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KAMALA DAS (1934-2009)

Kamala Das was a poet and journalist. She was born in March 1934 in Thrissur district, Kerala.Her father, V.M. Nair, had edited the famous Malayalam newspaper Mathrubhumi. At the time of her birth he was a corporate executive with the Walford Transport Company in Calcutta, selling high end imported vehicles to rich patrons. Her mother, Nalappatta Balamani Amma, was a well known poet as was her great-uncle, Nalappatta Narayana Menon.

Kamala Das grew up in Calcutta and Kerala. She was schooled at home, married at 15 to K. Madhava Das and had her first child the following year. Her eldest son is married to a princess of Travancore. Her husband encouraged her to write. In her interview to Shobha Warrier, she gave him credit for taking pride in her work. But writing was still hard as she had to do all the housework and could only write late at night after the children had fallen asleep. Her collections of poems include Summer in Calcutta (1965), The Descendants (1970) and The Old Playhouse and Other Poems (1973). However, the sharp reactions to her frankness in the poetry, and the need to make money, led her to turn to prose and journalism. She also wrote short stories and novels in Malayalam under the name Madhavikutty. Her novels Palayam and Neermathalam Pootha Kalam were well received. She was poetry editor for the Illustrated Weekly. Her childhood memoirs, originally published in Malayalam, were brought together in two volumes in English translation and published by Penguin as A Childhood in Malabar.

Her autobiography, My Story, was published in 1976. Its frankness about her sexual and emotional experiences shocked many readers, although others found fault with it and regarded the self she revealed as too sentimental and weepy. In 1984 she stood for election to Parliament but did not win. In 1999 she converted to Islam and took the name Suraiyya, apparently because she was at that time in a relationship with a Muslim man. When the relationship ended she also became disenchanted with the religion. Her independence of mind and originality made her a striking if not always easily understood figure.
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