The Kept Woman and Other stories is a collection of short stories by the renowned and controversial Kamala Surrayya. Born Kamala Das, an Indian English poet and a Malayalam author, she embraced Islam at the age of 67 and assumed the name Kamala Surrayya. She was known for her unabashed and honest treatment of women and their sexuality. While she is known more for her poems she also wrote quite a few short stories and novels including her daring autobiography My Story.
As the name suggests The Kept Woman and other stories is a collection of stories about the myriad shades of women. She explores the various aspects of a man-woman relationship without being idealistic. For every woman who dares to find sexual comfort in a relationship outside her marriage, she also has a naive wife who cannot see the adulterous ways of her husband. For every woman who does not care for the institution of marriage, there is one who chooses to marry a man who is a safer choice than the one she loves. For every woman who is the perfect wife and mother there is a woman who detests her husband’s insatiable sexual desires. For every mother who showers her love on her grand-daughter because her daughter is no more, there is a woman who uses her pregnancy to mock her husband’s gay partner.
Given that most of these stories were written through the late 60s and 90s, it is commendable that she chose to write on topics which are considered taboo even today. And that’s when you realize that not much has changed in the last 20 years. The very title of the collection [The Kept woman also happens to be the name of a story in the book] in itself is a cruel reminder of the misogynistic society we live in.
While the book is a mixed bag, with some great, some mediocre and some not so aptly translated stories, it still is, I feel, an important read. If for nothing else read it to celebrate this courageous writer. It is disheartening to see that adequate efforts are not made to make authors, who write in vernacular languages, available to readers across the country. While Kamala Das was an award winning writer and poet, I am ashamed to admit that I had not heard of her before I read this book and so was the case with quite a few reader friends I checked with. Maybe it’s time to rectify that and read more such translations.