Portrayal of Motherhood: A critique of Kamala Das’ and Nissim Ezekiel’s Select poetry
By Dr Naveen K Mehta
Kamala Das, one of the vibrant voices in modern poetry in English, has successfully portrayed Mother’s point of view in her one of the poems, entitled, “The Middle Age.” It is a powerful intimate poem. The poem is a direct reference to the poetess. Although the poetess has not used the word ‘I’ but it clearly indicates the poetess. The mother in the poem feels that a mother feels that a mother is no longer young when her children grow up and behave as critics rather than friends. The Children do not attach any value to the mother’ need of their love and intimacy yet the mother pines and longs for their love. But she does not get their love and weeps secretly at this loss. Here the mother has been described in her middle age when she feels a kind of isolation and separation from her children. As soon as the children become young, there was a drastic change in their attitude. In the “Middle Age”, the mother wrote an invitation to her children. She signed their name as squirrel. But her children did not take it seriously.
“I wrote a letter invited my
Sons----to a tea party that
Was to take place on Saturday
Under the largest tree-I signed
My name as squirrel and
immediately posted it”. (My Story)
Thus, it depicts the pitiful picture of a mother when she comes to her middle age and her children grow as adults. Her children are then not her friends but critics. They think that the only relation with them is to look after their daily needs. Even they avoid her teachings and commands. They only think her a female servant to support them in their mundane affairs. So when she is left alone, she touches their books and other objects yet she loves them immensely and secretly. On the contrary, her children feel as grown up and are disgusted with the mother’s unnatural and bizarre behaviour. They do not give any value to the activities of the love expressed by their love-lorn mother. They always reminded her that she was no more a young woman. It filled mother’s heart with sadness and she shattered down completely. But the mother tries her best to settle the matter with her children. It is illustrated by the invitation, which she addressed to her sons. She signed her name as squirrel but her sons responded her sharply and bitterly. They again reminded her that she was no more a young woman and she should keep away herself from such childish things. So she must not live in a dream world. It is unfolded that the mother loved her sons very much even in adverse and unfavourable circumstances. She behaved like children as she did in their childhood. She weeps at the loss of her children’s love.
Kamla Das beautifully described the comparison between childhood and manhood. “The pupae burst their cocoons and transforms into the adult form of glorious butterflies. In the same way the children come out of their childhood and change into adults. Manhood is glorious with its special traits. But it looks quite harsh to a mother as her children do not reflect warmth of love and attachment as before.
Nissim Ezekiel occupies a significant place in the post-independent poetry. His one of the Poems ‘Night of the Scorpion’ is set in a family situation. A scorpion has stung the poet’s mother. To cure her, al sorts of treatment are tried, but she gets better only after twenty hours., almost naturally. The poet described the pains, agonies, and sufferings of the mother minutely. During the twenty hours the poet’s mother suffered a lot but the poet’s mother kept sublime and generous qualities of a mother. It is revealed when his mother became well again and she thanked God for sparing her children from the vicious bite of the scorpion.
“My mother only said
Thank God the scorpion picked on me
And spared my children”. (Night of the Scorpion)
In the poem, the poet tells us about the conditions in which the scorpion stung his mother. The poet imagines the story happening in sub-urban part of Bombay where during rainy season it pours incessantly. One such fateful day when it had been raining continuously for more than ten hours a scorpion came into the poet’s house and getting his chance, stung the poet’s mother. The scorpion attacked the poet’s mother with his poisonous tail and soon vanished in the rain which knew no stopping. After the event, the poet became unaware about what to do next and local folk began to swarm in the house of the poet. They claimed the name of the God so that the influence of the Devil could be brought under control and an end. Here, Ezekiel seems to draw upon the Hindu view of Karma and its attendant consequences. The villagers desired that all the accumulated sins of her past life may be burned away in the suffering They also felt that the present suffering would mitigate her future suffering and enabled her to attain salvation. It was also likely that all her sins could be cancelled out. They desired that the poison may be purifying her of the sensual sins, jealousy, hatred and ambitions. The villagers sat surrounding the poet’s mother. The number of the visitors increased every minute. All the time the mother had been twisting with pangs of pain. After her recovery, her first reaction was to thank God for sparing her children from Scorpion, reflected her gentle attitude as a typical Indian mother. The mother’s care for her children is highlighted boldly by the poet.
Thus, so far, Indo-Anglian poetry has venerated and elevated the status of mother. It is successful in bringing out the essential of a mother. It does not only provide us problems, anxieties, sufferings, sorrows and happiness of the motherhood but also sublime characteristics of it.
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Das, Kamla, "My Story". New Delhi : Sterling Publishers, 1988.
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Iyenger, K. R. Srinivasa. "Indian Writing in English". 3rd ed. New Delhi.: Sterling Publishers, 1984.
Kurup, P. K. G. "Contemporary Indian Poetry in English". New Delhi : Atlantic Publishers and Distributors, 1991.
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(Source: The Criterion: An International Journal in English; ISSN 0976-8165; Vol. I. Issue III 1 December 2010)