Blend of confession and protest in the poems of Kamala Das
- - Dr. Archana Singh, Amity School of Liberal Arts Amity University Haryana Gurgaon, India
Confessional poetry is a style of poetry that emerged in the United States during the 1950s. It has been described as poetry "of the personal," focusing on extreme moments of individual experience. Confessional Poetswrite about subjects which are considered as taboo for a woman, like speaking about sexual acts, sexual desire, description of private body parts, extramarital associations, lesbian relationship.The school of "Confessional Poetry" was associated with several poets who redefined American poetry in the '50s and '60s, including Robert Lowell, Sylvia Plath, John Berryman,Anne Sexton, Allen Ginsberg, and W. D. Snodgrass.According to Robert Philip confessional poetry arises from the need to confess, “It is in some waya declaration of dependence” or of guilt or of anguish and suffering.(8)Kamala Das's poetry appeals everyone, like a ripe mango, it needs no training in taste to appreciate. She received no formal education but then also she is a conscientious artist who is mainly guided by her impulse and instinct for precise and harmonious words. She is fully aware of the value of words and their finer shades of meanings.Das's provocative poems are known for their unflinchingly honest explorations of the self and female sexuality, urban life, women's roles in traditional Indian society, issues of postcolonial identity, and the political and personal struggles of marginalized people. She writes in both Malayalam and English and has published eleven books in her mother tongue and three books of poems in English.
Recognized as a confessional poet Kamala Das drives the readers into the world of her personal and private life and with inhibited frankness reveals the delicate facts about her marriage and extra-marital affairs.
It is I who drink lonely
Drinks at twelve, midnight, in hotels of strange towns,
It is I who laugh, it is I who make love
And then, feel shame, it is I who lie dying
With a rattle in my throat.
I am sinner,
I am saint.
I am beloved and the betrayed.
I have no joys which are not yours, no
Aches which are not yours.
I too call myself I. (The Old Playhouse 27)
The above mentioned lines depict the bold confession and the crude patriarchy which tries to suppress the emotions and the identity of a woman. She in her effort to discover, her own self, unknowingly shook the norms of Indian society whose rules are different for man and woman.She was 15 when married to a bank employee.She got married, not exactly understanding what marriage is, and what it demands of her as a woman. How loveless sexual assaults are committed on a woman in the name of marriage are boldly expressed in her poem “AnIntroduction”:
I was child, and later they
Told me I grew, for
I became tall, my limbs
Swelled and one or two places sprouted hair.
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 Old Playhouse 26)
Kamala Das’s poems unflinchingly epitomize the dilemma of the modern Indian women who attempt to free herself sexually, domestically, and economically from the roles sanctioned to her by the man-made world.ManmohanBhatnagarsays that "Kamala's poetry embodies agonies of women emerging from that state of subjugation and bondage, and seeking to establish their identity and the self.” (Bhatnagar7).Her poems when focused upon love encompass a wide range of themes, more realized settings and with tender feelings, bringing to it an intensity of emotion and speech. She is a revolutionary writer. Like an anatomist Kamala Das analyzes her own self, her own female psyche. Her own self emerges so powerfully in her poetry that even the moribund system, lying concealed under the social sanctity, is totally punctured by her virulent assault.Nila Shah and PramodkumarNayar says in The Introduction of Modern Indian Poetryin English: Critical Studies “Kamala Das, indisputably India’s best women –poet to date, shocked and mesmerised audience with her confessional mode…Writing a poetry that was remarkably sensual… and constantly interrogating the “persistence” of English in her deeper thoughts, Das helped launch a different woman’s voice.(12)
KamalaDas’s poetry delineates the best expression of feminine sensibility, its suppression in a male dominated society that’s why her poetry is judged as confessional and autobiographical to a great extent, but at times she publicised what is personal.Iyengar says that: “Kamala Das is a fiercely feminine sensibility that dares without inhibitions to articulate that the hurts she has received in an insensitive largely man-made world.” (680). Asa child, she experienced a life of neglect from her parents and even from her school mates. Her mother and father had their own interests to pursue and so had very little time to spare for the children. In her autobiography My Storyshe has mentioned their unsuited alliance,“My mother did not fall in love with my father. They are dissimilar and horribly mismatched” (Kamala 5). Even after marriage there is no solace from this neglected life,she sincerely universalizesthat her marriage is not successful.She was trapped in a loveless marriage to an overbearing man. Das explicitly describes the traditional gender roles and hegemony of a man over woman:
You called me wife,
I was taught to break saccharine into your tea and
To offer at the right moment the vitamins.
