” Dialogues – With the Love Queen – An Imaginary Dialogue with Kamala Das during COVID 19 times” by Meera Kumar Menon
Care Consciously! # DEFEAT CORONA
Changing consistently, an incessant flow by nature, Kamala Das, who claims to have written with her blood, but communicated with her soul, remains an unsolved puzzle, questioned, criticized and loved for a life genuinely lived. Her iridescence, as if seen through a kaleidoscope, reminds one of a rainbow in the skies of Punnayoorkulam, her hometown, of which much has been written. This imaginary dialogue with one of my favourite authors, is not part of any real life interview, but merely and entirely a creative appreciation of her life and work.
Me: It might be a good thing that you are not here to write about this too, dear Kamala, these times would’ve been so disturbing to you, a woman who could not stand to see another getting hurt. And yet you were not weak, to think of you as anything close to weak, would be blasphemy. It is as if you wore your vulnerabilities on your sleeve. Aami to some, Kamala Das to some others, Madhavikutti, and Kamala Suraiya, you seem to be a woman of many faces.
Kamala: I wonder if any of those faces would be the real me, and yet in all of them I have left a piece of me, I’ve been whole and parts, a little here and there, don’t you think?
Me: That does seem to add to the enigma of your writing, like Johnson speaks of Shakespeare, there is something at once universal and personal about your writing. Almost as if you are the eternal longing in every women to be the unapologetic versions of themselves.
Kamala: Glad you think of me that way Meera, tell me what brings you here today? How are you taking to this lockdown experience?
Me: It is not one of cheer, for sure. The uncertainties of the world, a feeling of haplessness, distancing oneself from all that one holds dear… Even in these times when social distancing is countered with social media, life does feel a little drab, isolation may not be so new to many of us, and yet when it is forced upon, it is a heaviness in the heart. You would know Kamala, You, who have seen the world and all its beings as your own, and yet felt a deep sense of isolation from all of it.
Kamala: You are right. There were times, I have felt like giving up. Despite being a wife, a mother, a lover to many, and more often than not, the centre of all attention. I had even written to my friend Carlo once, that I have had no will to live. Despite all of this, at times when death had come close, in the form of illnesses and surgeries, I had hoped for life, clinged to it, begged for it to Krishna, and lordess Lalitha. There are also times when I’ve been deeply disappointed that I couldn’t be one with the eternal, that I have been cursed again, to imbibe this body and everything that came with it.
Me: You are indeed a woman of many contradictions Kamala. Your relationship with the Gods for instance. As a child, you had little interest in them, but from your vacations at Nalappat you seem to have taken a keen liking for Krishna, looking for him in everyone and everywhere. Later on, you played games with your children, pretending to be Krishna, imparting your fantasies to them.
Kamala: I had felt that one can never be alone when one is surrounded by so many Gods. Whether they are fragments of imagination or figments of truth, it is as if I yearn for them, searching for them to appear in front of me, while I also know, that they are behind me, in each step I take.
Me: Yet you gave up on much of all that and embraced another faith, was it not a time of turmoil?
Kamala: It is as if there is no such time as one of chaos and another of peace, while I cling to one, the other coexists within me. Like an angry child letting go of her imaginary friend, I’ve let go. Like a curious child searching for anew, I’ve seeked novelty, I’ve always lived life in spontaneity, loved it and lamented it, as it came to me.
Me: For a woman of such high standing to have so easily let go of her privilege, her supposed morality, although this is a rather clichéd question, I must ask, how did you stand to carry the burden of these revelations.
Kamala: I’ve always thought of morality as an old hag. A fragile farce of an old woman, who covers the debauchers, the liars and the likes of them with her cozy blanket on rainy nights. Her yardstick is that of the body, not of the soul. I have no respect for the warmth of her bigotry, I would rather escape it.
Me: It is as if nothing gets to you, although you seem to be such a sensitive woman. It is as if you refuse to be defined by your body, although you seem to have full agency over it, even in your actions of letting go.
Kamala: You are right there, my body is mine, but I wouldn’t define myself as just that. Taking away my clothes as if in a striptease, taking away my skin, my flesh and bones, I hope to reveal myself to the world. I hope that the world would love me for my soul.
