Divine Obsession in Kamala Das Poetry
Kamala Das belongs to the Modern Indian English Poets who has brought into English Poetry the concept of Confessional Poetry which we ordinarily do not find among other Indian English poets particularly the woman poets. In Kerala, her birth place, she gained fame by her short stories and autobiographies written in the local language (Malayalam) whereas in English Language, it is the poetry that has given her a significant place.
Her family has a considerable influence over her literary carrier. Her mother was a writer and was no doubt her first role model in the world of literature. However, it was her uncle and later her husband under whom she became a prominent and renowned poet of English.
In 2009, The Times called her ‘the mother of Modern Indian English Poetry”
Being a woman and born in India, she was well aware of the fact that it is not so easy for her to succeed in literary career and hence once claimed “poetry does not sell in this county (India)”. However she was quite wrong in her perception as her poetry is considered to be one of its own kinds.
Kamala Das was born in a conservative Hindu family that had royal ancestry but later on in 199 9 she embraced Islam after being influenced by her lover Sadiq Ali. Whether being Hindu or Muslim, she showed stern faith in the Divine and we find instances of Divine obsession in a large number of her writings.
HER LITERARY PERSONA
The poetry of Kamala Das mostly represents a realistic and humanistic view of the life of a woman in the society. Being married at an early age to an old person and having suffered a lot in her husband’s family, she was much frustrated by her life and she would often pray to God for peace, equality and justice in the society regarding the women and sometimes she would even desire for death.
Being frank and truthful in her writings, she presents in plain words, all these social, sexual, religious and household issues in her poetry which Tom Dick and Harry can go through. One finds confessional instances in terms of love, sex, relations, faith etc.
She is a stern feminist, a fighter against male-centred society that looks down the woman. She is of the view that men are ‘deliberate tacticians’ who tame a bird, turn her into a ‘granite dove’ and make the bird to forget her nature: the urge to fly. She writes:
“Covering beneath your monstrous ego,
I ate the magic loaf and became a dwarf”
Thus she prays to divine to bring justice in the society where the people may treat the woman as they treat the men, where they follow the just laws of nature rather than the prejudiced norms of the society, where the woman may have freedom to express her sexual desires before the men and not remain dumb.
Thus she becomes ‘the every woman’, who is silenced by the orthodox principles of the Indian society and prays to God,
“I am a million million silences
Strung like crystal beads
Onto someone else’s
(Summer in Calcutta, 1965)
HER CONCEPT OF DIVINITY
Kamala Das being highly critical of the society seeks the help of divine who is, for her, ‘the ultimate guide’. For her, the conception of the God and the faith is interpreted in a wrong way by the society and considers it as “ancient virus” that has been “nurtured in the soul” and she thus rejects the popular belief and quests for the apt path of the divine in her imaginations. For her God is in the heart of every human.
You have a koel built your
Nest in the arbour of my heart.
My life until now a sleeping jungle,
Is at last astir with music”
(Tonight This Savage rite, 1979)
In her poem Ghanashyam, she compares God with a Koel (a bird) who has built her nest in the heart of the poet. Until now the heart or in a broader sense, her life was solitary, gloomed and ruined jungle which has now been excited is back into life by the sweet music of koel i.e. the Ghanashyam.
The music described here signifies the flute enchanted by Krishna. According to the faith of the poet, when a person listens to the music enchanted by Krishna, he sinks into the profound depth of the carol. A time comes when he realises God and surrenders himself completely to Him.
But now as the time has changed, people have become more realistic and materialistic and give less consideration to God, religion and devoutness. Kamala Das considers herself to be a spiritualistic person and apart from the materialistic and man-centred society.
“Everything in me
Is melting, even the hardness at the core
O, Krishna. I am melting, melting, melting
Nothing remains but you”
She considers herself to be completely surrendered to Krishna. She has given up all the mortal and temporary worldly attractions and has devoted herself in the worship of Krishna. For her, Krishna is the ultimate destiny, beyond which there seems to be nothing. She imagines that her soul i.e. Atma is melting down and even her body has lost and merged in the God i.e. Parmatama.
