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Biography
Pritish Nandy is a poet, journalist, politician, television personality and film producer. He is a member of Rajya Sabha, the upper house of the Indian parliament. He has published a number of poetry books and translated poems by other writers from Bengali into English. Nandy's first book of poems OF GODS AND OLIVES was published in 1967. Three further volumes followed in the 1960s and a further 14 volumes were published in the 1970s. In July 1981 Nandy was nominated as a Poet Laureate by the World Academy of Arts and Culture at the Fifth World Congress of Poets in San Francisco. In 1982 Nandy became a full-time journalist. He was publishing director of THE TIMES OF INDIA from 1982 to 1991, and editor of THE ILLUSTRATED WEEKLY OF INDIA from 1983 to 1991. He has also served as the editor of THE INDEPENDENT and FILMFARE. He served concurrently as the publisher of THE ILLUSTRATED WEEKLY OF INDIA, THE INDEPENDENT, FILMFARE, FEMINA, SCIENCE TODAY, DHARMAYUG. and MADHURI. He is currently a syndicated columnist with THE TIMES OF INDIA and over thirty other leading Indian newspapers. Nandy's production company Pritish Nandy Communications was founded in 1995. Its first program was a chat show entitled the PRITISH NANDY SHOW which aired on Doordarshan, a public broadcasting channel. THE WORLD THIS WEEK also aired on Doordarshan. This was followed by FISCAL FITNESS, India's first weekly business show, on Zee TV, and THE PRITISH NANDY BUSINESS SHOW. Nandy has presented over 500 news and current affairs shows on Doordarshan, Zee TV and Sony TV.

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KAMALA DAS: CELEBRATING THE FAITHLESS

- by Pritish Nandy

Kamala Surayya (Das) – Madhavi Kutti

(31st March 1934-31st May 2009)

kamala das

Kamala Das was one of the brightest literary stars of India . She wrote as Madhavi Kutti  in her mother tongue Malayalam, and as Kamala Das in English. She was short listed for the Nobel prize in literature in 1984. Her fame was for her poetry and short stories. She had an enormous effect on the next generation of Indian English writers. Her greatest contribution was in paving the way for the new generation of Indian literateurs to write in their own distinctive style of English. In a period when most prominent poets of Bengali literature were men, Kamala Das established herself in the literary world through her poetic flair. She was a pioneer in Indian English writing. Besides her works in English, her literary discourses in Malayalam dealt with individual freedom of speech and the sexual liberation of women. Lamenting her death, the Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh, said, “her poems focusing on womanhood and feminism gained her recognition as one of the most noted of modern Indian poets. Her achievements extended well beyond her verses of poetry. She made a mark in painting and fiction. As a syndicated columnist, her columns touched on everything from women’s issues and child care to politics.”

            Thousands of admirers flocked to catch a last glimpse of their beloved amma. Almost all leading publications across the world, from 'The New York Times' to 'AnandaBazar', bereaved the passing of this phenomenal writer. Kamala Das spent her childhood in the city of Kolkata . It is therefore quite distressing that there aren’t any notable translated works of this renowned entity in bengali.

            Pritish Nandy, a friend of Kamala Das’s from Mumbai, has penned a special piece of writing called, “Kamala Das – celebrating the faithless”. Treating it as an ode to the memory of this legend, Urhalpool has published this writing in the English section and as a translated work in the bengali section.

 

I first met Kamala Das in Bank House on Backbay Reclamation.  The flat was quite close to what is today my office in Nariman Point (in Mumbai). I had come from Kolkata, where I lived in those days, to speak at a literary seminar in Bombay and suddenly, on a lark, decided to call Kamala who was one of my favourite poets.

  She was a strange kind of literary figure, very controversial and much hated by the conventional academic poets who found her poetry too loud, melodramatic and obsessively self-flagellant.  She wrote of her warm menstrual blood flowing, her carnal desires and unfulfilled sexual fantasies, her lost childhood, of men she had loved and left behind. She wrote of what it was being a woman, a poet, a person torn between two tongues, two cultures, and faithful to neither.

  In fact, faithlessness was the key to understanding her poetry and her persona.

  Kamala believed faithfulness was the most boring thing on earth and shunned it as one would shun stupidity.

  She was warm on the phone, very excited and promptly called me at home and said she would get together a group of friends and fellow poets to meet me and listen to my poems too.  She called her group Bahutantrika, and it met occasionally to share poems, stories, ideas and experiences, casual conversation about nothing at all. Very much like the Coffee House addas we in Kolkata were so used to.  Only the decibel level was lower in Bahutantrika because it was inside a home, and that, too, a banker's home.

