An Introduction Essay

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Kamala Das was one of India’s finest authors, the mother of modern English Indian poetry. Her first collection of poems, entitled The Sirens, appeared in 1964 and won her the Asian Poetry Prize. In 1965, at the age of 31, Das published Summer in Calcutta In the mid-1970s her confessional memoir My Story brought her celebrity but also a degree of notoriety, a condition that sometimes entertained but more often dogged her life. My Story was an instant bestseller, read then for its comparatively open sexuality even though Das considered it to be “a very serious, very tragic story of an Indian girl who had been sacrificed by the laws of the land”. Acknowledging her creative and personal courage, the poet Balan Chullikkad called her “the first feminist emotional revolutionary of our time”. The Indian tabloids labelled her “the Love Queen of Malabar”. One of Das’s best-known stories, A Doll for the Child Prostitute, was inspired by a visit to a brothel. In it, two girls, barely even teenagers, play hopscotch. A man appears and the madam summons one of the girls who asks her friend to keep her hopscotch stone in its place. “I’ll be back in a few minutes,” she says. The story also tells how a police inspector gets free sex at the brothel and promises the girl a doll if she will be kind to him like, he says, his daughter is. A novel, Alphabet of Lust, appeared in 1977, and in 1992 a collection of short stories, Padmavati the Harlot and Other Stories, was published. Two collections of poetry, Only the Soul Knows How to Sing and Yaa Allah, appeared in 1996 and 2001 respectively. Antara Dev Sen, a close follower of Das’s work and the editor of The Little Magazine, a Delhi-based literary periodical, summed up her contribution: “Her talent for expressing complex sentiments simply, her unsettling, bewildering honesty, and in-your-face sexuality made her not just a

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