“Where ever I go, it becomes my home”, Kamala Das Suraiyya, the world renowned-poetess and writer had said in an interview in 2004. The cemetery of Palayam’s Jama Masjid – where she is scheduled to be buried at 8 am today with State honours – will be her new “home” now. She breathed her last in Pune’s Jehangir hospital early on Sunday morning.
Kamala Suraiyya was born in Palghat, Kerala in 1934. She was a woman of integrity and honesty, who had a penchant for writing. She would write for hours after finishing household chores.
“There was only the kitchen table where I would cut vegetables, and after all the plates and things were cleared, I would sit there and start typing,”she is reported to have said.
Her conversion to Islam in 1999 opened Pandora’s Box. She earned lot of enemies and had to bear criticism. She was bitterly criticised even in literary circles. She remained steadfast in her new-found Faith and retorted back,
“No one came home when I was a Hindu. Islam brought me friends and love. Several poor women and children come to me, they love me and I reciprocate their affections.”In 2002, a documentary called Malayalathinde Madhavikutty was made on Kamala Suraiyya but fundamentalists threatened the producer and theatre owners of dire consequences if they release the documentary.
Some of her poems generated controversy but Suraiyya stood firm. In one of her poems she wrote,
“If love is a flower, lust is its fragrance. Without love, where is lust and without lust, can life be created?”When asked about her “controversial” writings, she once said,
“My strength is my honesty. I tell it like it is, I don’t pretend to be saintly. Perhaps that’s why my house gets filled with so many young people. They feel I am speaking the truth because I never hide anything.”In 2004, responding to her detractors, she said,
“They want me to go to a place of worship and wait for death to arrive. But I’m not ready for death so early. I’m not tired of life. I may have done a lot, but there’s so much left to do. It worries people that I am not frustrated.”Kamala Suraiyya knew Arabic as well as Urdu. She wrote a prayer book in Arabic in 2002 which was released in Qatar.
“This is the first Arabic prayer book written by a woman.”She had said then. She learned Urdu because it suited her poetry. “I even learned Urdu, which I think suits my poetry well”, she has said.
Kamala Suraiyya has been the Poetry editor of the Illustrated Weekly of India and editor of Poet magazine. She won many awards including Kent Award for Asian English writing, Vayalar Award for literature. Not many would know that she was nominated for the Nobel Prize for literature in 1984. In 2002, Kerala government conferred Kamala Suraiyya with Ezhuthachan Award recognizing her outstanding contributions to the language and literary world. A Canadian movie company made a film on her. It was about Kamala Suraiyya, the writer, the poetess and her experiences with Islam. Every time renowned linguist and intellectual Noam Chomsky visited India, he made a point to meet Kamala Suraiyya.
Suraiyya was a poet with a philanthropic heart. She ran a charity trust called Lok Seva. She was also patron of Raksha School for children with multiple disorders. As a staunch supporter of purdah, she donned a black burqa.
Kamala Suriyya loved gold jewellery. She used to wear 18 smooth gold bangles on each arm.
“I am keeping them as my gifts to my grand-daughters!”She once joked.
As a patient of diabetic neuropathy and respiratory disorder, her eyesight almost failed after 2004 but yet she used to dictate poetry.
In the last five years, Suraiyya changed a lot. From a fighter woman, she became a woman of affection. She has said that the only climate she can live in was that of an ocean of friendship and affection.
“If I see someone approaching my house and see criticism and mockery in the tension of their jaw, I refuse to let them in. Time is so rare. I wouldn’t like to waste it on people who don’t love me.”