  Kamala's husband worked for the Reserve Bank and that explains why the building she lived in was called Bank House.  He was a gentle, adoring, man who did his 10 to 6 job at the bank and came home to meet his wife's countless admirers in a literary environment that was incredibly intense and magical.

  He was always proud of her and never felt insecure even though Kamala, writing as Madhavi Kutty, had shocked his very conservative Kerala society with her poems and sexually explicit autobiographical pieces in Malayam.

  I guess he heaved a sigh of relief when Madhavi Kutty became Kamala Das and began to write in English.  But that relief was short lived.  Because Kamala became as famous and as notorious, if not more than Madhavi Kutty.  She also became a far better writer in English.

  She never wrote the English that others expected her to.  She wrote it as it came to her.  It was an unlearnt, unkempt language which turned into magic in her hands. It was the true language of poetry, and it made Kamala Das what she was, one of the finest and truest poets of her generation. Even her impossible sexual fantasies rang true.  They provoked her critics to become even sharper and the stupid academics got angrier and more shrill in their denunciation of her work. But I loved her poems and short stories, and so did thousands of others who swore by poetry, not purity of language or form.

  In fact, Arnold Heinemann, one of the most successful publishers of poetry in those times, put her love poems and mine together in a book called Tonight, This Savage Rite which was first published in 1979 and sold out six editions in a single year!  Not bad for poetry, I guess. Gulab Vazirani, who ran Arnold Heinemann and brought out some of my most successful books of poems, was over the moon.

  But this was long before all that.  I turned up for the Bahutantrika group at Bank House that fated evening and read my poems out to Kamala's friends and others out there.  Most of them were strangers to me and, apart from Kamala, I didn't know a soul.  But it was an evening that changed my life. Bombay morphed before my eyes. The boring business city suddenly came alive.  Others read their poems too. Some sang.

  I sat in a corner with an amazingly beautiful woman from Ahmedabad.  We spoke of poetry, music, dance, movies, magic, dreams, and so many other things that evening.  I called her to Kolkata to experience a city of the arts. She said, “Why don't you come to Ahmedabad first?”  I did.  And thus began another story, another whirlwind romance, another book of poems. Kamala took credit for midwifing this torrid romance.  She and I became friends. No, we did not meet that often. But we shared poems, talked to each other occasionally, and she began to write for a little magazine dedicated to poetry that I occasionally brought out in those days, whenever I had the money and a few ads.

  My friend Octavio Paz, who was then Mexico's ambassador in Delhi, fell in love with her poems. So did many others, from many parts of the world, till the Indo-English literary establishment had no option but to recognise her talent, her genius.  Her books began to sell out. A new language of poetry began to emerge. The old orthodoxy was challenged by a new breed of writers who wrote in a living language and refused to follow the traditions of British poetry that ruled the academic establishment of those days.

  Poetry flowered.  Allen Ginsberg had already come to Kolkata and opened up our hearts to a new kind of poetry, a new kind of literary experience.  We all began to live in defiance.  Publishers from all over the world started bringing out our books, in tiny, handcrafted editions printed in home presses.  It was Renaissance Times.

  But too much fame could be tiring. It tired me out for sure.  I guess it did the same to Kamala.  I burnt my journals and migrated to journalism and this big, bad city. Kamala became quieter, more introspective.  A bit cynical too, I guess.  And then, some years later, she quietly went away. New poets came onto the scene. The scene became quieter, gentler.  The limelight shifted away. Publishers moved onto other kinds of books.

  Kamala wrote little and barely stayed in touch.  Her sons grew up. The family scattered and I lost touch with her as indeed I had lost touch with poetry. I had seen another, less solipsistic world and was desperately keen to change things around me.  Journalism seemed like an answer for a while.

  Then came television. After that, politics and Parliament. And, finally, movies -- the ultimate opiate of the people.  Life took so many mysterious twists and turns that I forgot where I began.  I forgot Kamala too, till one day I read she had adopted another faith and called herself Suraiya.  No, it did not surprise me. Nothing that Kamala ever did surprised me. I had implicit trust in her. I knew she did things because she believed in them, however briefly. I read somewhere, in some magazine, that it was a young man who stole her heart and her faith. He was a Muslim. It was so typically Kamala.  She never did anything half heartedly.  She always went all the way, chasing her dreams. I hope she found comfort in her new religion. I hope she was happier in the burqa she chose to wear. I hope she found poetry as a friend in the end.

  All I know is that she was one of the few people I knew who I admired unquestioningly. That evening at her Bahutantrika changed my life in many ways.  I thank Kamala for that as well.  I only wish I had a copy of the book we did together. Gulab Vazirani's gone. So has Kamala. I wonder where I can find a copy. But then, I have no copies of most of my books any way. One more wouldn't make such a difference.