A Childhood in Malabar by Kamala Das – Book Review

I didn’t know much about Kamala Das when I started reading this book. I don’t remember how it ended up on my list. I might have read a poem of hers somewhere. I decided not to look her up until after I’m done reading the book. I wanted to form an unbiased opinion of her book and writing.
Visiting grandma, when I was younger, meant bedtime stories among other things. I loved listening to her telling us tales of Kakku mam (crows) and gubbachi (sparrows), stories of great kings, and stories from Indian mythology. I don’t remember all the stories now. But reading this book reminded me of story time with grandma. It was like listening to her talk about life when she was ten.
The book is set in Kerala, a state that is very close to home, physically and culturally. Kamala Das narrates incidents from her childhood spent at her maternal grandmother’s house. She speaks about her relationships with her family, the house-helps, cooks, friends, relatives etc. The amount of detail in each incident that she narrates is astonishing. The dialogues, the description of her surroundings – I find it hard to believe that she remembers it all. But she mentions in her notes that going to a psychoanalyst helped her extract those early memories. I don’t know a lot about psychoanalysis, but I do know that our memories aren’t facts. All our memories are a little bit of what actually happened combined with the emotions that we felt/remember, our prejudices, our biases, and our imaginations.
My reading usually slows down while on a vacation. But this time I was able to start and complete reading the book during my vacation. Achievement unlocked! It helped a lot that this was a fairly easy read and that it was set in Kerala. It also helped that I was reminiscing about my own childhood in Mangalore during this vacation.
I remember someone suggesting that I pick vacation reads that set in my vacation destination. After reading A Childhood in Malabar while in Mangalore, I completely agree with that suggestion. It is such a unique, immersive experience to read descriptions of the same landscapes, food, practices, culture while experiencing it all yourself. It is like traveling back in time into the book and being an invisible bystander watching it all unfold. I don’t know if I would have enjoyed reading the book just as much if I wasn’t in India. I got really excited to read the words Mangalapuram (the Malayalam name for Mangalore) and Mangalapuram bangles (which I’m assuming are red coral bangles) in the book. I was a tad bit disappointed when I was done reading the book because I wanted that journey to continue. I wanted to dive deeper and deeper into life in Kerala in the 1940s.

The original Malayalam version of the book is probably better if know the language. But this was a really good translation, I think. Overall, I recommend this book. 4/5 stars.

2 thoughts on “A Childhood in Malabar by Kamala Das – Book Review

  1. pk35 says:

    Nice post! I am very fond of Kerala, so I think I will read this book when I get a chance. Love the way your posts are so descriptive and make the reader feel as if they experienced what you did. The photograph does justice to the post as well. Feel like drinking a cup of coffee after seeing this (As I am not a tea lover!) Keep blogging. It’s so nice to read your posts.


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.