Kamala Surayya
(1934-03-31)31 March 1934
Punnayurkulam, Ponnani taluk, Malabar District, Madras Presidency, British India (present-day Thrissur district, Kerala, India)
Died31 May 2009(2009-05-31) (aged 75)
Pune, Maharashtra, India
Resting placePalayam Juma Masjid, Thiruvananthapuram, India
Pen nameMadhavikutty
OccupationPoet, novelist, short story writer
GenrePoetry, novel, short story, memoirs
Notable works
Notable awardsEzhuthachan Puraskaram, Vayalar Award, Sahitya Akademi Award, Asan World Prize, Asian Poetry Prize, Kent Award
SpouseK.Madhav Das

Kamala Surayya (born Kamala; 31 March 1934 – 31 May 2009), popularly known by her one-time pen name Madhavikutty and married name Kamala Das, was an Indian poet in English as well as an author in Malayalam from Kerala, India. Her fame in Kerala primarily stems from her short stories and autobiography, My Story, whereas her body of work in English, penned under the pseudonym Kamala Das, is renowned for its poems and candid autobiography. She was also a widely read columnist and wrote on diverse topics including women's issues, child care, politics, etc. Her liberal treatment of female sexuality, marked her as an iconoclast in popular culture of her generation.[1] On 31 May 2009, aged 75, she died at Jehangir Hospital in Pune.[2]

Early life and childhood

Kamala Das was born in Punnayurkulam, Ponnani taluk, Malabar District, British India (present-day Thrissur district, Kerala, India) on 31 March 1934, to V. M. Nair, a managing editor of the widely circulated Malayalam daily Mathrubhumi, and Nalapat Balamani Amma, a renowned Malayali poet.[3]

She spent her childhood in Calcutta, where her father was employed as a senior officer in the Walford Transport Company that sold Bentley and Rolls-Royce automobiles, and the Nalapat ancestral home in Punnayurkulam.[4]

Like her mother Balamani Amma, Kamala Das also excelled in writing. Her love of poetry began at an early age through the influence of her great uncle, Nalapat Narayana Menon, a prominent writer.[5]

At 15 years old, she wed bank officer Madhav Das, who supported her literary pursuits. She commenced writing and publishing in both English and Malayalam. The 1960s in Calcutta witnessed an era of artistic turbulence, during which Kamala Das emerged as one of numerous voices featured in esteemed anthologies along with a generation of Indian English poets.[6] English was the language she chose for all six of her published poetry collections.[7]

Literary career

She was known for her several Malayalam short stories as well as poems written in English. Kamala Das was also a syndicated columnist. She once claimed that "poetry does not sell in this country [India]", but her forthright columns, which sounded off on everything from women's issues and child care to politics, were popular. Kamala Das was a confessional poet whose poems have often been considered at par with those of Anne Sexton , Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath.

Kamala Das' first book of poetry, Summer in Calcutta was a breath of fresh air in Indian English poetry. She wrote chiefly of love, betrayal, and the consequent anguish. Kamala Das abandoned the certainties offered by an archaic, and somewhat sterile, aestheticism for an independence of mind and body at a time when Indian poets were still governed by "19th-century diction, sentiment and romanticised love."[8]

Her second book of poetry, The Descendants was even more explicit, urging women to:

Gift him what makes you woman, the scent of
Long hair, the musk of sweat between the breasts,
The warm shock of menstrual blood, and all your
Endless female hungers ...

— Kamala Das, "The Looking Glass", The Descendants

This directness of her voice led to comparisons with Marguerite Duras and Sylvia Plath.[8] At the age of 42, she published a daring autobiography, My Story; it was originally written in Malayalam (titled Ente Katha) and later she translated it into English. Later she admitted that much of the autobiography had fictional elements.[9]

Some people told me that writing an autobiography like this, with absolute honesty, keeping nothing to oneself, is like doing a striptease. True, maybe. I, will, firstly, strip myself of clothes and ornaments. Then I intend to peel off this light brown skin and shatter my bones. At last, I hope you will be able to see my homeless, orphan, intensely beautiful soul, deep within the bone, deep down under, beneath even the marrow, in a fourth dimension ...

- excerpts from the translation of Kamala Das' autobiography in Malayalam, Ente Katha

"An Introduction" is very bold poem in which Das expresses her femininity, individuality, and true feelings about men.[10] This autobiographical poem is written in the colloquial style. She presents her feelings and thoughts in a bold manner. She realises her identity and understands that it is the need of every woman to raise a voice in this male-dominated society. The poet longs for love that is the result of her loneliness and frustration.

