The Search for Love: Kamala Surayya

[This is from Kamala Surayya’s memoir Neermathalam Poothakaalam, in which she remembers her teenage love for her English teacher in school. It is one of the many avowals of queer desire in her writing. From Chapter 29 of Neermathalam… in Madhavikkuttyude Krithika Sampoornam, Kottayam: DC Books, 2009, pp. 1058-59]

“It was then that a new English teacher joined our school. Her name was Miss Sneha Laha. She was the eldest daughter of a psychologist from Ranchi. Her face was rather too long and pale. But her voice faltered in an extremely attractive way. A voice with a shattered spine. I had been seeking someone to adore. When she praised my essays and poetry I thought that she had begun to love me. My poems were about her. She read them, and smiled. I plucked a rose every day from our rose bushes to present to her. My expressions of love did not anger her. I used to tell Parukkutty [the maid] about her every evening. I believed that none but Parukkutty would be able to understand my passion for her.

“What did teacher say when you went to bid her goodbye, kutty?” Parukkutty asked me the day before the summer vacation started.

“Today teacher hugged me and gave me a kiss,” I said. That was a lie. A kindly smile spread on Parukkutty’s face.

“The teacher must be really so fond of you. Teachers don’t kiss pupils.”

“She can’t kiss all the pupils – athinu saayikkilla – she loves only you, kutty. That’s why she kissed you,” Parukkutty opined.

The love blooming between me and forty-five-year old Miss Laha grew in my imagination. I combed my hair and braided it in two just for her. I rubbed soap again and again on my face till it shone. Father never allowed me to use kohl in my eyes or pat powder on my face.

Other girls of 13 and 14 also worshipped other teachers. It was common in school those days. No child felt any guilt about it. It was time that I believed the I would live only with Miss Laha when I was grown up. My neighbour Shanthu dismissed my illusions with contempt.

“If you live with Miss Laha, how will you give birth? Don’t you want to be a mother?” Shanthu asked.

“I will give birth even if I live with Miss Laha. She won’t stop me from giving birth,” I said.

Shanthu burst out laughing. She clutched hard at her stomach with both hands and roared with laughter.

“How will you give birth without a man around?” She asked me in between her laughing.

“You needn’t ask how I am going to give birth. I’ll do it without your advice,” I answered, tensely.

Shanthu laughed again. “Oh, Kamala, you are such a simpleton. If you make me like this, I am going to pee right here for sure.”

I had not understood then that girls should love only boys. I had plenty of love to offer. But no one came forward to accept it.”

1 thought on “The Search for Love: Kamala Surayya”

Leave a Reply