Love and sex in her poetry become a paradigm for fractured realities encountered by the poetess. Essentially she speaks for a woman who is in search of love. She challenges the very idea of phallocentric tradition and asserts in poem after poem that the subaltern can speak. Post colonialism consists primarily in the contestation of power structures and social hierarchies. For Kamala Das a woman’s predicament as a daughter , a wife, or a lover reflects a victimization in relationships. Kamala Das revolts against a constructed notion of relationship. Women are not the self-sacrficial model of virtue or promiscuity.
The hitherto premises of male hegemony are violently shaken by Kamala Das who can defy the conventional ideological discourse of sexism and love. She herself became a victim of a young man’s carnal hunger . In ‘The Freaks’, a remarkable lyric which was published in Summer in Calcutta contains a picture of love that is full of dirt and filth as the man ensconced in sexual intercourse turned his ‘sun-stained / Cheek to me , his mouth , a dark /Cavern, where stalacities of /Uneven teeth gleam , his right / Hand on my knee, while our minds/ Are willed to race towards love ; / But they only wander, tripping / Idly over puddles of desire” .
The focus on the ‘puddles of desire’ refers to her unfulfilled sexual desire as her heart remains ‘ an empty cistern’. Kamala Das describes in ‘The Freaks’a man and a woman persona are described as capriciously and whimsically behaving in unexpected manner. The poem celebrates the mood of transitory triumph over the defeat of love : My glass , like a bride’s Nervous smile , and meet My lips. Dear , forgive This moment’s lull in Wanting you, the blur In memory. Elsewhere in the poem Kamala Das describes the ambience : The April sun , squeezed Like an orange in My glass?
I sip the Fire , I drink,and drink Again, I am drunk. We get a poignant verbal drama in the expression. The graphic details of drinking and the April heat. The poem focuses on the inborn passivity of the male partner and yet it ends with the assertion : “I am freak”. This is the identity crisis of an Indian woman who fails to flaunt ‘ a grand flamboyant lust’ in spite of the dissatisfaction. Here the poetess highlight the notion of vehemence and impetuosity with which the poet appropriates and internalizes the vocabulary for mapping out the terrain for the post colonial women in social terms.
She secures the first significant step toward the explosion of the myth of male supremacy propagated by patriarchy. This is in itself automatically presupposes the awareness of a shared fate of injustice. In The subjection of Women John Stuart Mill argues that the principle of servitude in marriage is a monstrous antithesis to all the principles of the modern world. For Mill the most liberating aspect is that human beings are no longer born to their place in life.
Kamala Das has shown and is very loud in violently showing that to be born as a woman is to lose the capacity to transcend that place in life already determined by patriarchy. Here Kamala Das decides to empower herself as a woman. In ‘Forest Fire’ the poetess minces no word in recording her innate desire to consume all sorts of experiences in this world: Of late I have begun to feel a hunger To take in with greed , like a forest-fire that Consumes , and, with each killing gains a wilder Brighter charm,all that comes my way.
A little later the fury of passions gets the most of her : My eyes lick at you like flames , my nerves Consume. This is not a refusal to acknowledge the tenets of valorization in masculine terms. We encounter in these lines paradigms of transgressions in the discourse, the female playing the male role . The readers are more directly taken into a woman’s quest for identity when the poetess can say in ‘The Looking Glass’ : Getting a man to love you is easy Only be honest about your wants as Woman.
Kamala Das does not describe how man loves a woman, she is more interested in telling how a woman can get the love of a man: Stand nude before the glass with him So that he sees himself the stronger one And believes it so, and you so much more Softer , younger, lovelier…. Admit your Admiration. This is not urge for female hegemony but the quest for identity in a female mind. Surrendering is an image in the poetry of Kamala Das : Gift him what makes you woman
The woman here knows that she will be left alone if the lover forsakes her. A lustful woman rarely succeeds. Getting a man to love is easy but afterward without the man it is a living without life. Joan Chittister writes : In the end women like other minorities who have been taught their natural limitations by the dominant culture in which they live, turn their anger against themselves…They know that women can not do what men can do, and they resent and scold and criticize any woman who tries to do it. They become the instruments of the system, its perfect product, its most important achievement. 156) Simultaneously, in a poem like ‘My Grandmother’s House’ published in Summer in Calcutta , there is a note of nostalgia in the depiction of the care-free days of childhood : “ There is a house now far away where once / I received love …. That woman died”. In this poem the poetess felt “ My blood turned cold like the moon”. The moon is a romantic image. But Kamala Das used it so realistically to reveal her broken heart and lost love. Bedroom door is like ‘a brooding dog’. The poetess peers through ‘ blind eyes of windows’.
