Kamala Suraiya: The literary star of Kerala is no more

By Najiya O., TwoCircles.net,

The epitome of love, the dear writer of Kerala Dr. Kamala Suraiya has bid farewell to this world. Malayalis’ own Madhavikkutty who secured an unforgettable place in the world of literature will now live in the hearts of millions through the works that eternalize her. The great writer who had been ailing for some months passed away at 1.55 am on 31st May in the Jahangir Hospital in Pune. She will be interred at the Palayam Juma Masjid in Thiruvananthapuram with State honours tomorrow. She was 75 and is survived by three sons.

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Kamala was born in a family of eminent writers in a traditional Hindu family in 1934. Her mother Nalappattu Balamaniyamma was a famous Malayalam poet. She spent her childhood in Kerala and Kolkatta where her father worked. She got married to Madhav Das when she was only 15. It was after she gave birth to her first child that Kamala began writing. Madhav Das offered his whole-hearted support to the budding writer in his wife. Her very first book ‘Summer in Calcutta’ (1965) was indeed promising. She wrote mainly of love, betrayal and the anguish that follows. She was never a feminist but brought out the problems of women through her works. Loneliness was a presiding factor in most of her works. She believed in writing everything openly, without any reserves, be it about anything. And this very nature gained her garlands and thorns alike. She wrote her autobiography when she was only 42 – ‘My Story’. And the work brought her more applauses and criticism than any of her other works. Besides poems, short-stories and novels, she also wrote columns about various topics. She made her presence felt in the field of painting too.

She has received many awards in the country and abroad. She received the Asian Poetry Prize, the Asian World Prize, the Kerala Sahitya Academy Award and the Ezhuthachan Award among others. She was even nominated for the prestigious Nobel Prize in 1984. Her important works are ‘The Descendants’ and ‘Only the Soul Knows How to Sing’ (English) and ‘Neermathalam Pootha Kalam’, ‘Thanuppu’, ‘Vandikkaalakal’, etc in Malayalam.

She wrote in three names which clearly state three stages or parts in her life. She wrote in the name Kamala Das in English. She adopted the pseudonym Madhavikkutty when she wrote in Malayalam. And after she reverted to Islam, she wrote under her new name, Kamala Suraiyah. However, she was fondly called Aamy by those who loved her.

Madhavikkutty embraced Islam in 1999, when she was 65. She announced her becoming a Muslim while speaking at a public function. As always, she received much criticism for this turn in her life too. Majority of the intellectuals and writers who speak high of freedom of expression criticized this decision in her life, but her sons stood by her in all crises. Especially her eldest son M.D. Nalappatt gave his complete support in whatever decision she took in her life.

In the final days of her life she was in Pune with her youngest son. Her sons wanted to take her with them due to her oldage ailments. She left for Pune in 2007 since she felt that she was no more loved in Kerala.

“If love is not to be had, I want to be dead…” So she wrote in her poem ‘Suicide’. She lived for love, and when she felt she was not receiving love back, she felt very bad.

And her fear is now repeated in the words of many writers after her death. Dr. M. Leelavathi, renowned writer and Padmavibhushan Award-winner, says, “Kamala Suraiyah did not get much recognition from the Malayalam literary field. Her demise has brought irreparable loss to Indian literature.” Dr. Leela Menon, renowned journalist, and Sukumar Azheekode, famous critic, both feel that they should not have let Suraiyah go away to Pune. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expressed grief at the death of the great writer. He recalled that Suraiyah’s “achievements extended well beyond her verses of poetry.” M.D. Nalappattu recollects that his beloved mother wanted to come back to Kerala, towards her death, but fate had decided otherwise.

And thus Kerala has lost its dear Madhavikkutty, and the world of literature a daring and loving writer.