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Monday, May 16, 2011

My Story by Kamala Das



Kamala Das ((31 March 1934 – 31 May 2009)was an Indian writer who wrote in English and Malayalam. She mainly wrote short stories and poetry.

There was a paper I had done on Kamala Das in University for my Masters in English Literature, specifically, Indian writers in the English language. One of the writers whose essays I really liked was Kamala Das, alias Madhavakutty. There was a kind of realism in her work that anyone could associate with and I liked the easy flow of her words, at once communicating something intense while being good to grasp.

As I read more about Kamala Das I came to know of her autobiography, the infamous book called 'My Story' (original version is called Ente Katha) Critics had been especially harsh on the book, so much so, that the book is still banned in many parts of India and is very difficult to get your hands on. Most of the bigger book chains do not stock her book, just to steer clear of any controversy. Though I had searched for the book in Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai, I could not find it anywhere, of course not in the leading bookstores.

It was on a recent trip to Coonoor that I found the book lying in the lowest shelf of a quiet bookstore. I immediately reached out and grabbed it, finally happy that I had had the interest to get inside that store (of course I never need any other initiative to enter a bookstore except the fact that it is a bookstore)and that my eyes had singled out the book in question.

Details:

Publisher: Harper Collins
First Published in: 1988
Price: INR 250/-
Genre: Non-Fiction/Autobiography
Form of Book: Paperback
No. of pages:214

The book is a detailed account of Kamala Das's life, from the time she was born to non-caring, non-loving parents (as she admits boldly), and goes through all those years in her life, when, as a child first, and then as a growing adolescent and finally a woman, she faces the many challenges and unfair games of life. In the book, Kamala Das also talks about her ancestors and their personal choices in life, as well as more details that give us a picture of life in the said years and the kind of social and family structure that was prevelant.

The book has been banned and ridiculed by most critics and laymen as being adulterous and vulgar. Those who are not in favour of the book have called it vulgar and cheap. When I picked up the book I had no pre-conceived notions, I accepted it with an open mind, ready to read a woman's tale of what she has been through. And now that I have read it, I must say I am really a little confused.

For one, Kamala Das was a young woman who was always strong and confident about what she wanted. Though she was not allowed a proper education (which she mentions many times in the book), there were many things that she could have done differently and made her situation better. One instance is when her fiance, a much-older cousin, takes her to a quiet spot and assaults her with his mouth and hands. She comes back all shaken and confused about what love is to be between a married couple. She does end up marrying him and cribs for the rest of her life, but she could have simply have mentioned the assault to her mother or grandmother (who was quite open to talk as she admits). Taking the excuse of being married to a non-loving man, Kamala defends her decision of falling in the arms of each and every man who comes her way. She does not show much standard here, and is open to go and 'do it' with anyone who is willing. She admits her husband is aware of all this, that he thinks of her as 'his baby' and is concerned that she should 'only go out with genuine men who will love her with care'!!!! WHAT !!!???? Here is a husband who is okay to let his wife go out and have sex with any man, as long as the man in question is caring towards his wife!!!! Kamala also admits to taking free gifts and favours as and when she can from these lovers, whether its a gift or an outing or a dinner with her lover and children to a fancy restaurant while her husband is out on tour (whenever he was out for work, XYZ would take me and my children to the restaurant for a nice evening so that we wouldn't feel lonely) and later the evening would end in an amorous night. Her husband was always aware of all such interactions...
Also, the husband himself has a homosexual relationship with one of his 'very close friends' and they do it right in Kamala's own bedroom, while Kamala sits outside.....
When Kamala's cousins show some physical interest in her, its as if its the most natural thing in the world, she feels excited when her male cousins get besotted with her beauty and pay her amorous compliments, and she actually enjoys it when one cousin kisses her passionately, professing his love for her.

All through the book Kamala describes all her encounters with the many men she chooses to bring in her life. Being a mother, most of the time she is either writing or busy choosing a new lover, while she fills her house with cooks and maids and more maids and nannies. She calls her mother uncaring and unloving, someone who was always writing poetry and had hardly any time for her children...but what is it that she has learnt from her mother's mistakes? I am not sure who is more at fault here, Kamala's mother or Kamala Das herself. While Kamala's mother remained loyal to her husband, what was the impact Kamala's lifestyle had on her own sons? Her pride at being the object of desire of so many men other than her husband is widely present in all pages, of course her children would have suffered in some way for her total failure as a mother.

I must say I am quite disappointed with the book. Though it provides an insightful reading, I somehow cannot accept the fact that this woman is actually being praised by many for being bold and honest to come out with her feelings !!! I cannot disagree more...


- Debolina Raja Gupta