Recognized as one of India's foremost poets, Kamala Das had an early inclination towards the literary life, inspired by her uncle Nalapat Narayan Menon, a prominent writer. She was born on March 31, 1934 in Malabar in Kerala.
She was also deeply affected by the poetry of her mother, Nalapat Balamani Amma, whose writings differed from her daughter.
A trailblazer in the Indian English poetry, she is the first Indian woman writing in English who openly talks about the sexual desires and experiences of Indian women . She abandoned the secure field of writing about teenage bloodless, unrequited love.
Writing under the pen name, 'Madhavikutty', she is one of the foremost short story writers in Malayalam. She was nominated for the Nobel Prize in literature, along literary personalities such as Nadine Gordimer and Doris Lessing. Her widely acclaimed stories include Pakshiyude Maranam, Neypayasam, Thanuppu, and Chandana Marangal.
Her first English poetry was 'The Sirens', published in 1964, followed by Summer In Calcutta. She received many awards and accolades including Asian Poetry Prize, Kent award for English writing from Asian countries, Asan World Prize, Sahitya Academy award and Vayalar award. She has ventured into the restricted and unclaimed territory and set a point of reference for her colleagues.
Those who read in Malayalam knew her as a short story writer whose work reflected the frustrations of a generation of women who were just beginning to question marriage and the domestic life, just beginning to embrace their own sexuality and need for freedom. Many knew her only by her autobiography, published as My Story, which was an often intense, often rambling account of her loves, her writing, her need for something larger than the world of tradition and the hearth.
In her sixties, Kamala Das, who had once written with deep feeling about the Radha-Krishna relationship, discovered a need for subjugation, a turning away from the freedom she had so often longed for and fought for. Her conversion to Islam created yet another identity for her; as Suraiyya, she abjured many of the things that had defined her as a writer.
On 31 May 2009, aged 75, she died at a hospital in Pune. Her body was flown to her home state of Kerala. She was buried at the Palayam Juma Masjid at Thiruvananthapuram with full state honours.