Book Review: My Story by Kamala Das- an intense autobiographical account

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Anushri Mondal:

An autobiographical account (as the title of the book suggests) of a rebel woman etched out in black, on a little more than 200 pages. The entire account written in the format of a novel is captivating with all the intimate details of her childhood followed by her youth and middle age. Born with skin not so fair—a dusky complexion to be precise, Kamala portrays herself as an inquisitive child who faced the triggers of race especially when India was gripped by the British imperialists. Brought up in convent schools Kamala faced discrimination at an early age when the word “racism” probably did not enter her vocabulary. Struggling through her life amidst the parochial, patriarchal society, Kamala had to submit when she had to marry an almost brutal man against her wish, that too, at the tender age of sixteen. Almost molested and raped by this insensitive man in the name of a husband, Kamala makes an attempt to find happiness in the world of her own—the world inhabited by the muses of literature enabling her in poetic and prosaic compositions. It will be wrong to say that she found bliss only in the world of creation. This is because, frustrated and exasperated by husband’s treatment and doomed in an unhappy marital bond, Kamala determines herself not to be tied up by the established norms of a‘pativrata naari’(a women devoted solely to one’s husband) and makes every attempt to respond to the charms bestowed upon her by other men. In this manner, she is shown to have a string of short and long term relationships, perhaps in own her way of being the rebel in a society of the late 20th century when traditionalism was the established norm and rebellion, that too among women, was considered a taboo. The scenario has remained almost the same in the present day to a large extent. Such acts reflect the spirit of boldness and a complete disrespect for the societal norms.

Nevertheless, her life meanders through several cities from metropolitan Delhi to the ancestral Nalapat house in Kerala.

The novel also predominates with the metaphor of disease and sickness that she herself undergoes, along with her eldest who seem to be a chronic patient, falling prey to the tentacles of grave diseases fearing impending death but miraculously surviving with care and treatment. The symbols of illness is a portrayal of aberration in her life—a life that is devoid of peace and tranquility, a life that is forever rocking in the sea of turbulence, seeking an anchor but finding none, strives to stay afloat in those disturbed waters of turmoil and trepidation.

The novel comprising of 50 chapters, consist of self composed poems expressing the core of meaningfulness or meaninglessness pervading her life at large. The poems occurs in the last 13 chapters (from chapter 27 onwards) when her life becomes preoccupied with greater responsibilities and when she starts fearing the presence of the Spiritual power controlling all our lives, the power whom we are unable to fight with our meager human prowess. Other than the relationship with her husband at home with whom she starts inhabiting from an early age, her relationship with her great grandmother is given prominence. For her, the figure of the great grandmother is portrayed as a silent listener who listened to her disturbed soul without any interruptions as she was unable to move under the burden of perpetual paralysis that confined her to the bed. But such a lack of response didn’t prevent her to develop an intimate relationship. This was precisely the reason that helped in nurturing the relationship in a way she wanted. The old lady due to her paralyzed state was the only one whom she could trust and open her heart out without the fear of being punished for her actions.

To conclude it all, it is doubtful, as all autobiographies are, whether in some way or the other, the entire account is genuine or there are parts of fabricated episodes as well. Without making much conjectures about the authenticity of the events, it will be more advisable to take up the book from the bookshelf and puruse the pages for an interesting read.

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2 comments

  1. Anushri, In her later interviews she said part of it was based on other people’s stories. But that could also have been a defense. I find women in India very hesitant to even verbally speak out now. But strangely it was not like this earlier! In my research on feminism in India, I was astonished by how many women wrote their autobiographies before India’s independence. How badly they were treated as wives, widows, women. Their sexual exploitation and or repression. Powerful protests. But there was a very strange trend. Soon after independence these voices fell silent. Look around, we have every form of violence on women in India — dowry, witch lynchings, killing of infant girls, — women in middle and upper class homes too face immense violence. But no one is writing! In fact in my work with The 50 Million Missing Campaign, I’ve found women from villages and slums are far more likely to want to tell their stories, share their pain. But many of them can’t read and write, or not enough to be able to write. But women in middle and upper class homes are very silent. Before independence it was largely the middle class women, with education who were writing. Check out ‘Women Writing in India.’ in two volumes.

  2. kamala das my story is not a real autobiography.it is a fabricated story like basheer”s mathilukal.she described this story from her own family atmosphere.some facts might be added.but all things are not true.any how she was a bold lady.

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