The poem "A Hot Noon in Malabar" is about climate, surrounding in a town in Malabar. The people may be annoyed by the heat, dust and noise but she likes it. She longs for the hot noon in Malabar because she associates it with the wild men, wild thoughts and wild love. It is a torture for her to be away from Malabar.

In "My Mother at Sixty-Six," Das explores the irony in a mother-daughter relationship, and it also includes the themes of aging, growing-up, separation and love.[11] "Dance of Eunuchs" is another fine poem in which Das sympathises with eunuchs. It has an autobiographical tone. The eunuchs dance in the heat of the sun. Their costumes, makeup and their passion with which they dance suggest the female delicacy. Their outward appearance and joy is contrasted with their inward sadness. Actually, there is no joy in their heart, they cannot even dream of happiness. In the poem "A Request," Das realises that her life is meaningless. She is alone and her colourless life is designed of crumbling patterns.

Kamala Das is essentially known for her bold and frank expression. The prominent features of her poetry are an acute obsession with love and the use of confession. The main theme of her poetry is based upon freedom, love and protection. She wrote on a diverse range of topics, often disparate - from the story of a poor old servant, about the sexual disposition of upper-middle-class women living near a metropolitan city or in the middle of the ghetto. Some of her better-known stories include Pakshiyude Manam, Neypayasam, Thanuppu, and Chandana Marangal. She wrote a few novels, out of which Neermathalam Pootha Kalam, which was received favourably by the general readers, as well as, the critics, stands out.

She travelled extensively to read poetry to Germany's University of Duisburg-Essen, University of Bonn and University of Duisburg universities, Adelaide Writer's Festival, Frankfurt Book Fair, University of Kingston, Jamaica, Singapore, and South Bank Festival (London), Concordia University (Montreal, Canada), etc. Her works are available in French, Spanish, Russian, German and Japanese.

She has also held positions as Vice-chairperson in Kerala Sahitya Akademi, chairperson in Kerala Forestry Board, President of the Kerala Children's Film Society, editor of Poet magazine[12] and poetry editor of Illustrated Weekly of India.

Although occasionally seen as an attention-grabber in her early years,[13] she is now seen as one of the most formative influences on Indian English poetry. In 2009, The Times called her "the mother of modern English Indian poetry".[8]

Her last book titled The Kept Woman and Other Stories, featuring translation of her short stories, was published posthumously.[14] Kamala Das is best remembered for her controversial writings where she openly talks about the restriction imposed on women. She is known for her rebellious nature against the patriarchal conventions.[15]

Personal life

Kamala married Madhav Das at the age of 15. The couple had three sons: M D Nalapat, Chinen Das and Jayasurya Das.[16] Her husband who predeceased her in 1992, after 43 years of marriage.[17] Madhav Das Nalapat, her eldest son, is married to Princess Thiruvathira Thirunal Lakshmi Bayi from the Travancore Royal House.[18] He holds the UNESCO Peace Chair and is a professor of geopolitics at the Manipal University. He had been a resident editor of The Times of India. Kamala Surayya converted to Islam in 1999 and fall victim to allegations for changing religion just for marrying someone she Loved, even though all boasted about her strive for freedom (especially women )and fearless nature and genius brain once, about which she sarcastically criticized in her later speeches, but she never remarried.[19][20]

On 31 May 2009, aged 75, she died at a hospital in Pune, after a long battle with pneumonia. Her body was flown to her home state of Kerala. She was interred at the Palayam Juma Masjid at Thiruvananthapuram with full state honour.[21][22]


Though never politically active before, she launched a national political party, Lok Seva Party, aiming at the promotion of secularism and providing asylum to orphaned mothers. In 1984 she unsuccessfully contested in the Indian Parliament elections from Trivandrum constituency.[23] She contested as an independent candidate and received only 1786 votes.[24] She was depressed after the results and was advised to rest at her sister's house in Anamalai hills. She wrote the Anamalai Poems during this period. She wrote over twenty poems in this series, but only eleven have been published: eight of them in Indian Literature journal by the Sahitya Akademi (1985) and an additional three of them in the book The Best of Kamala Das (1991).[25]

