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Wednesday, 26 January 2011

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Being consistently inconsistent

As early as 1949, Simone De Beauvoir in ‘The Second Sex’ wrote:

‘Women do not set themselves up as subject and hence have erected to virile myth in which their projects are reflected. They have no religion or poetry of their own. They still dream through the dreams of men.’

Only by writing an expression could the woman writer succeed in breaking down existing social power structures and create a place for herself in the world of masculine hierarchies. This process would be even harder in a country like India in the middle of the past century. Especially for a woman who was belonged to a traditional Hindu family and who was forced to get married at the age of 16 to a much older man. Kamala Das is thus a special woman, a glittery gem in Indian literary canon.

Kamala Das, a prominent Indian poet, memoirist and short-story writer whose work was known for its open discussion of women’s sexual lives, a daring subject when she began publishing in midcentury is special in many ways.

A prolific writer, Das composed most of her poetry in English. Most of her fiction, which appeared under the pen name Madhavikutty, was written in her native Malayalam.

Kamala Das

She wrote several memoirs, the most famous of them, “My Story,” written in English and published in 1976. In it, Das recounts her childhood in an artistic but emotionally distant family; her unfulfilling arranged marriage to an older man shortly before her 16th birthday; the emotional breakdowns and suicidal thoughts that punctuated her years as a young wife and mother; her husband’s apparent homosexuality; and the deep undercurrent of sexual and romantic yearning that ran through most of her married life.

For decades a public figure in India, Das by many accounts embraced both controversy and contradiction. Championed by feminists for writing about women’s oppression, she declined to be identified as a feminist herself. She ran unsuccessfully for a seat in India’s Parliament in 1984 but later turned away from political life. Born to a prominent Hindu family, she converted to Islam in 1999 and for a time called herself Kamala Suraiya. Highly publicized, her conversion drew criticism, for a diverse array of reasons, from Hindus, Muslims and feminists. No wonder it was, because India has different connotation for each word, Hindus, Muslims and Feminism.

In her nonfiction, Das could be a deliberately, and an artfully, unreliable narrator. Though “My Story” caused a sensation in India when it first appeared, she presents its most sensational material obliquely. In Das’s quiet, measured telling, many passages about her romantic encounters could reflect inward, unrequited longing as easily they could outward reality.

She had many poems and many interviews where she talked about the oppression of the marriage, and then others where she talked about her husband and how much she loved him and how much he loved her and how much she missed him when he died.

Das is famous for being consistently inconsistent.

I figure out this as the secret ingredient of her immensely beautiful way of writing. I cannot stop thinking of our very own Eva Ranaweera, when talking about Kamala Das.

She too was literarily brave enough to bring controversial topics in her books such as ‘Sedona’ and ‘Laisa’. While world frequently assess and discuss Das’s writing, our Eva rests in peace without being noticed to readers as well as critics. My words on literature were being colliding through a year.

I hope those collisions contributed in broadening the intellectual horizons of my readers.

Let’s meet up again at the same spot, with more colliding ideas and with a new perspective towards language and culture.

 

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