“Your body is my prison Krishna
I cannot see beyond it.
Your darkness blinds me
Your love words shut out the wise world’s din”
(From Only the Soul Knows How to Sing)
And now that she has attained the spiritualism, she ironically satirises the so-called wisdom of the society. The play is on the word “wise”. The word wise here means the folly ideology of the society. The wise words of the people are therefore on contrary to the divine.
She imagines that it is the God who has led her along a route (probably her poetic carrier) that she was unaware of before. She has not attained this carrier by herself but it is God (residing in her heart) who has made her to follow this path. For her it is apt path and it is justified to fight against the norms of the male-centred society and the orthodox beliefs.
“You lead me along a route
I have never known before”
(Tonight This Savage rite, 1979)
But sometimes, the God that she imagines to be residing in her heart and in whom she has completely lost often makes her hopeless and sorrowful because when she tries to go near Him by her devoted, dedicated and honest prayers, He vanishes like the flame of the fire, thus again leaving her in solitude and gloom.
“But at each turn when I near you
Like spectral flame you vanish.”
(Tonight This Savage rite, 1979)
These words probably depict that now that she has tried to follow the route provided by the God, she has become victim of harsh criticism of the society that considers her a disbeliever, characterless and hypocrite woman. At such a stage, she feels that Krishna should have been with her to guide her, inspire her and help her to fight against them, but instead she feels alone and solitary and shows her tiff with God.
HER COMPLAINS TO GOD
Kamala Das has suffered a lot because of womanhood, her aged husband, her family and society. Thus being frustrated and tired of these things, she complains to the God against injustice of the society and also about her condition and indirectly she exposes the vices of the society over the woman and womanhood.
In the poem The Seven Ages of Woman, she explains the journey of a woman from the time of her birth to her death. At every stage woman had to face some kind of difficulty. And society is directly responsible for such miseries suffered by her.
In our society, the girl is often considered to be an unwanted child and is mostly unwelcomed when she comes out of the womb of her mother to the world. Now with the advancement of technology, the girl is murdered even before coming to the world. Thus from the beginning of her life, she is supposed to suffer. The poet laments over it.
“For each cell
Within her did tell that she was
not wanted there”
(Seven Ages of Woman)
Now that she grows up, she is forcibly married to someone without consulting her. She is thus trapped into the matrimonial alliance. Her own desire or will has no value for her parents or the guardians. They just want to make go quit their home.
“Her guardian thrust her into
The trap of matrimony that
Was prescribed by the tradition
And the society”
(Seven Ages of Woman)
This shows her disregards for the society. A woman hopes to live in freedom and joy and satisfy her desires and is not willing to marry, yet she is forced to leave her home and go to someone else home.
Here a bundle of new miseries take birth for her. She is forced to perform sex which is a pleasurable thing in the eyes of society, but for her it is something that hurts her womanhood. Kamala Das depicts that these rules are prescribed by the society and are mistakenly considered to be framed by divine.
“She returns from her honeymoon
Feeling silly, sullied, for lust had been
Taken for the real mucky and
Marriage, despite its awesome earthiness,
Mistaken to be divine.”
(Seven Ages of Woman)
The poet explains her bed experience. She fairly tells about her first night with her husband. Being innocent, she was of the view that her first night was going to be pleasurable for her as her husband would give her the love that she often longed for. But, what happened was on contrary to her views. Her husband was an aged man, and instead of showing any love to her, he satisfied his lust and left her spirit untouched, thus hurting her dignity.
“When I asked for love, not knowing what else to ask
For, he drew a youth of sixteen into the
Bedroom and closed the door. He did not beat me
But my sad woman-body felt so beaten,
The weight of my breasts and womb crushed me.”
Her spirit remained hungry for love, emotions and care in that night. Her husband failed to please her. He could not go through her feelings and emotions and kept his business up to her naked body only. This story that Kamala Das explains to God and indirectly to the society is the sorrowful story of every woman of our society who because of the customs and traditions cannot speak out before her husband as well as her family and society. Hence Kamala Das has given voice to this prolonged silence of the suffering women.