Conversion to Islam

She was born in a conservative Hindu Nair (Nalapat) family, and married to Aristrocratic Menon family (Kalipurayath) which is having royal ancestry.[26] She converted to Islam on 11 December 1999, at the age of 65 and assumed the name Kamala Surayya.[27][28]


Awards and Other Recognitions

Kamala Das has received many awards for her literary contribution, including:



Year Title Publisher
1964 The Sirens
1965 Summer in Calcutta New Delhi: Everest Press
1965 An Introduction
1967 The Descendants Calcutta: Writer's Workshop
1973 The Old Playhouse and Other Poems Madras: Orient Longman
1977 The Stranger Time
1979 Tonight, This Savage Rite
(with Pritish Nandy)
New Delhi: Arnold-Heinemann
1984 Collected Poems Vol. 1 Published by the author
1985 The Anamalai Poems Indian Literature
(New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi)
1991 The Best of Kamala Das Calicut: Bodhi
1996 Only the Soul Knows How to Sing Kottayam: DC Books
1976 Alphabet of Lust New Delhi: Orient Paperbacks
1976 My Story New Delhi: Sterling Publishers
Short story collections
1977 A Doll for the Child Prostitute New Delhi: India Paperbacks
1992 Padmavati the Harlot and Other Stories New Delhi: Sterling Publishers


Year Title Publisher Notes
Short story collections
1955 Mathilukal Calicut: Mathrubhumi Collection of 9 stories; written under the name Nalappatt Kamala
1958 Pathu Kathakal Kottayam: SPCS Collection of 10 stories
1960 Naricheerukal Parakkumbol Cochin: Sahithya Parishath Collection of 11 stories
1962 Tharishunilam Cochin: Sahithya Parishath Collection of 12 stories
1963 Ente Snehitha Aruna Thrissur: Current Books Collection of 9 stories
1964 Chuvanna Pavada Thrissur: Current Books Collection of 9 stories
1964 Pakshiyude Manam Thrissur: Current Books Collection of 9 stories
1967 Thanuppu Thrissur: Current Books Collection of 19 stories
1969 Rajavinte Premabhajanam Thrissur: Current Books Collection of 14 stories
1971 Premathinte Vilapakavyam Thrissur: Current Books Collection of 13 stories
1982 Madhavikuttiyude Kathakal Kottayam: DC Books Collection of 36 stories
With an introduction by Kalarcode Vasudevan Nair
1985 Madhavikuttiyude Kathakal Calicut: Mathrubhumi Collection of 36 stories
With an introduction by M. Rajeev Kumar
1990 Palayanam Thrissur: Current Books
1991 Swathanthrya Samara Senaniyude Makal Calicut: Poorna
1994 Nashtapetta Neelambari Kasargod: Kalakshetram Collection of 13 stories
1994 Ennennum Thara Trivandrum: Neruda Includes a study by M. Rajeev Kumar titled Neermathalathinte Ormaykk
1996 Chekkerunna Pakshikal Kottayam: DC Books Collection of 13 stories
1998 Madhavikuttiyude Premakathakal Calicut: Olive
1999 Ente Cherukathakal Kottayam: DC Books Collection of 13 stories
1999 Veendum Chila Kathakal Trivandrum: Prabhath Collection of 9 stories
2002 Malayalathinte Suvarna Kathakal Thrissur: Green Books Collection of 20 stories
1999 Ente Priyapetta Kathakal Kottayam: DC Books Collection of 19 stories
2004 Peeditharude Kathakal Trivandrum: Prabhath Collection of 20 stories
2004 Madhavikuttyde Sthreekal Calicut: Mathrubhumi Collection of 20 stories
2005 Unmakkathakal Alleppey: Unma Pub.
1977 Madhavikuttiyude Moonnu Novelukal Trivandrum: Navadhara Collection of the short novels Rugminikkoru Pavakkutty, Rohini and Avasanathe Athithi
1978 Manasi Trivandrum: Prabhatham
1983 Manomi Thrissur: Current Books
1988 Chandanamarangal Kottayam: Current Books
1989 Kadal Mayooram Kottayam: Current Short novel
1999 Amavasi Kottayam: DC Books co-authored with K. L. Mohanavarma
2000 Kavadam Kottayam: DC Books co-authored with Sulochana Nalapat
2000 Madhavikkuttiyude Pranaya Novelukal Calicut: Lipi Collection of 6 novels: Parunthukal, Atharinte Manam, Aattukattil, Rathriyude Padavinyasam, Kadal Mayooram, Rohini
2005 Vandikkalakal Calicut: Mathrubhumi
1973 Ente Katha Thrissur: Current Books Autobiography
1984 Irupathiyonnam Nottandilekk Kottayam: SPCS Collection of 9 essays
1986 Bhayam Ente Nishavasthram Calicut: Mathrubhumi Collection of poems, stories and notes
Written under the name Kamala Das
With illustrations by A. S. Nair
1987 Balyakala Smaranakal Kottayam: DC Books Childhood memories
1989 Varshangalkku Mumbu Thrissur: Current Books Memoirs
1992 Diarykurippukal Thrissur: Current Books Memoirs
1992 Neermathalam Pootha Kalam Kottayam: DC Books Autobiographical
1997 Ottayadipatha Kottayam: DC Books Memoirs
1999 Ente Pathakal Trivandrum: Prabhath Collection of 50 essays
2001 Snehathinte Swargavathilukal Calicut: Papppiyon Collection of 43 essays/memoirs
2005 Pranayathinte Album Calicut: Olive Selected love quotes
ed. Arshad Bathery
2019 Ottayadipathayum Vishadam Pookkunna Marangalum Kottayam: DC Books Collection of Ottayadi Patha, Vishadam Pookkunna Marangal, Bhayam Ente Nishavasthram and Diarykurippukal
Vishadam Pookkunna Marangal Kottayam: DC Books Memoirs
1986 Ente Kavitha Pandalam: Pusthaka Prasadha
Translated by K. P. Nirmal Kumar, K. V. Thampi, Cherukunnam Purushothaman, G. Dileepan
1991 Kamala Dasinte Thiranjedutha Kavithakal Kottayam: DC Books Translated by Abraham
2004 Madhuvidhuvinu Sesham Alleppey: Fabian Books Translation of 43 poems
New edition of Ente Kavitha

