Friday, 27 January 2017

Filling in the Silences: Kamala Das's Short Stories

Kamala Das has published several short stories in Malayalam, under the
pen name Madhavikutty. Some of these are now available in translation. A Doll
for the Child Prostitute, 1977 and Padmavati, the Harlot, 1992 are two
collections of short stories published in English. Though Kamala Das is a wellknown
poet in English her short stories deserve equal attention as her poetry
because they are poignant tales of feminine suffering, dilemma., resistance and
rectitude. In the blurb of one of her short story collections it is mentioned,
"Kamala Das's stories are a re-affinnation of woman, woman reclaimed of body
and spirit. But it is woman, above all, always on the side of life, never betraying it
by antagonising man through mean acts of getting even, or scoring points."

Women are the protagonists of all the stories which offer a myriad of
different female characters. The stories present all variations on the feminine
stereotypes in radically subverted [onn. Like in her poems and her autobiography
in most of the stories there is a serious questioning of the existing basis of malefemale
relations and a more or less sustained refusal to the values of a maledominated
society get expressed.

In this chapter, we have analysed some of her short stories from the
women-centred perspective. In "The Princess of A vanti," Kamala Das focuses on
the theme of sexual perversion in men. This is a pathetic story of an old woman being taped by three young men. The old woman was under the delusion that
she was the princess of A vanti, so when in the park she encountered three young
men who flattered her, she lost her sensibility and fell a victim to their sexual
perversion. The three megalomaniac men declared themselves as king of
Vangarajya, Kalinga and Kerala. Together they lured the old woman with false
promises of her nuptial celebration in the park by saying, "We have come to ask
of you a favour. This evening you must not go home.

Remain hidden behind a bush. After the park is locked we shall celebrate your
wedding quietly inside this beautiful park." Being a myopic person she
disregarded her age, physical frailty and the time factor and failed to
comprehend the unctuousness in the proposal of the pseudo rajas. They are sclfproclaimed
monarchs and their cowardice is revealed in their intention to act
surreptitiously in the dark. Yet, the old lady waited for them without any fear,
hesitation and suspicion. When darkness engulfed the place her hope of
celebrating her marriage was shattered with the three bully men physically overpowering
her making her gasp and pant for her last breaths. "The young men
removed her dress. She had no undergannents. One took a long look at the
sagging breasts and guffawed.~'

The story may appear contrived when we think of the reference to
historical names, but such references help to hint at self-asserted male
superiority, the inherent megalomaniac attitude of most men and the perpetual physical enslavement of women throughout history and across diverse cultures.
Here through the age difference between the victim and the victimizers and the
clever juxtaposition of contrastive qualities like ignorance as against deceit,
self-deception against gregarious masquerade/complicity and feminine frailty
against masculine virility, the crudities of such female exploitation like rape and
molestation are poignantly delineated. Certain aspects of the old woman's
idiosyncratic demeaneour appear to be highly dramatized and exaggerated, for
instance, her desire for revelry in the company of young men, her readiness in
accepting the strangers'request/proposal, her willingness to place her faith on
them, their false claims and promises and her obvert joy at the strangers'
flattering words and compliments. All these give a hyperbolic twist to the tale,
but then can we assert that old age desires no juvenile companies, cherishes no
fond dreams and is all sterile and void of pleasure? Perhaps through the graphic description of the old woman the writer wants to depict the state of
psychological dependency and vulnerability of old age when people in spite of
physical frailty dream of appearing young, vibrant and juvenile and struggle to
rejuvenate life with renewed interests, vigour, love and energy. There is
certainly no harm in cherishing such dreams, but the prize a woman has to pay
to fulfil such desires and longings is too enormous and it involves the perils of
being stripped off one's dignity, shame, emotions and life itself in the process.
The woman in this story symbolically stands for senility, dependency, and
vulnerability. Though her ignorance and error of judgement are pardonable, the three men's gregarious attempt at physically assaulting and humiliating a
woman of their mother's age is as heinous as unforgivable an act in any legal

