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‘What Is It to the Corpse If the Maggots Nip?’

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She had three names, and was famous in all of them. Poet Kamala Das, who wrote in Malayalam under the penname Madhavikutty, passed away on 31 May in Pune

She had three names, and was famous in all of them. Poet Kamala Das passed away on 31 May

The Maggots (from 'The Descendants')
At sunset, on the river bank, Krishna/ Loved her for the last time and left.../ That night in her husband’s arms, Radha felt/ So dead that he asked, What is wrong,/ Do you mind my kisses, love? And she said,/ No, not at all, but thought, What is/ It to the corpse if the maggots nip? —Kamala Das, 'Nine Indian Women Poets', edited by Eunice De Souza

She had three names, and was famous in all of them. Poet Kamala Das, who wrote in Malayalam under the penname Madhavikutty, passed away on 31 May in Pune. She was known as Kamala Suraiya at the time, following a conversion to Islam in 1999.

Kamala was the daughter of Malayalam poet Balamaniamma. At the age of 15, she married a Reserve Bank of India executive, Madhav Das, who encouraged her to write as well.

What made Kamala a household name was My Story, a serialised book about sexual feelings and encounters, written at age 42. She would later say that this was part fiction, and written with her husband’s permission. She was never a feminist.

Kamala’s first English poetry collection, Sirens, appeared in 1964. She went on to write six more in that language. “Most of Das’s famous poems dwelt passionately on love and its physical aspects,” says poet Adil Jussawala, who had included her in an anthology brought out by him a few years ago. “She was more frank and more direct than any poet writing in English.” Besides poetry, she wrote short stories and a novel.