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Google Doodle on India’s most controversial poet – Kamala Das! Who is Kamala Das?

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India woke up after the night of Blood Moon to notice a Google Doodle dedicated to Kamala Das, a feminist poet from Kerala. She is also called by many as ‘mother of modern Indian English poetry’. However, she was much adored and loved for her writings in Malayalam (language spoken in the South Indian state of Kerala) as ‘Madhavi Kutty’. If one looks at her life and career, it was muddled with controversies and contradictions. Although her contribution to the literature was immense (both English and Malayalam) but most popular and controversial work was her autobiography ‘Ente Kadha’ (My Story), first released in Malayalam in 1973 and later published in English. Feminists across India celebrated ‘Ente Kadha’ as her challenge to the patriarchal society and search for true love. ‘My Story’ contained explicit descriptions on love, lust, puberty, menstruation, lesbian encounters, infidelity, intimacy and child marriage.  She explored and introduced the subject of female sexuality to the Indian society, which remained a taboo earlier. People across Kerala believed for several years that ‘Ente Kadha’ was autobiography of Kamala Das. The story generated lot of sensation in Kerala, as explicit sexual fantasy of a married woman. But one day, Kamala Das herself told Leela Menon (Kamala Das’s close friend and confidante) that ‘Ente Kadha’ is not her autobiography but a work of fiction. As per the accounts of Leela Menon published in the outlook magazine, Kamala Das told her that she usually writes about sex because sex sells in the market. Menon remembered her as a beautiful lady with great sense of humor.

It was Leela Menon, who actually broke the news about conversion of Kamala Das to Islam. Menon later said in an interview that the real reason behind Kamala Das’s conversion was her love for forty year old Member of Parliament (MP) from Kerala, who was a Muslim. The MP promised Kamala Das that he will marry her, if she converts to Islam. When Das converted to Islam, she was betrayed and the MP never married her. Shocked with this incident Kamala decided to re-convert to Hinduism but was convinced by her family not to do so because extremist in Kerala may not like the idea and could have harmed her physically. Kamala converted to Islam and changed her name to ‘Kamala Surayya’. A fiery poet/writer of issues concerning women and feminist role model embraced Islam, religion considered by many as medieval and regressive. After converting to Islam she received threats on her life from Hindu extremists, as she made a statement that she is taking away Lord Krishna from Guruvajur temple to make him Mohammad. On the other hand, Kamala Das’s conversion to Islam was much glorified by Muslim evangelists but her writings of the past always haunted them. Several reports stated that Muslim community maintained a strict vigil on Kamala Das about her following Islamic codes and wearing a Burqa. She was so upset with the surveillance that she shifted to Pune and stayed with her son.  Leela claimed that at the time of her death she was listening to chants of ‘Narayan-Narayan’. However, after her death she was taken to Kerala and buried in Palayam mosque in Thiruvanantpuram. The World is still remembering her as person who tried to raise the voice of the oppressed in her own unique style and ruled the hearts of people who loved literature.