The polyphonic text about identities with the autobiographical voice multiply itself into myriad selves. K. R. S Iyengar characterizes some of Kamala Das’s poems as ‘confessional’. Devinder Kohli calls her poems “ candid and witty piece of self-revelation’ In the confession, Kamala Das poignantly tries to straddle both worlds – the secret world of her desire and the world defined by the male chauvinists. But she is left with no option but to conform to the stereotype of the sexual –patriarchal man even when it outlines a mandate of a society that loathes any challenge coming from the females.
The poetess tries to negotiate sexual difference, but the importance lies rather in the way it showcases male chauvinism in a patriarchal ideology constructing patterns of fixated behaviours exalting them as normal. Individuals in this quest of identity socialized themselves into a locus of role specificity which in the case of a female disrupts the orientations. It is the crisis of the role that sustains the split between the role the character plays in Kamala Das’ poems. ‘Spoiling the Name’ presents effectively one of Kamala Das’ central insights, as Devinder Kohli points out , the commitment of her poetic self to experience.
The sighs are ‘metallic’ , limbs are curled at the ‘touch of air’ (‘A Relationship’)and ‘nudity on sheets of weeklies’( ‘Loud Posters’ ). Kamala Das mocks her ‘feminine integrity’ ( Sarkar Jaydip:84) when she finds in a shamefully helpless situation as in ‘The Freaks’ with the lover whose mouth is a dark Cavern where stalacities of Uneven teeth gleam It is not that the subversion is apparent everywhere. Women also gravitate from aspiring to be transgressive social agents to artitculating their muted histories, finally pointing up the truth that they were forced to suppress.
In the poem ‘Love’ there is a ‘celebration of happiness and contentment in love “ My life lies, content / in you” (Sarkar Jaydip: 86). The poetess was committed to the sensual world , true, but in her life partner she tried to achieve the shared identity . She sought a life beautifying force of love which might be equated with physical relationship. Sterility and vacant ecstasy were all that Kamala Das abhorred and herein she had her disillusionment. Love that is extra marital was not Kamala Das’ angst , rather her inner self created for herself a tiny world in which the trauma of love and marriage were distant cries, hardly heard of.
In the ‘Sunshine Cat’she depicted the picture of ‘a cold and half dead woman’ who was of no use to her. The cat might be her own feminine self as well. In ‘Winter’ , the celebration of sex was a theme,but it was more a desperate attempt of her soul for groping for roots in his body(Sarkar Jaydip: 85). As a singer of feminine sensibility she protests against restraints of society , and simultaneously she shakes off the rigid gender roles , determination triggered by situational factors. In 1948, Alfred Kinsey published Sexual Behavior in the Human Male in which sexual orientation was placed on ‘a graduated continuum’ ( Kinsey: 638).
Kinsey advocated a re-appraisal of the treatment meted out to queer beings by way of isolation and rehabilitation. The hypocrisy latent in marriage is due to societal pressures. In most occasions , the victims in such marriage of convenience is the wife, that Kamala herself was and who wanted to express the oppressive anguish of her own life. Thus on the one hand, the poems of Kamala Das are visualizations of her own pains, but at the same time they are the demeaning perceptions galvanizing the concomitant negativity into a motive for further exploration of female psyche.
The fantastically confessional poem ‘The Old Playhouse’ reveals this agony of the mind of the poetess: It was not to gather Knowledge Of yet another man that I came to you but to Learn What I was and by learning to learn to grow …(K. S. Ramamurti:151) This is what we mean by ‘pathei mathos’,wisdom consisting in suffering, the poetess gradually learning to cope up with demands of the more realistic world and compromising with her dreams as the potential abilities of the human body got stunted by the sterility of the man she loved.
