Born in Kerala, India in 1934, Kamala Das pushed the boundaries of poetry, expression of womanhood, love, and sexuality. Writing in both Malayalam and English, Das won a plethora of prizes for her literary skill, and was nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1984. On Tuesday, a crowd gathered at the Palayam Juma Masjid in Thiruvananthapuram to give their respects and say their final goodbyes. She was given a state funeral that included a gun salute as her body was deposited into the earth.
Though some may label Das a feminist, she was always reticent to apply the label to herself: “Yes, I know, yesterday I might have been against liberation, today I am for it. Tomorrow I do not know what I would say, and how I feel.” Regardless of labels, Das was an iconoclast who leaves us with an inspirational body of work.
We have spent our youth in gentle sinning
Exchanging some insubstantial love and
Often thought we were hurt, but no pain in
Us could remain, no bruise could scar or
Even slightly mar our cold loveliness.
We have lain in every weather, nailed, no, not
To crosses, but to soft beds and against
Softer forms, while the heaving, lurching,
Tender hours passed in a half-dusk, half-dawn and
Half-dream, half-real trance. We were the yielders,
Yielding ourselves to everything. It is
Not for us to scrape the walls of wombs for
Memories, not for us even to
Question death, but as child to mother’s arms
We shall give ourselves to the fire or to
The hungry earth to be slowly eaten,
Devoured. None will step off his cross
Or show his wounds to us, no god lost in
Silence shall begin to speak, no lost love
Claim us, no, we are not going to be
Ever redeemed, or made new.