Kamala Das (1934-2009) was a rebel in her life and an iconoclast in her writings. Known to non-Malayali readers as an outstanding Indian English poet, to her Malayali readers she was Madhavikkutty, the great modernist short story writer who brought about radical innovations to the fictional idiom in the language. The present study of Kamala Das's writings, though intended as a general introduction to this seminal Indian writer's work, aims at providing a critical evaluation of her literary endeavors in the areas of poetry, fiction, and self-writing, as well as non-fictional prose. The attempt is to give an all-inclusive assessment of her work that takes into account her writings in both English and Malayalam, placing them in the context of contemporary critical scholarship. This is the first study of Kamala Das that provides a comprehensive analysis of her literary contributions by scrutinizing her poetry in English in conjunction with her writings in Malayalam. Kamala's materialism, her bilingualism, her genre crossing, her attitude to the body, the concept of the immanence of experience, her use of language with a rustic flavor, the interplay between fantasy and reality in her fiction, her representation of memory, and her complex relationship with feminist thought, all receive focused attention in this study. The analysis also reveals important continuities to exist between her writings in the two languages and belonging to different genres.
PP Raveendran has authored/ edited several important works in Malayalam and English. His most recent work is the 2-volume Oxford India Anthology of Modern Malayalam Literature (2017), of which he is one of the two editors. His other recent critical works include a work on modernity in Malayalam titled Adhunikatayude Pinnampuram (In the Backyard of Modernity, 2017) and a study of literatures in India titled Texts Histories Geographies: Reading Indian Literature (2009) as well as the translated editions of the Malayalam poetry of Attoor Ravivarma (The Non-Resident Indian and Other Poems, 2015) and Kadammanitta Ramakrishnan (The Cat Is My Grief Today and Other Poems, 2009). He has authored the monographs on O.V. Vijayan (2009) and Joseph Mundasseri (2002) in the Sahitya Akademi series on the Makers of Indian Literature. He is also the editor of one of Kamala Das' early volumes, The Best of Kamala Das (1991). He was formerly Professor and Dean at the School of Letters, Mahatma Gandhi University, Kottayam.
This monograph on Kamala Das, the celebrated writer who distinguished herself simultaneously as an outstanding Indian English poet and a path-breaking Malayalam fictionist, provides a fresh and succinct introduction to the writings of this seminal Indian writer. As an analysis that subjects to close critical scrutiny Kamala Das's creative endeavours in the areas of poetry, fiction, self-writing, and non-fictional prose, this is the first critical study to offer a comprehensive account of her total oeuvre spread across the two languages. Sahitya Akademi can justifiably take pride in having included this gifted artist in its prestigious series on the Makers of Indian Literature.
The book comes as a natural outcome of my long-standing interest in the works of Kamala Das, which began in the 1970's with my early encounter with some of her Malayalam short stories. Though my interest had branched off into other areas after my initial enthusiasm had waned, I used to periodically return to her and read her, each time with unabated relish. I must have read almost everything that she has written, some of them several times, but it has been a pleasure to go over her works once again as part of my homework for the present study. With each new reading of her poems and short stories revealing a different Kamala, I now realize the significance of her description of herself as a million people, all speaking at the same time.
I am thankful to my friends K. Satchidanandan, Ramakrishnan, Devidra Kohli, Udaya Kumar and K Radhakrishna Varier for their support in writing this book. The Malayalam section of the bibliography of Kamala Das printed as Appendix to this hook is built on the excellent list of works prepared by Leena Chandran for the Kamala Das special issue of Bhasha Poshini for July 2009. Let me place on record my gratitude to Leena and K.C. Narayanan, the editor of Bhasha Poshini, for their goodwill in this regard.
Kamala's poems quoted in this study, barring a few, can be seen in Devindra Kohli 2014 edition of Kamala Das, Selected Poems. Translations of quotations from Kamala's Malayalam writings appearing here are mostly by the present writer, except for a few passages quoted from her memoirs, for which I have sometimes used Gita Krishnankutty's translation of A Childhood in Malabar.
Sherine, as usual, has been the first reader of this book. I am thankful to her for the suggestions she made after her meticulous reading of an early draft. Let me also acknowledge the interest that Aparna and Rahul have shown in the progress of this work at all the stages of its preparation.
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