Kamala Das hides behind winter’s mist!

Kamala Das hides behind winter’s mist!

October 11, 2012
I straighten my back, heave out a guff of air and close my eyes. I am tired. No, it’s just my eyes, I tell myself and cut two pieces of cool cucumber, place it over my eyelids and sprawl out on my mattress.
Ahh! That guff of air again blows out of my mouth. No, it’s not my eyes. I take off the cucumber pieces and lie staring at the ceiling. I am exhausted. Yes, I tell myself and stretch the length of my body and lie still.
Ufff! My chest is again gulping in air to blow something out of my system. I sit up, utterly confused about my feelings. I am not tired. I am not exhausted. But it is aching. An aching within to know a great writer. She took me there within her. She ripped open her soul to me, but I couldn’t see. Or did I see?
I’m longing to wipe the mist and see clear. I want to know Kamla Das aka Madhavi Kutty aka Kamala Suriya. Who is she? Apart from being one of the greatest Indian writers and poets, who is the real she?
Most of them love to hate her and the others love to judge her. I love her for her boldness. I always believed she was a woman ahead of her times. But I didn’t want to judge her. And so when I got her memoir “The Love Queen of Malabar” – by Merrily Weisbord, I dedicated four days of my life only to her.
When I turned the last page over, I had more questions than when I had four days ago. The memoir is Kamala Das’s emotions in raw blood. You can smell them. But you can’t name them.
A woman who called out to females of the world to fly out and see their hearts dance, meekly played the docile housewife, enduring an abusive marriage, calling it her “destiny”.
She’s a hypocrite, I scream.
I continue reading when she says, “I gave my dead body to him [husband] not my mind.” Then why didn’t she come out clean in her autobiography ? ‘My Story’ is anything but transparent. “To protect my children. They respect their father.”
She’s orthodox and timid, I scream.
That’s when I read her claim to have “unshackled” herself from orthodox, puritanical morality. She sanctions infidelity for women in loveless marriage. Yep, the jigsaw puzzle seems to fall in place. Her passionate love poems are a testimony to her relationships!
She was attempting to lead by example, I say.
But then she soon complains, “Talent is an abnormality, like a sixth finger”.  So what do readers decipher? She was abnormal? How can someone who published poems before age 15, who read the likes of Oscar Wilde in early teen be abnormal?
She lacks clarity, I fume.
She goes on to justify her sexual desires to that of Lord Krishna’s antics, and I’m rolling my eyes. “I traded sex for love,” she says and I’m holding the edge of the table.
She’s a pervert! I scream.
“In my culture women cannot admit that they enjoy sex,” she says and I feel she’s ordering me to shut up and stop blowing my top off.  “It’s the woman’s body, but the man’s bed, the man’s home. But I can’t do that, I want the bed to be mine,” she explains.
She, indeed, has a mind of her own! I nod.
How else can one define her religious conversion? In order to live with her lover, a person born into an ultra-orthodox Hindu family adopts the Muslim faith in her 60s calling the ire of her family and the community at large. And she names her conversion a “sexual awakening”. Now that sure demands some gumption!.
Hats off! Kamala Das, I salute.
But my jubilation does not last long. When she says, “I worshipped the men I fell in love with,” I close the book and try to recollect what I read in the early chapters. Yes, she did say “I hate sex”.
Then what was the awakening she felt when she converted causing religious riots in her home state and exposing her own life to unlawful fanatics by falling in love with a younger Muslim man?
She’s a liar, fucked up her own life, I resign.
When she fires a blatant salvo. “My writings are confessional.”
Oh my! This woman is taking readers for a ride! I scream.
But I soon see her apprehensions when she fears for her grandkids’ lives; her excitement of flying to Canada to meet her ‘sister’; the thrill she exudes talking to elderly women like girls understanding their puberty; the trepidation of making politically correct statements to protect herself from religious maniacs; her stark description of a widow’s voidness… “I am not a family property,” she says and adds that she has responsibility to her readers.
That’s a hallmark of a great writer! I acknowledge.
I confess a hundred times over because she excites and inspires readers – one and all. A lay person who just wants to frolic in ether on her words; or seekers who want to emulate her; or critics who are tasked with analyzing her words; or librarians who are duty bound to categorise and label her… she disappoints none.
But why did I read her memoir? No. I didn’t read. I grabbed and voraciously savoured it. Because I wanted to know her. Understand the person behind the artist. The soul behind the writer. Through her conversations with the author, she took me inside her. She guided me through to her darkest nooks…but alas! she left me stranded staring at her soul.
All I can say with conviction is she took each new incarnation to its outer limits. She disliked organised religion, even as she sung paeans to Lord Krishna. She hated sex even as she admitted she waited for more than six decades to know what a man’s touch is. She believed love is divine and should be practiced but adhered to social norms.
Kamala Das had conflicting loyalties.
Even when she gave the author permission to go ahead and write about her intimate and dark secrets initially, she contradicted in the presence of her brethren later.
Why? I scream. As if in answer, she says, “Life has been a game for me”.
She was cheated of a normal life. So she created a persona through whom she could celebrate life. “I detached myself from this body and watched this persona move towards this lover, observing myself in the role of a lover, the role of a woman loved , as though I was another person,’ she says.
That says it all, I assume.
When she says, “I am a remarkably successful fake”. “I want to tell them [readers] that I am a fraud”.
I can see her smile through the pages and even imagine her large eyes crinkle at me, when I’m reminded of her beautiful couplet…
I hide behind my dream/ Like a mountain does behind winter’s mist
Kamala Das experimented with life to write. So even as she strayed away from social norms of her times, she clung on to the defiant cultural bonds. And when her soul took wings she let it soar but camouflaged it in colourful hues.
What hues are those, I saw
When you took me in
I saw the flesh and smelled your blood
I heard your cries and felt your breath
I stepped to touch and you pulled away
I saw you smile and guard your door
What hues are those, I saw
When you took me in
I shut my eyes to capture those hues
But see colours different each time I try
What hues are those, I saw
When you took me in!
Nisha Sanjeev


  • bluvian
    October 11, 2012

    enjoyed it…especially the poem. grt job nisha 🙂

  • Anonymous
    August 10, 2013

    Keep on writing, great job!

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