Beneath your monstrous ego
I ate the magic loaf and
Became a dwarf (The Old Playhouse 1)
Kamala Das’s poetry is categorised as confessional because she has revealed her secret thoughts and feelings thus taking the readers into her confidence.Das explicitly describes sexuality between the two partners:
You were pleased
With my body’s response, its weather, its usual shallow
You dribbled spittle into my mouth,
Yourself into every nook and cranny,
My poor lust with your bitter-sweet juices (The Old Playhouse 1)
Her marital experience seems to be so unhappy that like a bitter satirist she advises couples in the poem “Composition”:
Husbands and wives, here is my advice to you.
Obey each other’s crazy commands, ignore is the sane.
Turn your home into a
marriage is meant to be all this anyway,
being arranged in most
humorous heaven (The old Playhouse 3)
She wrote and published her sensational autobiography ‘My Story’ in 1976 at the age of 42 during her serious illness of heart disease. She wrote it for two reasons: On her doctor’s request to distract her mind from the fear of death and to pay for her hospital bills.All throughout My Story there is a rebellion or revolt against all sorts of domination including male domination. It is her rebellious attitude that makes her disclose the atrocities committed by rich zamindars and wealthy Nair men towards poor women. She had to face a lot of animosity from relatives for such honest narration of facts which would otherwise have remained hidden from the knowledge of the world.
The work of Kamala Das has been labelled as confessional, but it may with equal justice be labelled as the work of protest. Her writings can be a protest in the sense that it conveys her strong vehement disapproval of the way in which women in India have been treated for ages and ages. Das’s poems protest against the deep rooted malaise prevalent in patriarchal /matriarchal society and against the restraints and restrictions which husband or society in general impose upon women.The poem “Nani” is an evocative and expressive poem of protest which exposes the cruelty of rich zamindars and aristocratic men towards the poor maid servants during the feudal times. These women were misused by them and sometimes even killed afterwards to hush up matters.
Nani the pregnant maid hanged herself
In the privy one day.
For three long hours
Until the police came, she was hanging there ( TheOld Playhouse 40)
Through this poemKamala delineates that the matriarchal head turned a blind eye to such things to protect the image of the family, which is very well expressed in the poem when kamala enquire about Nani from her grandmother and who shows her ignorance :
Another year or two,and,
I asked my grand mother
One day, don’t you remember
Nani, the dark
Plump one who bathed me near the well? Grandmother
Shifted the reading glasses on her nose
And stared at me.
Nani, she asked , who is she? (The old playhouse 40)
She is not merely a writer of her personal experiences. The plight of her fellow beings does not go unheeded by her.At the timewhen Kamala Das wrote her poetry, the Indian woman was subservient to her parents or her husband while the questions of having extra-marital relationship did not arise at all. Kamala Das was one of the few to claim such freedom and to attain this freedom to the fullest possible extent.The tinge of protest can be seen when her autobiography My Storyhit the book stalls in Kerala and in other parts of the country her relatives felt deeply embarrassed and perturbed over her revelations of her “certain well – guarded secrets.” (Diwedi140). The result was that she was not welcomed by her family and even ignored by her acquaintances But then also she did not stop writing andconfessing. She felt immense pleasure in writing it, as she has expresses in her preface: “I have written several books in my life time, but none of them provided the pleasure the writing of My Story has given me.”(Kamala 1).
On the whole Kamala Das is against the exploitation of anything, be it body or mind. She hates the enforcement of society. Though she enjoys being a woman, but when her individuality is attacked;and when she is ordered to follow a fixed pattern of life, she revolts against it. Hence, she sometimes considers female body a burden. The urge for release from this bondage gives her poetry great intensity. This discloses her earnest desire to wear shirt and trousers:
I wore a shirt and my
Brother’s trousers, cut my hair short and ignored
My womanliness (The Old playhouse 26).
She confesses that the desire of wearing male clothes stems from the frustration and despair that she has suffered, throughout her life, for being a woman. Thus, through her defiant self-assertions, Kamala Das increases our awareness of how the dead weight of outworn values can block the emotional and intellectual growth of an individual. It is in such a rebellious mood against the conservative society that makes her ask if she is happy as a wife and woman:
Woman, is this happiness, this lying buried,
Beneath a man?
It is time again to come alive,
The world intends a lot beyond his six foot frame (The Descendants 21)
She through her works tries to evoke the feelings of equality and identity of women. She strongly protests the fixed rules of man-made society and tries to instil courage in women and enlightens them not to surrender her body and soul to anyone who consider them as a toy and disrespect them. Her poems wish to make women aware of their freedom and individuality. She wants to liberate and emancipates them from the bondage of society.
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Das, Kamala. The Descendants, Calcutta: Writers workshop, 1991. Print.
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Philips, Robert. The confessional Poets.Southern Illinois University Press, 1973.Print.
Shah, Nila and Pramod K. Nayar.Modern Indian Poetry in English, Critical Studies. New Delhi: Creative Books, 2000. Print
(Source: Research Scholar)
(Source: Research Scholar)