She explains another similar incidence to God,
“His ageing body in its pride meeting the need for mine
And each time his lust was quietened
And he turned his back on me
In panic I asked don’t you want me any longer
Don’t you want me?
Don’t you, don’t you.
She narrates that whenever her lover desired her, it was only because of lust for her naked body. He wanted to use her body. He would perform intercourse with her and then turn his back to her, leaving her unloved, uncared and thirsty for the spiritual love and appreciation.
The miseries are not only by her husband but her family also contributes to them.
“Dress in sarees, be girl,
Be wife, they said. Be embroiderer, be cook,
Be a quarreller with servants……
On walls or peep in through our lace-draped windows
Be Amy, or be Kamala. Or, better
Still, be Madhavikutty. It is time to
Choose a name, a role. Don’t play pretending games.
Don’t play at schizophrenia or be a
Nympho. Don’t cry embarrassingly loud when
Jilted in love.”
No sooner she enters her new home; her new family starts forbidding her actions and thus putting restriction on her freedom and desires. This is the story of every woman of our society that Kamala Das exposes. The norms of the society, which are of course not framed by the divine, take away the freedom of woman. She has to remain a slave in her house. She has to obey her husband, the family of husband and nears and dears. She is advised to keep sorrows away. If she is hurt, she should keep silence and bear rather than expressing them.
“I must pose
I must pretend
I must act the role
Of happy woman
Now as she grows old, the so-called love, which was lustful and in the form of cuddling and kissing, also starts withering away. The words of love that once rained over her become fewer, the holding of hands becomes an obsolete practice and thus the little love that the husband expressed during her youth, comes to an end and the woman again becomes a useless thing.
“In maturity there is no movement
No hand stuck out to clash another. No
Attempt to kiss or declare love, no
Writing down of beautiful lines that
Beset the mind at night. No awards are
Found necessary, no letters needs
To be written or received, one becomes
A lotus closed for night, timeless
In its ovate perfection.”
(Where the Wayside Flowers Have Wilted)
The poet here personifies the lost youth with lotus flower closed at night. Both lotus and youth of woman are appreciated when they are in their blooming season. However this bloom is for a brief period. Both enter into a phase of “timeless ovation” as their youth cannot return back because “Glory has its waning phase”. Now a time comes the children start adding miseries to their mothers. They do not need their mothers and throw them out of their homes.
“We throw the grey-haired
Mothers who have outlived their use.”
Kamala Das exposes every unjust violence, of which the women are victims, before the God and also describe to us how different are our ways from the ways of God. She asks the God to help her in changing all these unjust social doctrines.
Kamala Das also exposes the orthodoxy in matters of faith that prevail in our society. Men of one faith are advised by their elders to keep distance from those belonging to the other faith(s). We are asked to keep ourselves aloof from eating, drinking, sitting and even talking with them. A person belonging to other faith than one’s own is seen as an alien or a foe.
Being born in a conservative Hindu Family, poet experiences the same thing. She is also given the same suggestions. However when she is grows up into a mature woman and recognises the reality of such worn-out doctrines, she decides to not believe or act upon them as she has believes in Universal God (i.e. the God of all). At this, the society threatens her to butcher her. Not only has this but also murdered her children.
Walked with hearts grown scabrous with a hate, illogical,
And chose not to believe…..
Slay them who do not
Believe, or better still, disembowel their young ones
And scatter on the streets the meagre innards.”
She is quite astonished at such a reaction of the society that, for the sake of its worn-out doctrines, seizes the right to freedom of a person. For Kamala Das the hatred spread by our orthodox religious beliefs left behind by our ancestors is worse than the nuclear waste.
“Worse than even the nuclear waste
The wastes religions leave behind
In human genes and memory”
HER CONCEPT OF LOVE
Kamala Das is of the view that love is something very difficult to achieve. She exemplifies her failure to in getting love with that of Radha.
“At sunset, on the river ban, Krishna
Loved her for the last time and left…
That night in her husband’s arms, Radha felt
So dead that he asked, what is wrong?
Do you mind my kisses, love? And she said,
No, not at all, but thought, what is
It to the corpse if the maggots nip?
