Recently after the demise of renowned author Kamala Das, I was tempted to read her much-talked-about autobiography "My Story"
Somehow I had a preconceived notion that it was a tale of melancholy and self-pity. The authoress proved me deadly wrong with her witty and quirky way of describing things; and the rebellious way she chose to live her life.
The book begins with her childhood experiences in Calcutta with her affluent and modern family, though she claims it being nothing more than middle-class.
She briefly gives us a picture of the racist treatments she and her brother had to endure in the British school, which openly preferred whites and degraded Indians and blacks, their society with a few English and Anglo-Indian neighbors and friends, and the anglicized cook who scorned at the children’s table manners.
After a few years, they move to Nalapat, her hometown in Kerala. The vivid and nostalgic descriptions of the ancient house, surrounding gardens, the stage plays she wrote and acted with her brother, her grand uncle who was a great scholar, aunts, grannies, household maids, get us hooked onto her story.
She also light-heartedly mentions her life in a convent that she briefly went to. The letters she used to write home from there used to be very demure and boring, much to the surprise and ridicule of her brother, who knew her better!
It’s a tale of an Indian girl, bold and educated, full of dreams with a no-nonsense attitude, who is brutally subjected to a medieval-age kind of arranged marriage in the tender age of fifteen, and the domestic worries and burdens that follow.
Very clever and much learned for her time, her views of life largely contrasted with the society she had to put up with. Therefore, things tended to become all the more difficult for her.
The authoress has the least intention of seeking pity or justification for some of her actions, and neither are those sentiments aroused in the reader.
However, it’s this incredible honesty of the authoress that has brought her both much acclaim and criticism.
I think this book might instill varied opinions, each time it is read, or when re-read after a long period. And that, I think, is the best aspect of a successful autobiography.
My StoryAutobiographyby Kamala DasRs. 100D C Books, Kottayam 686 001
(Available in Landmark, Chennai)
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