Kamala Das Suraiya
Kerala bids tearful
adieu to writer Kamala Das:
Nearly 1,000 people, including
several ministers, converged at the Palayam Juma Masjid here early
Tuesday to bid adieu to noted poet and writer Kamala Das, who
Still a rebel writer
(Kamala Das and Madhavikutty
in her pre-Islamic days) continues to shock the straight-laced
Malayalees. One of India's best-known English poets and shortstory
writers, Suraiya, who abandoned Hinduism to convert to Islam last
December, launched a national political party last week.
Christened as the Lok Seva
Party, the new political party, she says, emerged from her
conviction that social change could be possible in India only
through political power. But Suraiya, 68, and with near-blind eyes
puts forward another reason that compelled her to embrace the
political vocation -- Allah. "Allah inspired me to launch this
party," she says. Before embarking on the political mission, Suraiya
says she carried out three months of meditation and prayer before
has been shocking conservative Indians for many years now. It all
began with her autobiography,
which told the story of her sexual life, her relationships with men
and her views on the world. Then, in the 1970s, Keralites saw an
active Madhavikutty entering into politics with a green campaign.
She contested the assembly election, traversing the countryside,
asking for votes from people in villages. She lost, but that did not
deter her from kicking off another controversy -- through nude
paintings of young females. Thus when Madhavikutty released her
first nude painting in the 1980s, she proclaimed: "I find the nude
female body the most beautiful in the world." So her diverse
paintings depicting nude females shocked the Malayalees again. Then,
on a fine day in December last year, she wore the purdah and bangles
and announced that she has converted to Islam.
In an exclusive interview with
Senior Associate Editor
Suraiya, clad in a black purdah and her hands adorned
with colourful bangles, spells out how her conversion to Islam
forced her to take the plunge into political life.
compelled you to launch a political party?
The degeneration of the present set of
political parties is the main reason why I decided to start my own
party. We have to give truth some importance in political life. I
have given truth a special status in my life. So it pains me when
our political parties continue in the most degenerated forms. But
what is gladdening is that a number of youngsters came to me with a
request to start a political party. These youngsters, most of them
college boys and girls, are tired of the falsehood and avarice which
politicians display in great abundance these days. I thought it
might be a good reason to start a political party.
really inspired you to start this political party?
God. My Allah. We all have some god
within us. It is Allah for me. It may be Jesus Christ for you.
you had contested an election and lost. Looking at your political
experience, don't you think it was imprudent on your part to launch
a political party, especially at this age?
I contested elections soon after I
came to settle down in Kerala. Till then I had been living in north
India and so I was not a very familiar figure in Kerala. I had no
popularity at all. In fact, Malayalees disliked me after reading my
book, My Story. Now I feel that experiment into political
life should not have been conducted. I fell to the pleas of my
friends who thought that I stood a chance in the elections. But now
I feel that unless you wield some political power, you cannot do
anything in India. You will always remain disadvantaged.
think you can survive as a politician now?
I cannot even survive as a human being
these days because I am old, I have diabetes and I am almost blind.
But truth must survive. Some two months ago, when I began to stress
these aspects of truth, people said that you cannot speak the truth,
you should not speak the truth. I told them that there is no point
in going into the labour room and telling the woman who is in labour,
don't deliver the baby. The baby has to be delivered when the time
comes. So truth will be delivered again and again, whether you like
it or not. My political party will deliver the truth.
the aims of your party?
The only aim is to help the
disadvantaged and the poor. I was shocked to hear last month that
somebody had died of starvation in Kerala. If the media had reported
the hunger, the abject poverty within such homes, I would have
rushed to those homes with rice. But the media reported it after the
I have a grudge against the media too.
They waste a full page for films quite often. They advertise
forthcoming films as if we eat and live by films. A foreign woman
coming to India and marrying an Indian boy is big news for the
vernacular press. But people living without food, water and the
basic amenities of life are never given proper coverage by the
media. If the media had reported that there was poverty in Kerala,
mothers like me would have rushed with rice to that place.
When I read about the starvation
deaths, it stirred up my mind for some action. It affected me
deeply. Then I went into a long prayer at night. I went into many
hours of meditation. Then god told me that if you have to be
effective, you should have political power. It is not enough to have
spiritual powers alone. You need to have political power too.
party only for women?
No, no. It is a party for all. Of
course, women are weak. Therefore, the party gravitates towards
women. That is all. Many old people and youngsters have joined the
party. They want a crutch with which to stand up in society. My
party will give them that.
also plan to contest the election?
My friends are compelling me to
contest elections, especially the assembly election in Kerala next
year. But then I am too old and infirm to contest elections. I am
not in the right physical condition. But I can campaign for them. I
can go around and make speeches for them.
any link between your conversion and the launching of the political
There is a strong link between my
conversion to Islam and the political party I have launched. I
became conscious of a god only after my conversion. I always had a
concept of Krishna within my mind. But Krishna is a lover, a friend,
a playmate. Krishna is not the sort of a Hindu god to whom we can
pray and appeal. It is probably because of my ignorance. No, guru
ever came to teach me the Hindu scriptures. But I began to practice
namaz five times every day, a practice which is not there
in Hinduism. These days I get up at 3 am every day and pray. That
prayer has given me strength and faith which I never had before.
