Open Google today, as you might invariably on any given day, and you'll find a lovely illustration of a sari-clad old lady sitting at the verandah of a home, surrounded by books and filter coffee. An idyllic scene. She is scribbling away on a piece of paper. Click on it, and Google helpfully lands you on the search page for Balamani Amma, the Malayalam poet.
Today is her 113th birthday, and Google is marking this through a Google Doodle. Known as the ‘grandmother of Malayalam literature’, Balamani Amma is the mother of acclaimed contemporary writer and poet Kamala Das, and the niece of another poet, Nalappat Narayana Menon. Here's a small clipping where she talks about him, and another poet Vallathol Narayana Menon, both of whom had influenced her writing.
The recepient of various awards — including the the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1965; the Saraswati Samman in 1995, and India's second highest civilian award, the Padma Vibhushan in 1987 — Balamani Amma was born in Thrissur district, Kerala in 1909.
Balamani Amma never received any formal education. Various reports attribute her maternal uncle's library as having had a great influence on her. She went on to write and publish over 20 anthologies of poems, and many works of prose. Among her various works in translation is her daughter Kamala Das' translation of a poem on the loneliness of a mother. In English, it is titled The Pen.
The Kochi International Literature Festival has an award instituted in her name. Titled the Balamani Amma Award, its receipent this year, when the festival took place in April, was the 93-year-old Malayali writer and critic M.K. Sanu.
Balamani Amma's notable works include Amma (1934), Muthassi (1962), and Mazhuvinte Katha (1966). She died in 2004 after living with Alzheimer's for five years, and was cremated with full state honours.