Kamala Suraiya, better known as Kamala Das, is a well-known female Indian writer writing in English as well as Malayalam, her native language. She is considered one of the outstanding Indian poets writing in English, although her popularity in Kerala is based chiefly on her short stories and autobiography. Much of her writing in Malayalam came under the pen name Madhavikkutty. She was born on March 31, 1934 in Malabar in Kerala, India. She is the daughter of V.M. Nair, a former managing editor of the widely-circulated Malayalam daily Mathrubhumi, and Nalappatt Balamani Amma, a renowned Malayali poetess. In 1984, she was short-listed for the Nobel Prize for Literature along with Marguerite Yourcenar, Doris Lessing, and Nadine Gordimer. Kamala Das is probably the first Hindu woman to openly and honestly talk about sexual desires of Indian woman, which made her an iconoclast of her generation.
Kamala Das spent her childhood between Calcutta, where her father was employed, and the Nalappatt ancestral home at Ponnayoorkulam in south Malabar region. Her husband often played a fatherly role for both Das and her sons. Because of the great age difference between Kamala and her husband, he often encouraged her to associate with people of her own age.
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 Narayan Menon, a prominent writer. However, she did not start writing professionally till she was married and became a mother. When Das wished to begin writing, her husband supported her decision to augment the family's income. Being the housewife, she could not use the morning-till-night schedule enjoyed by her great uncle. She would wait until nightfall after her family had gone to sleep and would write until morning: "There was only the kitchen table where I would cut vegetables, and after all the plates and things were cleared, I would sit there and start typing" ("Warrior" interview). This rigorous schedule took its toll upon her health, but she views her illness optimistically. It gave her more time at home, and thus, more time to write.
She is famous for her many Malayalam short stories as well as many poems written in English. The Keralite is recognized as one of the foremost poetesses of India. She is also a syndicated columnist. She has moved away from poetry because she claims that "poetry does not sell in this country [India]," but fortunately her forthright columns do. Her columns sound off on everything from women's issues and child care to politics.
Her son Nalappatt Madhava Das Nair is married to a princess from the Travancore Royal House.
Her first book, Summer In Calcutta was a promising start. She wrote chiefly of love, its betrayal, and the consequent anguish, and Indian readers in 1965 responded sympathetically to her guileless, guiltless frankness with regard to sexual matters. Ms. Das abandoned the certainties offered by an archaic, and somewhat sterile, aestheticism for an independence of mind and body at a time when Indian women poets were still expected to write about teenage girlie fantasies of eternal, bloodless, unrequited love.
Musing of a lonely heart is a common theme in her poems. It seeks love with never ending passion. Lust, greed and hunger never satiate and finally the mind becomes an old playhouse with all its lights put out. For Das, poetry (or love?) is "The April sun squeezed like an orange juice", the heat permeates into the reader's mind. When she is moving to a new city, "Sadness becomes a silent stone in the river's unmoving core". She bid farewell to "the shadows behind the windowpane, the rain, the yellow moon, the crowd and the sea". This sensitivity is the strength of her poetry.
At 42, she published her autobiography,My Story, baring the secrets of her heart. It creates a lot of interest and controversies though not for any literary value. The book was translated into several foreign languages-more than 15.
Madhavikutty is one of the foremost short story writers in Malayalam. In any listing, she figures among the top 5 writers, even after considering the personal choices and socio-cultural background of the readers. She writes, with dexterity, the story of poor old servant in Punnayoorkulam or the sexual disposition of upper middle class women living near a metropolitan city or in the middle of the ghetto.
Her writing style is economical and the use of lanuae is very precise. . Her widely acclaimed stories include Pakshiyude Maranam, 'Neypayasam, Thanuppu, and Chandana Marangal'. She wrote a few novels, among which Neermathalam Pootha Kalam which was received favourably by the reading public as well as the critics. It recreates the nostalgia of an old ancestral home with it adjacent snake shrine. It is often said that even her casual talks falls in the genre of short stories. Such is her creative genius that even after succumbing to several unwanted controversies, she remains a widely popular figure.