27 January, 2021

To A Malabar Chameleon

Kamala Das’s many personas star in a story of friendship

To A Malabar Chameleon

In the early 1960s, Kamala Das gave up her name, and started writing in Malayalam as Madhavikutty. Later in her life, she would repeat many times this act of trading off a part of herself for more space. The mould she broke was a tough one, that of a respectable ‘upper-caste woman writer’ in her language; tougher, because her poetess-mother had fit the role so well. For the next four decades Madhavikutty wrote fiction, in evocative and minimalist prose, mostly about the state of being a woman.

In the more anonymous urban environs of Calcutta and Mumbai, Kamala Das wrote poems in English, under her own name. Her poetry brought her many honours, including a nomination for the Nobel Prize in literature in 1984. One year after her death, it has drawn Canadian writer and documentary filmmaker, Merrily Weisbord, to publish a memoir about her friendship with Das.

After two marriages, a relationship, and with her children flying the coop, Weisbord was ready to take a break from her own memoir. She caught a flight to Kerala to...



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