To a reader who disbelieves the tale-a toothless old hag with sagging
breasts being lured and raped by young men--my suggestion would be that the
story can very well be interpreted as an implicit reference to the victimization of
women by the all-pervasive male gaze. It would not be a far-sighted conjecture
to guess that, perhaps, Kamala Das in this story metaphorically suggests the
victimization of women by the "male" gaze, which follows no age restriction in
the gazer nor the gazed in any society, and undeniably in the stifling patriarchal
social set-up of the Kerala society with all its intellectual sophistry and
proclivity towards Marxian idealism that has left the least trace/mark in the
men-women relationship and prevalent gender biases. But then can we ever
claim that old women are never physically molested and raped by young men and that the writer has never heard such a tale?

"Padmavati, the Harlot" is written in a similar vein. Here the female
protagonist, a middle-aged harlot, herself a victim of sexual prejudices at the
end of the story is seen walking away in a coy but triumphant gait with the men
who previously abused her and impeded her spiritual quest literally prostrating
at her feet, asking for her benison. Padmavati's fears and foibles, her struggle in
life and her unshakable deyotion towards God are all portrayed by Kamala Das from 'a purely hwnanist perspective and she emerges as a woman who
successfully resists male seduction and flirtatious advances with full
determination. In this sense, she is like any other woman who has not entered
the white slavery but nevertheless has to struggle against patriarchal nuisances.

Kamala Das's feminine sensibility allows her to sympathise and commiserate
with the harlot's predicament and audaciously portray her as a symbol of
resistance, forbearance and spiritual quest. When confronted by a gang of
loafers loitering around the temple, Padmavati narrat~s her doleful tale of
having been disowned, abandoned and ditched by her family. She who struggled
to financially support her mother, brothers and sister was abandoned by all
because of her lowly profession. Having been forsaken by hwnans she now
turns towards the Lord whose holy shrine she had long desired to visit. To the
loafers she said, "I have been waiting to come here for the past thirty-three years
but something or the other has kept me busy all the time.

At first I had to tend my ailing mother who lay paralysed for seven years before she died one day,
turning her face away from me in disgust. Then 1 had the responsibility of
educating my brothers who got good jobs in other cities and forgot me. 1 had
also to marry off my sister to a man who was willing to do it for a big dowry.
After marriage she has not once written to me." Thus having enacted all her
filial and sisterly duties she now focuses on God, but with some measure of
doubt and scepticism for she feels, "Only the Lord, perhaps, has any feeling for
me. But, He may have forgotten too."

Eventually, she arrives at her desired destination~ but only to find herself to be too late-the temple door was shut, the
priest had left, darkness loomed large all over the place while some hooligans
purposefully attempted to hinder her. They began to verbally assault her while
deriving sadistic pleasure by tormenting her with obscene words, "You are not
young, but you are charming enough for one e~ening or two. Your breasts arc
still firm. Your haunches set our loins on fire. Won't you be kind enough to
grant us your favours?" Even at the threshold of the lord there was no respite for
Padmavati. The avaricious loafers also robbed her of the fruits she intended to
offer at the altar of the Lord. With tears in her eyes and in an utterly perplexed
state of mind she could not decide where to proceed and what to do. The loafers
then followed her incessantly demanding sexual pleasure, "Keep us company
this night, 0' Padmavati ... Tomorrow you can worship the Lord."

But though a harlot Padmavati was not a nymphomaniac craving for physical pleasure so she proved no easy prey to the brutes' sexual appetite.
Turning a deaf ear to their lascivious words and lecherous gestures she hurried
up the stone steps leading to the temple yard. At last she did achieve her goal
and the poet describes her sublime state of mind, her communion with the lord
with a touch of sensuousness. Kamala Das's poetic imagination colours the
merging of the human spirit 'with the divine in vivid terms as if Padmavati's
spiritual quest ends in an ecstatic rapture with the experiencing of the divine
presence within her in all its physicality and sublime touch.

in the ordinary parlance and social discourses a prostitute is regarded as
a degraded person, a notorious symbol of promiscuity, carnal desire and
indulgence. Here in this story Kamala Das reverses this conventional
understanding and attempts to erase the malign image of this marginalised and
exploited woman. In other words, she challenges us to suspcnd somc of thc
assumptions we have culturally derived about prostitutes as an immoral and
socially aberrant class. The story is thus subversive at many levels. The
prostitute is shown as a SIncere, caring, devoted and determined person.

