कमल देसाई (१० नोव्हेंबर १९२८ - १७ जून २०११)

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Intense, modern and projecting female view

- Prathibha Nandakumar

(This is an abridged version of the article published in Bengalore Mirror on 8 July 2011, when translator Chandrakanth Pokale brought out a collection of Kamal Desai's short stories to Kannada. The book titled 'Kamal Desai Kathegalu' is published by Srishti Publishers. The full article can be read here

The sole aim of putting this post on the blog is just to keep a record, so all the courtesy and acknowledgement goes to the the writer and publishers of the article.)

Though belated, Kamal Desai is being introduced to Kannada. Rated one of the best writers in Maharashtra, she died in Sangli at the age of 83. Looking back, I have always been in awe of Desai for her extremely-liberated thinking. She often said she had explored two subjects: one is god and the other womanhood. She said she had presented the other side of the world because she found “only a one-sided male view of the world and sexuality existed”. Her writings is described as something which “embodies a subtly felt understanding of the modern way of life”.

Kamal started writing in 1955 and her most-acclaimed work Hat Ghalnari Bai (Woman Who Wore The Hat), considered a classic, was published in 1975. She wrote one novel every five years and some short stories in between. Though her works are not voluminous, she is considered one of the most intense writers in Marathi. She was very sophisticated — both in her writing and in real life.

In Hat Ghalnari Bai, the protagonist asserts her rights to what is described as “a Promethean venture just as she appropriates the phallic symbol of the hat”. She is a filmmaker who is planning to do a surrealist film. Kailas Shet, a money lender, helps her build a studio. He is in a world where money can buy anything, but he is disappointed to find that he can purchase the mysterious hat-wearing woman only physically. She in turn sees that it is impossible, try as she will, to separate her individuality and her art form from her body and impossible to keep them pristine and inviolate while she is compromised sexually. She abandons the project when she realises that her creative freedom is tainted by his intrusive power.  Kailash Shet plans to destroy her studio thinking he cannot possess her as long as she owns it and she sets afire the studio and also burns herself.

Kamal Desai was born in Yamkan Mardo, a small place in Belgaum district. Her father was a post master and she had six sisters and two brothers. Her father raised his children with modern thinking. He was religious, but not conservative.

The girls did not have to ‘sit separately’ during menstrual periods even in those days. Kamal Desai got her degree from Belgaum and went on to do her postgraduation in Marathi in Maharashtra. She got a gold medal in both. She worked as a lecturer in several universities in Maharashtra. She had said she didn’t marry because she always wanted to be a writer and it was necessary to be able to think independently if one were to be a writer. She had several male friends, but never allowed any one to curtail her freedom.  After retirement, she lived in Pune. Marathi writings have a way of staying with you long after you put down the book. Kamal Desai is one writer you can’t miss reading.

Pokale’s translation of Kamal Desai’s short stories will be launched next week.  He says, “I am very happy that my determination to bring Kamal Desai to Kannada is fulfilled now. I admire her style of narration that travels between the past and the present. The women in Kamal Desai’s writings are lonely, but they are not pitiful and refuse to be objects of compassion.”  Pokale deserves all the applause for bringing her finally to Kannada.

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