Appearances in the following poetry Anthologies

See also this

Further reading

  1. The Ignited Soul by Shreekumar Varma
  2. Manohar, D. Murali. Kamala Das: Treatment of Love in Her Poetry.indear Kumar Gulbarga: JIWE, 1999.
  3. "Cheated and Exploited: Women in Kamala Das's Short Stories", In Mohan G Ramanan and P. Sailaja (eds.). English and the Indian Short Story. New Delhi: Orient Longman (2000).117–123
  4. "Man-Woman Relationship with Respect to the Treatment of Love in Kamala Das' Poetry". Contemporary Literary Criticism Vol. 191. Ed. Tom Burns and Jeffrey W. Hunter. Detroit: Thomson-Gale, 2004. 44–60.
  5. "Individuality in Kamala Das and in Her Poetry". English Poetry in India: A Secular Viewpoint. Eds. PCK Prem and D.C.Chambial. Jaipur: Aavishkar, 2011. 65–73.
  6. "Meet the Writer: Kamala Das", POETCRIT XVI: 1 (January 2003): 83–98.


  1. ^ "The Rediff Interview/ Kamala Suraiya". Rediff.com. 19 July 2000. Retrieved 1 June 2013.
  2. ^ "Writer Kamala Das passes away". Hindustan Times. Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala. 31 May 2009. Retrieved 9 August 2022.
  3. ^ "Who is Kamala Das? Why is the Google Doodle dedicated to her today?". India Today. Retrieved 1 April 2023.
  4. ^ Sirur, Simrin (31 March 2019). "Remembering Kamala Das, a feminist Indian writer who chose a 'stern husband' in Islam". ThePrint. Retrieved 1 April 2023.
  5. ^ "Ten years after her death, writer Kamala Surayya rests in Palayam Juma Masjid, Trivandrum". The News Minute. 31 May 2019. Retrieved 1 April 2023.
  6. ^ "Book Excerptise: strangertime: an anthology of Indian Poetry in English by Pritish Nandy (ed)". cse.iitk.ac.in. Retrieved 30 July 2018.
  7. ^ Rumens, Carol (3 August 2015). "Poem of the week: Someone Else's Song by Kamala Das". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 8 October 2016.
  8. ^ a b c Booth, Jenny (13 June 2009). "Lalit Shakya: Indian poet and writer". The Times. London. Retrieved 28 May 2011.
  9. ^ Shahnaz Habib (18 June 2009). "Obituary: Kamala Das – Indian writer and poet who inspired women struggling to be free of domestic oppression". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 28 May 2011.
  10. ^ "Analysis of An Introduction by Kamala Das". Poemotopia.com. 9 August 2022. Retrieved 9 August 2022.
  11. ^ "Analysis of My Mother at Sixty-Six by Kamala Das". Poemotopia.com. 9 August 2022. Retrieved 9 August 2022.
  12. ^ "Love and longing in Kerala". The Times of India. 15 December 2002. Retrieved 30 July 2018.
  13. ^ The histrionics of Kamala Das[usurped] The Hindu, 6 February 2000
  14. ^ Pisharoty, Sangeeta Barooah (27 October 2010). "Thus spake Das". The Hindu. ISSN 0971-751X. Retrieved 8 October 2016.
  15. ^ Habib, Shahnaz. "Kamala Das". The New Yorker.
  16. ^ "Kamala Das passes away". The Times of India. June 2009. Retrieved 30 July 2018.