So you never
felt this strength and faith as a Hindu?
For me, all gods are the same, whether
you are a Hindu, a Muslim, a Christian or anyone. I believe in the
concept of god. For me, god is the guardian.
Do you think
that these changes taking place in your life are out of your
My conviction is growing. Islam has
grown on me. In the beginning I was not at all religious. Now I am
really religious because of Islam.
Are you happy
with your new religious status? Are you happy with your new life as
If happiness is the negation of
unhappiness, I am happy as a Muslim.
said you were depressed and disappointed as a Hindu all these years.
What were the reasons behind this disappointment?
I was disappointed because I found
that Hinduism was full of prejudices. It is not only the case with
Hinduism but with most other religions too. And the prejudices keep
growing. It is very difficult for youngsters these days to escape
from the poisoning of the religious prejudices. Therefore, what
worried me was the fact that youngsters moving into the dark areas
of prejudices and superstitions. For the last two or three years I
have moved around feeling and saying that all religions have crossed
their expiry date. We can do without religion if we have a sense of
god within us.
I have achieved this sense of god
within me. Later on, to make myself feel more secure and safe, I
moved into a new religion. I feel secure now. The feeling of
security is growing. It is influencing me now.
Is there no
prejudice in Islam?
There are people with prejudices in
Islam too. But then, as I have always done, I am trying to dispel
such prejudices. This is a kind of fight, a lonely fight, against
these beliefs and superstitions. I cannot believe in religious
converted you said that Hindu gods never forgive, they only punish.
My problem with Hinduism was that no
religious scholar helped me to solve my problems. Hindu scholars
have only abused and hurt me. Therefore, I felt uncomfortable in the
religion. I am an ignorant person. I had wished a number of times
for somebody from Hinduism to come forward and help me. But nobody
That is not the case with Islam.
Muslim scholars are always moving around trying to teach the tenets
of Islam. I have never seen a Hindu religious scholar or teacher
moving around houses saying: "Well, I will teach you the
traditional Muslims accepted you?
They did accept me in the beginning.
But now it seems as if they do not trust me because I have this
habit of talking straight. I have said this before and continue to
say it even now that the Muslim League's women's wing Vanitha League
is a cattle shed and all of them are just cattle with no voices. I
was criticised by traditional Muslim leaders then. Now that I have
started my own political party, that too has also rattled them. And
if I field my candidates in the elections, they will be shocked even
Islam restricted you?
I chose the religion out of my
convictions and therefore I am ready to work within the constraints
and restrictions of Islam. Religion cannot chain one's creativity.
Islam is tolerant. Allah is the god of love and forgiveness. My mind
tells me that Allah has forgiven me my sins. People ask me why a
liberated woman like me chose the purdah. But I tell you,
the purdah makes me feel more liberal. Because when you
wear a purdah you can travel anywhere in the world and you
Nobody is going to make any
disparaging remarks against a purdah-clad woman because
they are always afraid of Muslim rage. Behind every purdah-clad
Muslim woman, some Mussalman is lurking with a dagger to ensure her
safety. So purdah is always safe. It protects you. It also
keeps the dust, the heat and insects away from your body.
You went to
the Gulf countries soon after your conversion. What was that for?
I went to the Gulf on an invitation
from some Islamic organisations. I stayed there as a state guest. In
Qatar, I addressed an Arab audience of 10,000 consisting only of
men. It was a marvelous experience delivering a speech to the Arab
been shocking Malayalees for many years now. When can we expect the
My political party has again shocked
them. They probably think that I am indulging in some publicity
stunt. But I tell you, I do not want to indulge in any publicity
stunts. The minute I cross the border of this state or country,
people love me. I am teaching at universities where I teach my own
poetry. It is only within my own state that I get disparaging
remarks. There are people who make fun of what I have written.
wrong with Kerala society?
I think they make fun of people. They
make fun of achievers. You have to be very ordinary to fit in here.
If you have talent, they will consider you to be abnormal, which I
suppose is true in one sense. I think talent is an abnormality.
Ultimately, the young people have taken me into confidence. College
girls are coming and joining my party. They will grow up without
prejudices in their minds.
write poetry these days?
I do. But I am trying to write in
Malayalam so that I get an immediate audience.
Allah inspire you to write?
Yes, yes, yes. Allah is always
whispering in me. Allah is always prompting me to write. I must be
having some mission to fulfill through my poetry and writings.
the books you are working on?
One is called From Malabar to
Montreal. A Canadian friend of mine is collaborating with me on
this book which is about women or the status and empowerment of
women. I am going to meet my co-writer in Canada next week. I will
stay with her for one month to complete the book. Then Harper
Collins has commissioned me to write a book on Islam. It will be out
by December. I wonder if I will be able to finish these books within
the deadlines. I am almost blind and I have to dictate. I never
expected to go blind so soon. But I do not consider myself to be
handicapped. Allah is always with me whenever I write, whenever I
travel, whenever I think and meditate.