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Kamala Surayya-The Poet

Kamalaya Surayya, initially Kamala Das, and popularly known as Madhavikutty is one of the best poetess Kerala has got. She is widely known for her works and her courage to write on topics not spoken about at that time. Today being her second death anniversary, she is remembered for her works. Read on to know more about the poet, and her works

Kamala Surayya


Born: March 31, 1934
Place: Punnayurkulam, Malabar District
Died: May 31, 2009
Pen name: Madhavikkutty
Occupation: Poet, short story writer
Nationality: Indian
Genres: Poetry, Short story
Notable award(s): Ezhuthachchan Puraskaram, Vayalar Award, Sahitya Akademi Award, Asan World Prize, Asian Poetry Prize, Kent Award
Spouse(s): Madhava Das


Kamal Das was born on 31st March, 1934, in Punnayurkulam, Thrissur district, to V. M. Nair and Nalappatt Balamani Amma. Her father was the former managing director of the popular Malayalam daily, Mathrubhumi. She spent her childhood days travelling between Calcutta, where her father was employed as the senior officer in the Walford Transport Company and her ancestral home Nalappatt in Punnayurkulam.


Writing was in her blood as her mother was a famous Malayalam poetess. Her great uncle, who was also a prominent writer influenced her to poetry. However, she did not start writing until she was a wife and mother. Her wish to write was supported by her husband, to augment the family's earning. She used to wait till night time and write on the kitchen table till morning. Though, this gave birth to several creative pages, it attacked her health.

Her first book was Summer In Calcutta which was a promising start. She wrote chiefly of love, its betrayal, and the consequent anguish. She wrote on these topics at a time when when Indian women poets were still expected to write about fantasies of eternal, bloodless, unrequited love. At the age of 42, she published her autobiography, My Story, which became so popular that it was later translated into many foreign languages.

Kamala Das wrote on a diverse range of topics, often disparate- from the story of a poor old servant, about the sexual disposition of upper middle class women living near a metropolitan city or in the middle of the ghetto. Some of her better-known stories include Pakshiyude Manam, Neypayasam, Thanuppu, and Chandana Marangal. She wrote a few novels, out of which Neermathalam Pootha Kalam, which was received favourably by the reading public as well as the critics, stood out.

However what shun her in the society is her conversion to Islam in 1999, from when she was called Kamala Surayya. Later, she said it was not worth it to change one's religion.


Married to Madhava Das, Kamala Das had three sons - M D Nalapat, Chinnen Das and Jayasurya Das. Her eldest son Madhav Das Nalapat, is married to Princess Lakshmi Bayi (daughter of M.R.Ry. Sri Chembrol Raja Raja Varma Avargal) from the Travancore Royal House. He holds the UNESCO Peace Chair and Professor of geopolitics at the Manipal Academy of Higher Education. He was formerly a resident editor of the Times of India.

Though never politically active before, she launched a national political party, Lok Seva Party, and in 1984 she unsuccessfully contested in the Indian Parliament elections.


We lost a great poetess on 31 May 2009. She was 75 years of age and died at a hospital in Pune. She was buried at the Palayam Juma Masjid at Thiruvanathapuram with full state honour.


Nominated and shortlisted for Nobel Prize in 1984.
Asian Poetry Prize in 1998
Kent Award for English Writing from Asian Countries in 1999
Asian World Prize in 2000
Ezhuthachan Award in 2009
Sahitya Academy Award in 2003
Vayalar Award in 2001
Kerala Sahitya Academy Award in 2005
Muttathu Varkey Award

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