(From The Descendants)
In Hindu mythology, Radha is the beloved of Krishna. She is elder than Krishna, but still both have spiritual love among them. Krishna is already married to a number of other women, but loves Radha the most. However, the circumstances lead to the failure of their union.
Krishna is supposed to leave Radha forever as he is going to become a king. He goes to meet Radha for the last time on a river bank. They are locked in embrace. Krishna kisses her, however Radha seems to remain unaffected by it. She considers herself to be like a corpse. The kisses of Krishna are like maggots that bite dead body, having no effect on her.
For Kamala Das, her story of unattained love is similar to that of Radha. She like Radha, has everything except for the love. It is her hunger for the love that makes her to cry,
“If love is not to be had
I want to be dead, just dead”
She believes that “Love is what makes you alive”. For her, there is no life without love and woman in our society is as dead as a corpse because the society does not provide her the right to be loved or express her love. Man considers her as an object of pleasure and after using her, he doesn’t trouble to give her love that is the need of her hungry soul.
HER CRY FOR PEACE
Being frustrated by her husband, family, the society, faith and unachieved love she finds no other option than the God and says
“I want a peace that I can tote
Like an infant in my arms
I want a peace that will doze
In the whites of my eyes when I smile”
She compares the peace with the pleasure that a mother enjoys with her newly born baby and prays to Ghanshyam to give her such a peace that should glow in her eyes when she smiles.
These lines depict her state of mind. She is restless and fife. Sorrows and grieves of the world have taken away her peace of mind. She desires peace to glow in her eyes which signifies that her smile is not real as it has hidden thousands of miseries behind it. She smiles without euphoria as there is “No peace, no goal at all in eye’s range”.
Now that the society is plagued with a number of vices that are unbearable by the woman, “It’s time for a revolution”; “It’s time for an overturning”. Krishna has shown her the path of revolution which she was unaware of. She as the representative of divine becomes a revolutionary person for the woman of the contemporary world. The headings of some of her articles themselves depict the revolutionary ideas like-“Why Not More Than One Husband”, “What Women Expect out of Marriage and What They Get”
Women are now not supposed to bear the domestic, social as well as orthodox religious violence. She asks the woman to give up their silence and break the protocols of the society. She advises them to become frank in sexual matters. They should not be crushed under the lust of their husbands.
“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. Notice the perfection
Of his limbs, his eyes reddening under
The shower, the shy walk across the bathroom floor,
Dropping towels, and the jerky way he
Urinates. All the fond details that make
Him male and your only man. Gift him all,
Gift him what makes you woman, the scent of
Long hair, the musk of sweat between the breasts,
The warm shock of menstrual blood, and all your
Endless female hungers.”
(The Looking Glass)
She doesn’t feel shy in telling their task as revolutionary women. She explains to them how to get maximum pleasure with their lovers. She also questions the patriarchy and pleas for equity.
Kamala Das is rightly considered to be the “mother of Modern Indian English Poetry”. Her poems reflect the urge for change in society. The woman should also be given the same status as that of man. She should not be considered as a belonging of someone but should have her own identity.
The divine obsession in her poems is a message for the society which has become ignorant of her troubles. The poet gives voice to the silent message of every woman so that our society may hear their cries hidden behind their silence and give her freedom of thought and expression. She may also enjoy the pleasure of love and her status may remain as such even after her youth is gone.
Her prayer to Krishna, her pleas to the sea, her cry for the love and peace are the prayers and cries of all the women. Every woman of our society desires to attain the dignity in the society.
Hence Kamala Das as the voice of every woman has her significant position in the world of literature.
- “Kamala Das Poems.” Poem Hunter.com. Web.
- Pink, Hyacinth. “Swallows Fly Tame: Kamala Das’s Journey to ‘Womanhood.’” Discourses on Contemporary Indian English Poets. Dominic, K V. (New Delhi: Gnosis 2010) 55. Print.
- Rehman, Anisur and Ameena Kazi Ansari Indian English Women Poets. New Delhi: Creative Books, 2009. Print.
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