We may safely surmise that the poems do not become an erotic world in spite of all the sexual replenishments for the starving soul of a woman. Nor the poems become an articulation of a muted feminine consciousness. Kamala Das exploded the stigma of vulnerability and gained a critical consciousness to stand up to the deforming norms of the conventional intercourses in marital life or love life,whatever it is. It was not in her capacity to reorder the chaotic world into a cosmos.
At best she could suggest some therapeutic rehabilitation of a trauma-ridden woman who survives the psychological abuses, manipulation and a dreariness of emotional desert. The poems serve for such a starving soul as a rallying point. K. R. S. Iyengar rightly remarks : “ Kamala Das is a fiercely feminine sensibility that dares without inhibitions to articulate that the hurts it has received in an insensitive largely man-made world. ” ( Iyengar: 667) . Reading List Works cited Das Kamala , Summer in Calcutta, New Delhi: Everest Press, 1965. ———– The Old Playhouse and Other Poems. Madras: Orient Longman, 1973. ———– My Story , New Delhi, Sterling Publishers, , 1976. ————- Tonight , This Savage Rite: The Love Poems of Kamala Das & Pritish Nandy. New Delhi: Arnold- Heinemann (India) 1979. ————— Only the Soul Knows How to Sing. Kottayam: DC Books, 1996. Primary Sources . 1. Lal. P. Ed. Modern Indian Poetry in English : An Anthology and a Credo, Calcutta: Writer’s Workshop, 1969. 2. Kotoky, P. C. Indo English Poetry, Gauhati: Gauhati University, 1969. 3. James ,Vinson (ed. ) Contemporary Poets,New York: St. Martin Press,1975. 4. Abidi, S. Z . H. Studies in Indo Anglian Poetry, Bareilly: Prakash Book Depot, 1979. . Parthasarathi, R. Ed. Ten Twentieth –Century Indian Poets. New Delhi: OUP. 2nd Ed. 1980 6. Shahane, Vasant A. and Sivaram Krishna, M. (eds. ) Indian Poetry in English : A Critical Assessment . Delhi: Macmillan, 1980. 7. Rahman ,Anisur. Expressive Form in the Poetry of Kamala Das. New Delhi: Abhinav Publications, 1981. 8. Stella ,Samdahl. ‘South Asian Literature: A Linguistic Perspective’, A Meeting of Streams. (ed). M. G. Vassanji,,Toronto: TSAR,1985. 9. Chindhade ,Shirish. Five Indian English Poets , New Delhi: Atlantic Publishers, 1996. 10. De Souza , Eunice. Nine Indian Women Poets : An Anthology. New Delhi: Oxford Univ.
Press, 1997. 11. Mitapalli Rajeswar et. al. Kamala Das: A Critical Spectrum. New Delhi: Atlantic,2001. 12. Gokak, V. K. (ed. ) The Golden Treasury of Indo Anglian Poetry. New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 2004. . Secondary Sources: 1. Kohli ,Devinder. Virgin Whiteness: The Poetry of Kamala Das. Calcutta: Writers Workshop, 1968. 2. K. R. S. Iyengar, Indian Writing in English , New Delhi Allied Publishers,1962; 2nd ed. , 1973. 3. King ,Bruce . Modern Poetry in English, Delhi, Oxford University Press. 1987. 4. Joan D. Chittister, Heart of Flesh: A Feminist Spirituality for Women and Men Cambridge and Ontario : WmB.
Eerdsmans Publishing Company, 1998. 5. Alfred C. Kinsey et al. Sexual Behavior in lthe Human Male. Philadelphia: W. B Saunders: Bloomington, Indian U Press, 1948 2nd Ed. ,1998. 5. Banerjee,Benoy Kumar ; Bakshi, Kaustav. Studies in Indian Poetry in English, Kolkata: Books Way, 2008 6. Ahmed, Irshad Gulam , Kamala Das : The Poetic Pilgrimage. New Delhi: Creative Books,2005. 7. Ramamurti, K. S. Ed. Twenty-Five Indian Poets In English , Kolkata: Macmillan India Ltd. , 2008. 8. Sarkar ,Jaydip (ed. ) Kamala Das and Her Poetry , Kolkata: Books Way,2009. —————————- .