Growing up in Kerala, I have noticed that in literary circles one is either a Madhavikutty hater or lover. It was always black and white for many, perhaps because of the immense controversies she boldly and beautifully spewed along with the magic that she weaved in her artwork. Her art was as strong as a snake’s venom for many, for others, it was a different realm where no one has ever travelled, Kerala divided perhaps into one or the other. I grew up fascinated by her, but confused whether to admire her or not, and with time, in my own way, she became one of the most profound writers I have ever read, mainly because of the unrealistic effect she had on me, the raw inner self that she touched upon, the self we conceal and hide, the self we are scared about, the self where we are flawed and illogical.
Kamala Das, The Love Queen of Malabar, has always fascinated us all and she always stood as a strong pillar in the slow and steady liberal contemporary literature movement of Kerala. One of the most celebrated woman writers in post-independence India, when everything changed drastically so did literature and women and men and our outlooks.
I grew up in a village near the coastal town Thalasseri in Malabar, and the intricate bonding I had with the sea transcended Madhavikutty’s relationship with the seas inner chambers like she portrays in her poems. She was an ocean herself with a myriad of emotions where her raw inner self-was like the warm chambers of the sea, sometimes erupting like a volcano, sometimes calm like a dead fish. Watching the sea endlessly made me happy and sad at the same time, and the paradoxical feeling that I felt was very much like her work where she made me cry and be happy and see how trivial our short life is when we try to conform to the inevitable them that surrounds us. When we feel we are still standing alone, struggling to be ourselves within, to stand with our heads high, we see the world outside as an inevitable them.
Her autobiography, my story, has been one of the boldest and beautiful work of art a woman has produced in her era. There are no limitations to art, it is infinite and profoundly natural to write about one in such raw and realistic terms and perhaps that haunted her for the rest of her lives, but made her a non-ideal pinnacle of a free mind among women in Kerala.
She is a mystery to men, someone they dare not to be near but admire from a distance; she is a heroine for women whom they wish to be in their wildest of their fantasies. Human minds are not rational always, and she showcased a liberated madness which is raw and almost unfathomable in real life. But her literary work should always be judged by the realms one could conquer through her poetry and stories and not by her personal choices. Kamala Das is not a person for me but a work of art and she flew naturally sometimes with pain sometimes with ease poetry and stories that touched the deepest chord which most writers cannot reach at. There is no intellect there but only raw emotions and irrationality. And that makes her unique and perhaps one of a kind.
I have ceased to fear death…she wrote. One begins to live when you cease to fear death. When death becomes only a ritual that you have to fathom, life becomes beautiful, perhaps to live gracefully and burn out when life ceases to be life. I remember mourning the end of the book “My story” in the most unique way where I spend a day in bed wanting more, though at the same time I felt utmost guilt within me that I yearned for more fragments of her life to nourish my literary thirst. She was only a person, but a person who connected to millions of women who feel they never fit in in this world, but normalised being odd and confused and do not know enough. She portrayed a woman who sought love endlessly, the idea of love which is merely a concept than a person, undefined. A feeling, a mere feeling that we force to capture within social norms.