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Considered ahead of its times, Kamala Das’s My Story is a feminist classic. The author’s quest for love and fulfilment is relatable even today.
My Story, written by Kamala Das aka Madhavikutty is an autobiography of the great author and was originally published in the year 1973. Much ahead of its times, this masterpiece of a book was received with mixed reviews by the critics, most of them shocked by the outspokenness and honesty with which the author shared her private life with the readers.
The book was initially published in Malayalam, the author’s native language, in a local weekly. It was well received and considered an instant hit, boosting the circulation of the weekly by 50,000 copies within a fortnight.
Having read this book in 2018, 45 years after the book was initially published, I could perceive the book from another angle and could connect with the feminist point of view the author was trying to convey to the readers. A very bold decision back in 1973.
The book begins when Kamala was a six-years-old living in Calcutta with her older brother and parents. Her mother was a well known writer and her father worked in a company that sold Rolls Royce and Bentley to the rich and famous. She was sent to a high class British school where she studied with other white children who always teased her of her swarthy brown skin. She had vivid memories of her classmates, teachers and she narrates a few incidents from her school days that made her happy, sad, and proud.
She claims that both her brother and she were neglected as her mother was always buried in her books and writings and didn’t have time for the kids. Her need and greed for love probably started right from her childhood days.
Kamala spent her vacations in her ancestral house in Nalapat which belonged to her mother. Her lovely maternal grandmother welcomed her and filled her with the much needed love and attention that a six-year-old deserves. She shared a special bond with her grandmother all her life. She portrays the other characters living in the ancestral house like her grand uncle, great-grandmother, aunts and gives the readers a glimpse of her amusing childhood and the interesting relationships around her.
Towards the middle of the book, a young 15-year-old Kamala gets married to a much older man her parents arrange for her, much to her angst. She was terribly upset by the sudden turn of events in her life that grabs her completely off guard. She takes the readers through the eccentric whimsical days and nights that she had to spend with her husband for the sake of matrimony. She never shared a mental bond with her husband and all her life she treated him like an outsider. The unhappy marriage made her live in a world of imagination with make-believe lovers. These lovers gave her the emotional or mental support that she failed to get from her husband. The description of these lovers are vague and unclear to the readers, almost challenging them to set apart the reality from her fantasies. The readers are left confused while playing hide and seek with the author’s desperation, hallucinations, and the actual facts.
Although the basic flavor of the book is sorrow and loneliness, Kamala does imbibe satire and humor to the practices of society and to a few characters that we come across in the book. The way she and her servants run amok for painkillers, due to the constant whining and complaints of her mother-in-law had me in splits.
After the initial few years of marriage, Kamala is found more at peace with herself and her relation with her husband, almost accepting the fact that it wasn’t going to get any better. She talks of all her three sons with much love and care. Playing with them, taking care of them, she shared a warm open relation with her children. Her anguish and agony when her kids fall sick is strongly felt by the readers.
At the age of 40, Kamala is stricken by a grave disease and has to undergo a major heart surgery. She deals with death just as magically as she deals with life. She considers death a welcome stranger and promises to return to her child as a ghost in case she didn’t make it through the surgery. She never expresses her fear or terror of death. Such an unusual way to deal with something that otherwise could have gotten rather sentimental.
Overall, a lovely read that would be liked by all. Men, Women, old, young, thinkers, and feminists.
I am sure even if this book is read in an other 45 years, it would still be as novel , fresh and wild as it was back in 1973.
Salute and Prayers to this great author.
PS: Why did I read this book now?
A Malayalam movie, based on the life of the author, titled Aami (which was the nick name her grandmother gave her), has recently released. The role of the author is being played by one of my favorite actors, Manju Warrier. I wanted to read the book again before I went in to watch the movie. I am so glad I did this for I am sure I would now look at the Nalapat, the Neermathalam tree and the great Madhavikutty in the movie itself with a new twinkle in my eyes and a smile on my lips.
Published here earlier.
Image Source: YouTube screen-grab of the movie Aami