Kamala Das

A Literary Dialogue

  • Usha Kishore
  • B Hariharan


Kamala Das Suraiya (1934-2009), who also wrote under the pen name of Madhavikutty, was a bilingual writer from the South Indian state of Kerala and one of the most popular and most controversial poets of Indian English. As a major Indian poet of contemporary times, Das has attracted international attention by her bold and previously unarticulated expressions of womanhood. The recognition of Das as an Indian poet in English came with the PEN Asian Poetry Prize in 1963. Since then her poems have been published in many anthologies including the World Anthology of Living Poets (1973). Her initial poetry collections in English are: Summer in Calcutta (1965), The Descendants (1967), The Old Playhouse and Other Poems (1973) and Tonight, this Savage Rite (Kamala Das and Pritish Nandy, 1979). Many other collections were published subsequently, incorporating both new poems and poems from the above collections.
Some of them are: Collected Poems (1984), The Best of Kamala Das (1991), Only the Soul Knows How to Sing (1996), Encountering Kamala (2007) and a posthumous collection, Wages of Love ed. Suresh Kohli in 2013. Collected Poems won the Sahitya Akademi (New Delhi) award in 1984. Other works in English include her novel, Alphabet of Lust (1976), her autobiography, My Story, and short stories A Doll for the Child Prostitute (1977) and Padmavati the Harlot and Other Stories (1992).
The initial part of this literary dialogue on Kamala Das between Usha Kishore and Dr B. Hariharan took place at the Institute of English, Thiruvananthapuram, where Usha was on a study trip from Edinburgh Napier University. The following is an email dialogue, incorporating the initial face to face discourse.

Kamala Das