Friday, June 12, 2009

Kamala Das

I first came across her work in the "Poetry of India" special issue (#10, 1968) of Allen De Loach's INTREPID. This particular issue was guest edited by Carl Weissner.

There are 2 hyperlinks on Silliman's Blog (June 12th) to pieces written of her: A respectful N.Y. Times obituary by Margalit Fox (June 9th), and a warm personal tribute by Pritish Nandy, whose poetry also appeared in INTREPID (#10). Kamala Das has several YouTube videos, and there is a sensitive essay @ (June 13th), in their "obituaries" section. She converted to Islam at age 65 in 1999 and took the name of Kamala Suraiya.

Born in Kerala to a Nayar family, she wrote initially in Malayalan. Here are 2 excerpts from early poems written in English by her in that issue.

from "Convicts"

There was a time when our lusts were
Like milticoloured flags of no
Particular country. We lay
On bed, glassy-eyed, fatigued, just
The toys dead children leave behind,
And we asked each other, what is
The use, what is the bloody use?

from "The Descendants"

We have lain in every weather, nailed, no, not
To crosses, but to soft beds and against
Softer forms, while the heaving, lurching
Tender hours passed in a half-dusk, half-dawn and
Half-dream, half-real trance. We were the yielders,
Yielding ourselves to everything. It is
Not for us to scrape the walls of wombs for
Memories, not for us even to
Question death, but as child to mother's arms
We shall give ourselves to the fire or to
The hungry earth to be slowly eaten,
Devoured. None will step off his cross
Or show his wounds to us, no god lost in
Silence shall begin to speak, no lost love
Claim us, no, we are not going to be
Ever redeemed, or made new.

And in that same issue there are some early poems by Arvind Krishna Mehrotra. Mehrotra was the third of the three candidates for the (now tainted) Oxford Professorship, and he says that he will keep his name in the running. The Oxford electors there could do far worse than offer the position to Mehrotra, who was certainly one of the wild ones as a young man, and they thus could avoid yet another faux election.