WE finally finished the talkie portion
of the film in her sparsely furnished apartment in a remote part of
Kochi. It was a great relief, for I had to use all my patience to
avoid showdowns during the different schedules.
The shooting over, we came to the
question which normally comes easy to me — What to call the film?
After everybody who was anybody threw up suggestions, I decided to
wait till the first cut was ready. Merrily Weisbord, her Canadian
biographer, would call almost every second day and bounce one idea
after another. None seemed appropriate. Back in Montreal, Merrily
sent me a clincher, the simple "Kamala Das: An Introduction".
For those who do not know, "An
Introduction" is Kamala Das's most famous confessional poem — a
classic of sorts in her own lifetime. In fact, after a brief
two-and-a-half-minute biographical sketch, the film opens with lines
from this famous poem. And the impact was spellbinding because after
this reading, her face comes into view with the opening lines.
"If I had been a loved person, I
wouldn't have become a writer. I would have been a happy human
being." She stops, as if to ponder, to collect her thoughts. "I
suppose I started writing because I had certain weaknesses in my
system. I thought I was weak and vulnerable. That's why we attempt
poetry. Poets are like snails without the shells, terribly
vulnerable, so easy to crush. Of course it has given me a lot of
pain, each poem. Each poem is really born out of pain, which I would
like to share. But then you live for that person, the sharer of your
pain, and you don't find him anywhere. It is the looking that makes
the poet go on writing, search. If you find someone, the search is
over, poetry is over."
I cannot fold/my wayward
limbs to crawl into/coffins of religions./I shall die, I know,/but
only when I tire of love;/tire of life and laughter./Then fling me
into a pit/six feet by two,/do not bother to leave/any epitaph for
Thus writes the 71-year-old Kamala Das
in one of her recent poems. Though troubled by various health
problems, she hasn't lost her zest for life. The doorbell hardly
seems to stop ringing, especially before lunch. Nothing can be more
frustrating than to be disrupted, especially when the subject is
making a profound statement:
"I suppose by writing poetry we are
forming a crust over us. Over the essence. The essential self. But
even then I think it is like breaking the back of a cockroach at
night. Without knowing people unwittingly crush our backs, crush our
egos. They walk around crushing us. It is a sad occupation but I
wouldn't choose another. Looking back, I would write about the calm.
I would write about the happiness and a lovely love life. To want to
live so that it would be an incentive to life. But there is always a
new personality. There is always regrowth. When I believe in the
impermanence of things, I also believe in the permanence of life."
She always had the will, and,
therefore, managed to find her way. That's Kamala Das, the rebel
Indian English poet. Or Madhavi Kutty, the firebrand short story
writer in her native Malayalam. The author of My Story — a
book that has not stopped selling since it was first published in
1975. She talks about her beginnings:
"I started writing stories when I was
17. I wrote my first story and sent it to Mathrubhumi. It was
published, and I got Rs. 12 for it, ... I would publish a story
every month. My first story was a love story. I published it under
the name of Madhavi Kutty (Madhavi because I was Madhava's wife, and
Kutty because I was just a child) because I did not want my
grandmother to know. And since then there has been no stopping me. I
write about the poor and the disadvantaged. They are voiceless...
little maidservants who get beaten up, little 12-year-olds fetching
pails of water, who do not even get proper salaries. I wrote a story
about a child prostitute after visiting a brothel. K.P. Kumaran has
made it into a beautiful film."
Since her stories have been made into
films. A number of films have also been made on her life. Her works
have been translated into nearly 30 Indian and foreign languages.
Hardly a sentence written by her has not found a place in
newspapers, periodicals and books.
"Kamala Das's poems epitomise the
dilemma of the modern Indian woman who attempts to free herself,
sexually and domestically, from the role bondage sanctioned by the
past," wrote Prof. Syd Harrex while attempting to introduce her work
to an Australian readership. Such universal critical acclaim now
seems passé. "She came of age surrounded by claustrophobia and
cramping aestheticism," writes Merrily Weisbord, whose biography of
Kamala Das will hit the bookshops later in the year.
First Madhavi Kutty. Then Kamala Das.
Then Kamala Suraiya after she embraced Islam some years ago,
inviting the wrath of the conservative Malayali Hindu society. "I
fell in love with a Muslim after my husband's death. He was kind and
generous in the beginning. But I now feel one shouldn't change one's
religion. It is not worth it. Also, I have been accused of being
feminist. I am not a feminist, as it is understood. I don't hate
men. I feel a woman is most attractive when she surrenders to her
man. She is incomplete without a man."
Summing up her past, she once again
becomes the poet of the heart and the soul, complete with the
melancholy refrain: "My poetry today is an answer to the question
that plagued me all my life. Right from my childhood to now. My
poetry today gives the answer. No groping around. Nothing can scare
me. No ghost in my mansion. Somehow forever I am trying to be rid of
my past, to unshackle myself. To move away farther and farther away
from my past. I don't think the past was as interesting as the
present. I sold my past. I distributed it. I called everyone for
dinner and I said eat a bit of my past, all of you. Drink a bit of
my past. And they drank the wine of my past, and they ate the flesh
of my past. And I feel battered, weaker for it."