Biography of Kamala Das – Mother of Modern Indian English Poetry

Kamala Das, Malayalam naam Madhavikutty, Muslim name Kamala Surayya, Indian writer who wrote openly and clearly about women’s sexual desires and experience of being an Indian woman. Das was part of a generation of Indian writers whose work focused on personal rather than colonial experience, and her short stories, poems, memoirs and essays brought her respect.

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One of India’s greatest poets was Kamala Das, an English and Malayalam writer who was born on March 31,1934 in Malabar, Kerala. Influenced by her uncle Nalpatta Narayan Menon, a prominent writer, Das started writing poems from a very young age. Kamala Das, the director of Indian English poetry, was the first Indian woman to write in English, who in her poem mainly describes the experiences and sexual aspirations of Indian women in details. Kamala Das, of her own free will, writes about the innocent one-sided love of teenagers. Sensitivity is the power of her poetry.

Kamala Surayya, also known as Surayya or Madhavikutty, was a notable Indian English poet and writer and a leading Malayalam novelist from Kerala, India. Her short story and autobiography are her most popular works in Kerala. She received a lot of appreciation for her honest presentation on female sexuality, free from any sense of shame, which gave her work a strength that separated her as a generation of icon clusters.

Biography of Kamala Das

Biography of Kamala Das

NameKamala Das[1]
Date of Birth31 March 1934
Place of BirthMalabar, Kerala
ParentsV.M. Nair (Father) Nalapat Balamani Amma (Mother)
SpouseK. Madhav Das
ChildrenMadhav Das Nalapat, Chinnen Das, Jayasurya Das
Awards1. PEN Asian Poetry Prize– 1963

2. Kerala Sahitya Academy Award– 1968 (for story Thanuppu)

3. Sahitya Academy Award– 1984

4. Asian World Prize-1985

5. Asian Poetry Prize – 1998

6. Kent Award for English Writing from Asian Countries – 1999

7. Vayalar Award– 1997

8. Honorary D. Litt by University of Calicut – 2006

9. Muttathu Varkey Award– 2006

10. Ezhuthachan Award– 2002
DeathMay 31st, 2009

Early Life of Kamala Das

Kamala Das was born on March 31, 1934 at Punnayarkulam in Thrissur district of Kerala to V.M  Nair, former managing editor of Malayalam newspaper Mathrubhumi, and Nalapat Balamani Amma, a renowned Malayali poet.

Kamala Das, like her mother, was a talented writer. Her interest in poetry developed at an early age through the influence of her great uncle, Nalapat Narayanan Menon, a prominent writer.

At the age of 15, she was married to a bank officer named Madhav Das, who encouraged her writing interests, and she started writing and publishing both in English and in Malayalam. Kamala Das was one of the many voices that came up and started appearing in cult anthologies along with a generation of Indian English poets. English was the language she chose for all six of her published poetry collections.

Also Read : Biography of Baba Amte

Personal life of Kamala Das

Kamala Das married Madhav Das at the age of 15. The couple had three sons – MD Nalapat, Chinen Das, and Jayasurya Das. Her husband who happened to be bisexual later on their marriage life, predeceased her in 1992, after 43 years of marriage. Madhav Das Nalapat, her eldest son, is married to Princess Thruvathira Thirunal Lakshmi Bayi (daughter of Princess Pooyam Thrinual Gouri Parvati Bayi and Sri Chembrol Raja Raja Varma Avargal) from the Travancore Royal House. 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.

