MD Nalapat, son of late Indian poet and iconoclast Kamala Das, thanked Google for featuring his mother on its site on February 1 and remembering the day she released her book ‘My Story’.
Nalapat also pointed out in his column in The Sunday Guardian that ‘My Story’ was not the only controversial book that was written by a member of his family.
“Years earlier, the Nehru government had banned ‘Rama Retold’, a satirical novel written by Aubrey Menen, the uncle of this columnist,” he wrote.
Remembering his mother, Nalapat wrote, “My mother – Amma – wrote about relationships that she had had, being among the very few women to do so at that time. Her premise was that the body of a woman belonged only to herself, and hence, she alone had the right to decide on relationships, no matter what her marital or maternal status.”
Speaking about his mother and her childhood, he added, “From the start, Amma must have been a handful to bring up, as the only mind she felt compelled to obey was her own,”
The writer further delved into the relationship between Kamala Das and her husband in their 43-year marriage.
“At a very young age, she decided to marry my father, who cherished her to the close of his life in 1992, and who stood by her no matter how many the controversies her writings and on occasion her lifestyle created. Father had begun to love my mother about a year before they married, and this flame never faltered in him, nor the reciprocal feelings in her. They quarrelled with each other, each sometimes exasperated the other, but the shock absorber preventing serious damage to their 43-year relationship was their devotion to each other, a feeling that weathered all storms,” he wrote.
The columnist also recollected how, years ago, his mother helped him survive pleurisy with her tireless bedside vigil and how that led him to conclude that women were actually the stronger of the sexes.
“Years earlier, his mother had saved this columnist’s life, sitting without rest and sleep beside his bedside for the weeks that pleurisy threatened to take his life away, leaping for the oxygen supply whenever breathing was becoming too difficult to bear … It was probably from that time that this columnist realised that women were in reality the stronger sex, and that the world would be much better were they not so often shackled by patriarchal mores,” he wrote.
Highlighting the strong matriarchal traditions from which his mother came, Nalapat also said that this was perhaps what gave her the confidence to begin a career in writing, despite limited formal education.
“This, of course, was hardly a problem in Amma’s family, which for generations had been a matriarchy. Would Amma have had the confidence to begin a writing career with so limited a base in formal education if she had not been confident since the beginning of her life that women were special, and that it was therefore natural that they do special things. Would Kamala Das have had the courage to ignore or deflect the verbal and written darts thrown at her by those angered by her refusal to shrink herself into a stereotypical mould, if she had not been nurtured within a matriarchal culture? Perhaps she would, for there are several women from precisely such an environment that have surprised traditionalists by moving away from conventionality,” he wrote.
Speaking about the controversies and the mud-slinging his mother faced for embracing Islam in 1999, Nalapat wrote, “Much has been said about this conversion, and some unflattering theories have been aired about the reasons, with some even claiming that she would have reconverted but for ‘pressure’ from this columnist. It is amusing to hear that there are those who claim to believe that a woman as secure as Kamala Das would have listened to anyone’s orders, much less a son who with pride accepted her as the matriarch.”