My Story by Kamala Das

My Story is an autobiographical book written by Indian author and poet Kamala Das (also known as Kamala Surayya or Madhavikutty) in 1973. The book was originally published in Malayalam and titled Ente Katha. The book evoked violent reactions of admiration and criticism among the readers and critics. It remains, to date, the best-selling women’s autobiography in India, boosting the circulation of the weekly by 50,000 copies within a fortnight.

This novel, divided into fifty chapters according to the chronological stages of her life, tells the sufferings of Kamala Das as a woman and as a writer. Born with a dusky complexion, Kamala portrays herself as an inquisitive child who faced the triggers of race, especially when India was captured by the British imperialists. The author writes poignantly of the discrimination she and her brother faced at the European school they were studying at when the British were still ruling India. “When the visitors came the brown children were always discreetly hidden away, swept under the carpet, told to wait in the corridor behind the lavatories where the school ayahs kept them company,” she writes.

When she was 15 years old, she married Madhava Das, a banking executive many years her senior, and they moved to Bombay (now Mumbai). Her relationship with her husband had anything but love. She describes it as a matrimonial duty. Das had three sons and did her writing at night.

Taking into account that women were denied the right to think about sexual pleasures, and denied the enjoyment of life. Their lives were reduced to taking care of her husband and her family, Kamala Das tries in her novel to search for this lost identity. She tells us about her sexual and physical encounters with other men and about how she rose the power and identity of the repressed women. 

Also, by examining the psychological accomplishments that women suffered in those days, Das deals with the deepest part of the human soul. My Story also touches upon homosexuality, whether it is describing the attraction that young girls felt for each other at the boarding school, or the anecdote about her husband and his interactions with his close friend.

My Story is also weaved with a few powerful verses after chapter 26, all the chapters have poems written by Kamala.

An excerpt of one of her creations:

“On sedatives

I am more lovable

Says my husband

My speech becomes a mist-laden terrain,

The words emerge tinctured with sleep,

They rise from still coves of dreams

In unhurried flight like herons,

And my ragdoll-limbs adjust better

To his versatile lust. He would if he could

Sing lullabies to his wife’s sleeping soul,

Sweet lullabies to thicken its swoon.

On sedatives

I grow more lovable

Says my husband…”

Written in a simple and lyrical manner, the book is an easy read and keeps you hooked till the very last line. Even after years of its origin, the topics still remain as relevant today perhaps because as a society we still remain cagey about women’s sexuality and their right to make their own choices. 

Kamala Das’s My Story became a bestseller and was translated into 15 different international languages. There was also a Malayalam movie based on the life of the author, titled Aami, which was the nickname her grandmother gave her. The movie was released in 2018 and stars Manju Warrier as Kamala Das.