Literary career

She was noted for her many Malayalam short stories as well as many poems written in English. She wrote her autobiography in 1976, which was released under the title “My story.” In her autobiography, she described her post-marriage life from her childhood. Kamala Das was also a syndicated columnist writer. She once claimed that “poetry is not sell in this country [India] “, but her forthright columns, which sounded off on everything from women’s problems and child care to politics, were popular. Das’s first poetry book, Summer in Calcutta was a breath of fresh air in Indian English poetry. Mainly she wrote about love, its betrayal and the resultant pain, consequent anguish. Ms. Das abandoned the certainties offered by an archaic, and somewhat sterile, aestheticism for the freedom of the mind and body at a time when Indian poets were still governed by “19th-century diction, sentiment and romantic love.” Her second book of poetry, The Descendants, was even more explicit, urging women to do these:

“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…” The Looking Glass. This directness of her voice led to comparisons with Marguerite Duras and Sylvia Plath

At the age of 42, she published a daring autobiography, My story; it was originally written in Malayalam (title Ente Katha) and later she translated it into English. She later admitted that much of the autobiographies had fictional(imaginary) elements. Kamala Das wrote on a variety of topics, from the story of a poor elderly servant, about the sexual nature of upper middle class women living near or in the middle of a city. Kamala Das’s “An Introduction” is an autobiographical poem written in the colloquial style. She presents her feelings and thoughts in a bold manner. She realises her identity and and understands that it is the need of every woman to raise a voice in this male dominated society. The poet longs for love, it 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 from her grandmother’s house where she used to received immense love from her grandmother. Kamala Das’s 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. Some of her most well known Malayalam short stories and novel include Pakshiyude Manam (short story 1964), Nepayasam (short story 1991), Thanuppu (short story 1968), Chandana Marangal (novel 2005), Kadal Mayooram (short novel 1996) etc.

Poetry of Kamala Das

The Sirens on 1964, Summer in Calcutta on 1965, The Descendants on 1967, The Stranger Time on 1977, Tonight, This Savage Rite (with Pritish Nandy) on 1979, Collected Poems on 1984, The Anamalai Poems on 1985, Only the Soul Knows How to Sing on 1997, My Mother at Sixty-six on 1999, Yaa Allah on 2001 etc.


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.

Kamala Das’s conversion to Islam

Kamala Das’s title was Nair (Nalappattu), she was born in a conservative Hindu Nair (Nalapat) family having royal ancestry. She converted to Islam on December 11, 1999, at the age of 65. Kamala Das had an affair with Sadiq Ali, an Islamic professor younger than Das. He was a Member of Parliament of the Muslim League he convinced Das to convert to Islam at the age of 65. Das finally converted to Islam and assumed the name Kamala Surayya.

In the literary and social sphere, the conversion of Kamala Das was controversial as she belongs to a Hindu family. But Kamala Das commented that she loved being under the screen sheets. After her husband’s death, she fell in love with a Muslim religion.


Kamala Das died on May 31, 2009 at the age of 75, she died at a hospital in Pune, after a long battle with pneumonia. Her body was flown to her home state Kerala. She was interred at the Palayam Juma Masjid at Thiruvananthapuram with full state honour.


1. Where and when was Kamala Das born?

Ans: Kamala Das was born on March 31, 1934 in Malabar, Kerala.

2. Kamala Das and her poetry are known for what?

Ans: Kamala Das is a prominent Indian poet, memoirist and short story writer whose work was known for her open discussion on women’s sex life and experience of being an Indian woman. Most of her poems deals with women living in patriarchal society(male dominated society). Female sensibilities are deeply spread through her poems.

3. Who is known as the mother of Modern Indian English Poetry?

Ans: Kamala Das

4.. What are the main features of Kamala Das poetry?

Ans: The main features of kamala Das poetry are – autobiographical poet, love poet, feminist, Iconostas.

5. When did Kamala Das died?

Ans: Kamala Das died on May 3, 2009 at the age of 75 in Pune, India.

6. How did Kamala Das husband treated her?

Ans: The husband treated Kamala Das very badly and inhumanly as seen from various publications. In her two poems Kamala Das portrays the disgusting relationship with her husband.

7. Name some of the publications of Kamala Das?

Ans: Some of the publications of Kamala Das are – Pakshiyude Manam (short story 1964), Nepayasam (short story 1991), Thanuppu (short story 1968), Chandana Marangal (novel 2005), Kadal Mayooram (short novel 1996), The Descendants, My Mother at Sixty Six etc.

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