Saturday, December 19, 2009

Kamala Das : Her Feminist Ambivalence

Commentators of Kamala Das's poetry often link her poetry to specific incidents in her personal life . They explain her poetry with reference to My Story . This biographical approach to literary criticism is an untenable practice in as much as poets are beings endowed with imagination and they set forth in their poems what they perceive as imaginative truths . Whem Emily Dickinson was asked whether the "I" in her poems represented her real self she replied that it represented an " imagined I". The greatness of a poet lies in how far he or she is true to his or her imagined self and the honesty with which he or she delineates experiences . Kamala Das's poetic self is made up of millions of Indian women . Her voice is the voice of Indian women silenced through ages of suppression . Hence, the ""I" in Kamala Das's poetry is a deceptive one It is the will-o'-the- wisp of the critic . Her real poetic self can be extracted from her various poems .collected in three anthologies : Summer in Calcutta (1965), The Descendants (1967) and Old Playhouse and Other Poems (1973)

Kamala Das writes about the plight of womanhood in Indian society with. amazing candour . It is difficult for a woman to preserve her sanity , let alone her identity ! She writes :

"I must pose,
I must pretend,
I must act the role
Of happy woman
Happy wife
I must keep right distance
Between me and the low
And I must keep right distance
Between me and the high " (The Suicide )

Life is no bed of roses for an Indian woman . Her path is strewn with thorns in the form of innumerable do's and don'ts ! Womanhood is a curse under the Indian skies . This is most tersely and poignantly expressed in the line " the weight of my breasts and womb crushed me " ( An Introduction) .

Her poem Old Playhouse is a vehement indictment of patriarchy . A girl comes to the house of her husband with great expectations of love and happiness .Alas! Her new home soon proves to be the graveyard of her dreams . Kamala Das gives expression to a woman's indignation when her husband systematically reduces her to the position of a sex- slave . :

"You planned to tame a swallow , to hold her
In the long summer of your lust so that shewould forget
Not the raw seasons alone and the home left behind her
Also her nature , the urge to fly "

These lines describe the fate of every girl who gets trapped into marriage . Her desire to grow , to have self-knowledge and , self- realization is crushed . She is reduced to the position of a helpless hanger-on on her husband . She is nothing more than a sex-object :

You dribbled spittle into my mouth , you poured
Yourself into every nook and cranny .You embalmed
My poor lust with your bitter-sweet juices
You called me wife "

In the suffocating atmosphere of her new home the woman" loses her will and reason" .The room is filled with the oppressive smell of " male breath" . Even the cut flowers in the vase smell of human sweat . She feels herself to be a" dwarf cowering beneath the monstrous ego " of her husband .

Kamaqla Das's feminism boils down to one simple and single demand -love! She is not opposed to male domination It is here that her feminism differs from that of Western feminists like Kate Millet , Elaine Showalter and Virginia Woolf . It is not a subversive philosophy with a political agenda .for Kamala Das . Love is what a woman needs most .Without it she will wither away like a flower plucked from its stalk . She says :

" I want to be loved
if love is not to be had
I want to be dead "

Kamala Das's feminism matured over the years into an existentialist view of things . One can notice a certain ambivalence in her feminism . In her later poems she does not regard her breasts and womb as symbols of subjugation .On the contrary, she exults in them . they are the symbols of her power and glory . Her poem Jaisurya is a celebration of motherhood . A woman needs a man to attain this moment of ecstasy which she gets when she hears the cry of her new-born baby . A woman's life would be lustreless without a man whose touch alone can make her"gleam like burnished brass " (The Looking Glass )

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