Man-Woman relationship: A reading between the lines in the selected poems of Kamala Das
Dr. Farahnaz Yousefi
06 May 2011
Kamala Das was born in an erudite family in Kerela in 1934. She was married at the age of fifteen to a man who was much older and employed in a city. He came to be a father to his wife and his children. Young Kamala, who harbored many romantic illusions, was not able to relate them to a husband, who seemed paternal, and school masterish. This dissatisfaction is a dominant feature of her poems.
However Kamala Das is the first Indian woman who openly talks about the sexual desires and experiences of Indian women. Her poems are known for their honest explorations of Women’s social unrest in respect of education and career, sexual desire and frustration, suffocation of a loveless marriage, and such other things are powerfully dealt for the first time in her poems. The prime concern of Kamala’s poems has been the age old relationship between man and woman. One is aware that right from Adam and Eve, man and woman have come together and lived together agreeing to disagree. This relationship has always been fraught with troubles.
The cosmic cause of procreation is fulfilled by the tug-of-war and the attraction between opposites. This relationship has always been held up as one ordained by Gods and therefore not to be questioned. However, Kamala Das questions this blind acceptance of matrimony and its inherent quality of subjugation of women. Often in her poems, she shows up the unfairness of this union. She couches her dissatisfaction in plain words. Her language is controlled honest and free. But, very expressive of the angst felt by a woman trying to build a name in a man’s world. So by analyzing the following poems we can see and understand the deep agony of a woman forced to succumb to an insensitive man. In “An Introduction” which is one of her poems we see protest against domination of the world by men; it is one of the recurring themes in this poem.
Kamala Das’ feminism or her advocacy of the rights of women clearly appears here. She expresses that when she asked for love, she got a husband, who could not give her the true love, which she expects. He approached sexual union crudely without any sensitivity. Though there was no physical violence, the sexual act itself made her feel miserable. The poetess says that she could not get any love from her husband so she went to other lovers and tried to get a real love from them. She did not like the men who did not give her true love which she desired to have. She concludes that all men are similar; they don’t pay any attention to the woman’s heart, her longings and her aspirations. She says “I am sinner, I am saint. I am the beloved and the betrayed.”Here with device of antithesis she conveys to us a sense of loneliness and of being trapped inevitably in the hand of a lover who gives her love and yet makes her feel that she is betraying herself. Kamala Das’ poems voice not only her own resentment against her husband but, by implication, the resentment of other women who find themselves in a similar predicament.
In the poem “The Freaks” she experiences certain degree of disgust about her sexual relationship. One can see a strange relationship between man and woman. The hands of man are on the knee of his beloved. They are ready in an attempt to make love, but their minds are away from love. There are little hurdles in the way of the fulfillment of the sexual desire. There is no emotional contact at all. This poem paints a rather helpless situation when the man is passive and the woman is burning with desire, but she is helpless. It is about lack of human communication and failure of man-woman relationship. The phraseology employed in this poem is noteworthy as being very effective in convening the poetess’ reaction of disgust to her lover or, maybe, her husband.
The poetess realizes that her marriage had failed and they have not really been able to achieve any conjugal happiness. Her empty heart is therefore filled only with a stinging silence comparable to coiled snakes which could sting a person at the least provocation. She calls herself a freak or an abnormal person who makes a show of being lustful to be regarded as a normal person. Kamala Das wants her husband to regard for her individuality. She rebels against man’s technique to convert his wife into slavish miniature of himself in personality. “The old playhouse” tell us that love is perhaps no more than a way of learning about one’s self or the completion of one’s own personality. It is about the fever of domesticity, the routine of lust, artificial comfort, and male domination. She compares herself to a swallow and her husband to a captor who wanted to tame her and keep her fully under his control.
He wanted to make her forget all those comforts which she might have enjoyed in her home before being married, but in addition to that, he wanted also to make her forget her very nature and her inner love of freedom by keeping her in a state of subjugation to him. The poem indicates that her husband had not made it possible for her to learn anything because he was a self-centered man and his egoism prevented him from letting her learn anything except his own nature and disposition. Again the poetess explains her continuous search for love and for understanding of herself. To her, the drab drawing room is prison and she is fed up with the daily routine of a housewife.
Ultimately she got the impression that her personality, instead of developing, had been reduced in stature, almost to nothingness and her mind was like forsaken theatre-hall which was no longer in uses. For Kamala Das, ideal love is fulfillment on the levels of body and mind. We can see the extra-marital relationship in the next poem “In Love”. In this poem Kamala Das gives us a brief account of asexual experience which created a kind of dilemma for her. She expresses her difficulty in relating to a man who had made love to her in a rough manner. She describes that in his relationship with her, there had been no room, no excuse, and even no need for love, and that every embrace between them had been like a finished jigsaw which is a complicated situation. At the end of the poem she talks about a lover to whom she went to learn about love.
Since she is already committed, she dare not call her games with him ‘love,’ she calls it the ‘skin-communicated’ thing or purely a physical desire, as if, it is a communicable disease. Kamala Das here, suspects not only her lover of wanting merely to satisfy his lust without any feelings of love for her, but she suspects herself also of being lustful at the time and having no love in her heart. In the poem “Sunset, Blue Bird”, she talks about the poetess hatred for her husband and her relation with him after one year from their marriage. She says that he loved her in the beginning of their life, they were happy but soon their love came to an end. The poetess says that her husband doesn’t care for her, is not waiting for her and does not call her out any more. She tells that when she is with her friends, her face becomes pale as soon as she remembers her husband’s cruelty.
These confessions show that it is the husband who is responsible for her unhappiness; it is he who after one year changes his mind and does not have any love for her. Her husband is like any other man and does not care for her happiness or unhappiness. Next poem, “The Stone Age” deals with the reality of love being offered to the poetess by another man rather than by her husband. This poem portrays the husband of the poetess as “old fat spider” who weaves webs of bewilderment around her and erects the dead, dull stony wall of domesticity, and thus the callous indifference of her husband turns her into “a bird of stone”. His touch and strokes have no warmth in them. He does not even allow her to dream. With loud talk, he bruises her pre-morning sleep and “sticks a finger into her dreaming eye”. She calls her husband primitive man who lived in the Stone Age. The husband is the eternal irritant, an unwelcome intruder into the privacy of the wife’s mind, and her life with him is so difficult for her that she cannot tolerate it any more. She wants to be free from the prison which he has made. The poem shows that she does not bother about her roundabouts and just wishes for more freedom.
Kamala Das analyses man-woman relationship from an anti-romantic angle and protest against womanhood suppressed by ethics and taboos. As she has mentioned in almost all poems her husband’s contact with her was usually cruel and brutal. She grew revengeful towards him and reacted in a non-traditional fashion in love-making. We can say that Kamala Das has an inner language that not only fascinates, but also reveals that she is a bold and daring poetess. She gives very bold pen-pictures of the interaction between man and woman without compromising her femininity.
Every time you read a Kamala Das’ poem, you realize that it has many hidden depths. They give candor and honesty to her poems. In reading between the lines, one finds many treasure troves of meaning. It is always an interesting exercise to engage in reading a Kamala Das’ poem. It has many layers to uncover.
Presented by Farahnaz Yousefi, National Seminar on Indian Writing in English & in English Translation, Department of English, University of Pune, 25 – 27 FEB 2009.
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