his earlier two wives. With no loved one around, she was diagnosed with cancer in 2009.
- On 9 February 2018, A biopic on her titled Aami directed by Kamal was released starring Manju Warrier as Kamala Surayya, and Murali Gopy as Madhava Das.
- Canadian non-fiction writer, Merrily Weisbord found Das’s work so compelling that she came to India to meet her. She wrote a book titled “The Love Queen of Malabar: Memoir of a Friendship with Kamala Das,” which is a memoir of a decade-long friendship.
- In an interview, talking about getting married and having kids at a young age, she said,
I was mature enough to be a mother only when my third child was born”
- Das used to start writing late at night and would continue writing until morning.
- Her autobiography was serialized into 50 chapters by a magazine.