  17. ^ "'She lived her life her way': Kamala Das' son opens up about his fearless mother". The News Minute. 7 February 2018.
  18. ^ "Lakshmi Bayi, Author at Open The Magazine". Open The Magazine. Retrieved 1 April 2023.
  19. ^ "Rediff On The NeT: When the temptress dons the purdah..." www.rediff.com.
  20. ^ "Kamla Das". The New Yorker. Retrieved 13 February 2020.
  21. ^ "Kerala pays tributes to Kamala Surayya". The Hindu. Chennai, India. 1 June 2009. Archived from the original on 5 November 2012. Retrieved 4 June 2009.
  22. ^ "Tributes showered on Kamala Suraiya". The Hindu. Chennai, India. 2 June 2009. Archived from the original on 7 November 2012. Retrieved 4 June 2009.
  23. ^ "Noted writer Kamala Das Suraiya passes away". Zee News. 31 May 2009. Retrieved 1 June 2013.
  24. ^ "Indian Parliament Election Results-- Kerala 1984: 20. TRIVANDRUM". Kerala Legislative Assembly. Retrieved 12 January 2023.
  25. ^ P.P. Raveendran (1994). "Text as History, History as Text: A Reading of Kamala Das's Anamalai Poems". The Journal of Commonwealth Literature. 29 (1): 47–54. doi:10.1177/002198949402900105. S2CID 161788549.
  26. ^ Untying and retying the text: an analysis of Kamala Das's My story, by Ikbala Kaura, 1990. p.188
  27. ^ George Iype (14 December 1999). "When the temptress dons the purdah". Rediff. Retrieved 11 February 2018.
  28. ^ "Tehelka - India's Independent Weekly News Magazine". Archived from the original on 16 December 2010. Retrieved 2 June 2013.
  29. ^ "Celebrating Kamala Das". www.google.com.
  30. ^ a b "Literary Awards". kerala.gov.in. Government of Kerala. Archived from the original on 11 July 2016. Retrieved 30 April 2018.
  31. ^ "AKADEMI AWARDS (1955-2016)". sahitya-akademi.gov.in. Sahitya Akademi. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 30 April 2018.
  32. ^ "Awards and achievements of Kamala Das". Retrieved 3 March 2021.
  33. ^ "Writer Kamala Surayiya receives Ezhuthachan prize". The Times of India. 1 January 2003. Retrieved 30 April 2018.
  34. ^ "Honorary degree by Calicut University" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 7 November 2013. Retrieved 8 April 2013.
  35. ^ "Literary Awards – official website of Onformation and Public Relation Department". Archived from the original on 24 May 2007.
  36. ^ "Ten 20th Century Indian Poets". cse.iitk.ac.in. Retrieved 23 August 2018.
  37. ^ "The Oxford India Anthology of Twelve Modern Indian Poets". cse.iitk.ac.in. Retrieved 23 August 2018.
  38. ^ "Book review: 'Twelve Modern Indian Poets' by Arvind Krishna Mehrotra". indiatoday.in. Retrieved 23 August 2018.
  39. ^ Mandal, Somdatta (15 June 2009). "Rubana Huq, ed. The Golden Treasury of Writers Workshop Poetry. Kolkata: Writers Workshop, 2008. 410pp. ISBN 978-81-8157-801-3". Asiatic. 3 (1): 126–129. Retrieved 4 September 2018.