On a sunny Lausanne morning, I woke up much later than usual. A game of cricket last evening had its due share in settling my body parts and indirectly in this wake up delay as well. I was all excited to re start working on the one sided set constraint problem which I pondered about a little the other day. After a routine coffee, decided to check Indian newspapers on line and the first news said Kamala Suraiyya’s passed away. To most of us, especially the ones associated with Kerala, she is the one and only Madhavikutty known to outside world as Kamala das. A name change and a religion hop didn’t really bother a secular Malayali. However the truth remains that, she was easily one of the most misread, misinterpreted writers of this generation.
I have not read a lot of Madhavikutty’s major works. That is a shame, I must accept. But I remember reading many short stories of hers, published in magazines, newspaper supplements and weeklies. One of the stories I still remember is Punnayoorkulam where she touchingly depicts the life of a poor servant. Other short stories instantly coming to my mind are chandana marangal (Sandal wood trees, ചന്ദന മരങ്ങള്) and Pakshiyude maNam (Smell of a bird, പക്ഷിയുടെ മണം). Her story telling style was unique; most notably with her precise and careful selection of words. It is incredible that she could write so well in both Malayalam and English. Not many people know that she was nominated for Nobel prize in 1984. Unfortunately I didn’t get to know much of her English works other than a collection of short stories titled Padmavati the Harlot and Other Stories , which I happened to read sitting inside a book store in Trivandrum during the summer of 1996. That was an experience of some sort. I didn’t have money to buy books then. I used to spend a lot of time inside the book store (thankfully they allowed that) and spend nearly the whole day there. In two days of a week I could read quite a lot. I had restricted visits to two days a week to pretend that I was not exploiting that facility. Nevertheless, over a period, I had befriended with some of the shop guys and they politely let me enjoy this habit, realizing that I was a mere student who couldn’t afford to buy anyway.
Her life and works were dragged into so much controversy. I am not sure whether that helped her to increase the readership. I personally think she was an incredible writer who didn’t need these controversies to claim fame and readership. Her autobiography and the frank style of telling stories created public attention. Perhaps it came at a time when it was unusual for an Indian woman to be that open to express her emotions and life. I do not know much into that controversy, other than learning that it had some. I did not read her autobiography either to judge whether it had some explosive presentation of vivid emotions of a woman. Anyhow, such was her life. Some people would remember purely because of such controversies. Sadly many would have failed to realize the pure writing talent of such a bilingual writer, one of the best Kerala produced. Her death will surely create a void, considering that the language writing has become so thin these days.
Many people in Kerala were surprised when she converted her religion in the last stretch of her life. It was not because of the religion she chose to or the one she was born into. It was more because of the fact that she chose to give importance to latching onto a religion for keeping piece with her life. Anyway, that was her personal choice and everyone accepted it, period.
Madhavikutty’s departure is a big loss. May her soul rest in peace. I leave you with this documentary on Kamala das by Ignou: