It was a long awaited moment. On December 21, 2011, work began for a memorial for Kamala Surayya Das on the land she donated to the Kerala Sahitya Akademi, at Punnayurkulam in Thrissur. K. Kunhikrishnan
Kamala Surayya Das (Madhavikkutty 1934 – 2009) was an iconoclast and an incomparable literary genius, fluent both in English and Malayalam, and at home in poetry and fiction. In May 2006, she donated 17 cents of ancestral property in Punnayurkulam in Thrissur district to the Kerala Sahitya Academi terming the land and trees as her “kingdom of emotions” that inspired her writings, and could “bring a bit of fragrance” to Malayalam literature. Her ancestral home, Nalappattu, had produced several writers including mother poetess Balamani Amma and great uncle, poet Nalappattu Narayana Menon. It was a rendezvous of literary debates and movements of celebrated writers, making the family with the richest Malayalam literary heritage. Kamala's books continue to be best sellers. Her home, wherever she lived was crowded with old and new writers.
It was during March 2009, two months before her death that the formal taking over was done by the Akademi at Pune as Kamala Das had left Kerala. Controversies plagued the noble gesture, because of a serpent grove and Kerala Sahitya Akademi did not have wherewithal for a memorial. After possession of the land, it was felt that a mere building won't do. K.B. Sukumaran, who had purchased the original property from Kamala Das and sister Sulochana Unnikrishnan, donated 10.25 cents to the Akademi. The Akademi estimated that a memorial complex would cost Rs.18 million.
The Government of Kerala provided Rs. 10.2 million and the first installment of Rs. 20 lakhs was sanctioned; the Akademi handed over the amount to the Kerala Public Works Department for starting the construction.
While the Government was tangled in procedural delays, friends and well wishers formed a Kamala Surayya Trust at her native place, with Dr. Sukumar Azhikode, the renowned writer and orator as chairman and K.B. Sukumaran, as secretary. A galaxy of litterateurs and personalities are associated with it: Its avowed objectives include promotion of literature and arts and to project the contributions of Kamala Das, and to institute literary awards. The Trust conducted a few functions including two award presentations. The first Kamala Surayya Trust Awards with a cash prize of Rs. 51,000 were bagged by Vaisakhan for his short story collection, Silencer, and by Savithri Rajeevan, for poetry on March 31, 2010, Kamala's birthday. The second awards were to Dr. Punathil Kunhabdulla and Prof. K.G. Sankara Pillai. The live-wire of the Trust is its secretary K.B. Sukumaran who has spent substantially for the Trust; it was his house in Punnayurkulam that Kamala visited last in 2005. The Trust does not have any corpus to continue their activities. Around Rs. 25 lakhs are required to sustain the literary and humanitarian objectives.
After the completion of the memorial, there is no infrastructure for running and maintaining it. The Sahitya Akademi has no facilities for a memorial, though chairman Permpadavam Sreedharan is very ambitious about it. The Kerala Cultural Affairs Department assists 20 memorials and 14 institutions and music and dance organisations in the State. The subsidies are pittance. The Sahitya Akademi can only support Kamala Memorial and for its activities local involvement and support are essential. Kamala Das and Nalapat family always hosted litterateurs and literary discourses.
Kamala Surayya Das always liked to be in the midst of crowds and enjoyed it to the hilt. It is best to continue and maintain the practice of literary festival and workshops on a national or global scale. Kerala has very successfully organised literary festivals and the best tribute to Kamala would be literary meets where young and old writers present their works and get trained through literary workshops. Will the family, Trust and the Government come forward?