Me: These revelations are phenomenal, you would have had to pay dearly for them. Especially how the world would judge your dear ones. For someone who cares so much, how could you do this to your family?
Kamala: I have always worried for them. However the writer is a Guinea pig. She cannot run away from her worldly experiences, she is there to observe and narrate, her words are for the future, for the likes of you. This has given me the courage to tell the world who Iam, from the coziness of my family, I had taken to the comfort of the whole world.
Me: This sounds most profound in theory Kamala, but have you not, fallen prey to your own narratives? In our words, “Lost it” every now and then.
Kamala: Yes. There were times when I thought people misunderstood me, times when I felt unloved, times when I was hysterical, times when I’ve had no control over myself. There are times when the psychiatrist prescribed medicines and a change of place.
Me: What is it about women authors, Sylvia Plath, Dickinson, You, do women necessarily have to push themselves to the extremes of a mental break down, to be successful authors?
Kamala: It is indeed a matter of contention whether we push ourselves or whether we are gently pushed aside to a gorge by the old hag. While all that we are taught and have learnt are in stark contrast to all that we live and experience, while all that is expected from us are far lesser than all that we are capable of giving…
Me :Is it this vent that you hoped for, did you want to fill this void or transcend it? What is it that you sought so desperately in your lovers and life Kamala?
Kamala: It might seem as if I was at once running away and running towards myself, you are right, I’m a woman of many contradictions and yet, let me tell you that my destination was always clear to me, and so was my path. Call him by any name, but I walked to my Krishna, as his very own Radha. I chided and cried, craving for attention and angered by his hide and seek, I sought him in every man, and everyone, he was my end, and love was my only means to this end.
Me: I have been reading and rereading your works, mostly “My story”, both in English and Malayalam. I must say, that it is as if I were reading two entirely different books, you seem to have kept an audience in mind for each. Personally, it seems like your translation does little to no justice to the vernacular version.
Kamala: Does it surprise you that it was the one in English that came out first? As a child, my father and his aids tried their best to take the nature of my nurture, Punnayoorkulam, the Nalappat house and all that it represented from me. As a matter of fact I was taught to believe that Malayalam was a language with an inferiority complex. During my thirties, living with Dasettan, my husband, at Delhi, it seemed like the cultural and intellectual hub of all things literary. I had felt that I had no audience in Kerala, that Malayali men refused to listen to anything that was anything less or more ‘womanly’ from a woman. But that has changed over time, my love for the land and it’s language, and its love for me seems to have returned, in good time.
Me: You have lived in many places, from Kolkata to Punnayurkulam, Delhi, Bombay and Trivandrum and your occasional visits abroad, it is as if you have spread your fragrance everywhere. The narratives of belonging to one place, and belonging to all the world, is rather confusing for us too, in these times of corona, don’t you think?
Kamala: It’s funny my child, that you think this way. I have craved to return to Nalappat, as a kid, have belonged completely to Delhi as a young adult, I’ve prayed relentlessly for the city of Bombay, during the air drills. While we seem so different superficially, it is as if, while being told to stay distanced, is when you all realise how awfully close you have been. The independence narrative shattering, to reclaim one of co-dependence.
Me: This is a time of new normals, of changes, of desolation, and fear. What would you like to leave us with?
Kamala: While you claim that my life has been one of contradictions, remember that yours has been too. My success has been merely, in mirroring your lives with mine. Change, being the only constant, has been the nature of things, and you, along with all others have been moving through it swiftly and seamlessly. Only, it has become more apparent now, at the face of a pandemic. It would do well to understand the three dimensions of time. Trikalajnyanam is a rather simple state of mind, illuminated by three truths. We were born in the past, we live in the present, and we die in the future. Beyond these truths is mere vacuum.
Me: You have stood tall, the quintessence of your being exposed voluntarily and bravely so, salutations to you, from all of women and mankind.
Kamala: “Whom should I fear, in saying that Iam, myself. Iam a sinner, Iam saint, Iam beloved and the betrayed, I have no joys that are not yours, no aches which are not yours, I too call myself ‘I’ ”
Stay tuned for more about “Love in the times of Corona” 😊
With Conscious Care, Together we shall overcome!
Care Consciously! #DefeatCorona !
Disclaimer: The opinions endorsed by the speaker is solely the author’s and not in any way endorsed by the Institute/Programme.