Today’s Google Doodle marks and celebrates the work and life of poetess and author Kamala Suraiyya. Popularly known as Madhavikutty and Kamala Das, she was an Indian English poet and a leading author in Malayalam.
The doodle created by artist Manjit Thapp celebrates the publication date of Kamala Das’ autobiography My Story, which was released in 1976. Das originally wrote her autobiography in English, but translated it to Malayalam later. She is widely acknowledged for saying, “I speak three languages, write in two, dream in one.”
Kamala Surayya was born in Punnayurkulam, Thrissur District in Kerala on March 31, 1934. She was the daughter of V.M. Nair, a former managing editor of the Malayalam daily Mathrubhumi and Nalapat Balamani Amma, a renowned Malayali poet. She spent her childhood in Calcutta where her father was employed as a senior officer in the Walford Transport Company, and the Nalapat ancestral home in Punnayurkulam.
Das took to writing inspired by her mother Balamani Amma, but her great uncle Nalapat Narayana Menon, a prominent writer himself, had a profound effect on her life. She took to poetry at an early age and was married to Madhava Das, a bank officer at the age of 15. Das encouraged Kamala to continue her interest in writing, and her work started appearing in both English and in Malayalam.
When she began publishing, she used the pseudonym Madhavikutty while Ami was her pet name. She changed her name to Suraiyya upon her conversion to Islam. Das’ stories captured her life from childhood to marriage and beyond and depicted the picture of a creative soul. Her autobiography was critically acclaimed, but some found it to be controversial with some relatives even trying to block it from being published.
Das continued to write poetry during all her transitions and personal reinventions, and was a noted columnist who wrote on subjects like women’s issues, child care and politics. She was honored with Sahitya Academy Award in 1984, and fearlessly resisted from being labelled as a ‘feminist’.
During the tumultuous time for art in Calcutta in 1960s, Kamala Das emerged as one of the many voices being featured in cult anthologies. Google says “the doodle provides a window into the world of an engrossing woman”.