Paradoxically enough, the loafers she confronts in the vicinity of the temple
though not gigolos by profession are shown as slaves of carnal desire, greed and
malevolence. Padmavati has ascended from a lowly state of existence to a
higher realm of experiential realization through her pursuits of the divine touch, whereas, the men descended from a normal life to a lower stratum of sensuality
and malice. Padmavati's armour is her sense of shame and resistance to
indulgence. Contrariwise, the men's crudities of thought and action render them
naked and shameless. Padmavati's devotion stretches over time (thirty-three
years of waiting for the spiritual retreat) and distance, but the hooligans even
while dwelling in the precincts of the temple fail to pursue the right path.

Many writers have written on prostitutes but few could portray them in a
positive light endowing them with normal feminine attributes. Very often we
see prostitutes as victims of social prejudices and discrimination and not as
rebels and pilgrims. In her short story, "The Offspring", the noted Assamese novelist, Mamoni Raisom Goswami, narrates the tale of a young and beautiful
Brahmin prostitute who sells her flesh but hesitates to conceive a child for a low
caste 'mahajan.' In Assamese society, as in the rest of India childlessness is an
anathema to married couples. It is a strong belief that conjugal life should be
blessed with procreation of a new generation-progeny to keep the lineage going.

Pitambar, the rich but childless trader was blinded by his craving for a child
(son) of his own and so he approached the Brahmin widow (following the
initiation and secret advice of the Brahmin priest, Krishnakanta) to bear him a
son as his bed-ridden wife lay barren and childless. Damayanti, the harlot,
initially agreed to the deal, but when vain pride in caste superiority takes hold of
her senses she decides to abort the fo'etus. Her benefactor was from a lower
caste and she abhorred the thought of conceiving and nurturing his child.
Though an outcast by profession and leading a life of penury and ostracism,
Damayanti took excessive pride in her caste superiority.

Here in this story the prostitute is not a symbol of resistance to
patriarchal hierarchies but instead remains a medium for the perpetuation of
caste stratification and conventional values. The story ends in climactic pathos
with the man grubbing and rummaging the soil to trace and dig up the discarded
piece of flesh-a part of his own being-in the darkness of the night, panting,
sobbing for a touch of the unborn child. Though the author here aims at
critiquing casteism and its sinuous grip on Hindu society, female readers would
expect the harlot to stand for a more just cause than acting as a mere medium for perpetuating caste-related sentiments and prejudices.

The story lacks a feminist edge since the harlot is not resisting the idea of being used as a
receptacle by the rich man who tries to bargain and buy all her services with the
sheer power of money. Had the child been born the ties between the mother and
the child would have been abruptly and inevitably snapped off since the
possibility of the father's intervention to give a new name, a diiTcrcnt identity to
the child cannot be ruled out, therc being no assurance of the uplift in the
mother's life and status once the child was born. Moreover, the man enters the
deal without the notice of the outside world, he slips into the ramshackle hut in
the dark aiming to fulfil his own appetite. His moral flaw is also evident in his
heedlessness and negligence of his bed-ridden wife, his lack of concern for her
physical and mental health and his perfidious behaviour as is seen in his
intention to keep her in the dark about his new plan to procure a child.

Yet, Damayanti, the harlot is not seen to address and resist any of these vital issues,
rather she narcissistically clings to her caste. "The Offspring" is a well-written,
story, there is no doubt about it and it has drawn the critical attention of native
as well as non- Assamese writers and critics alike. Yet when placed side by side
with "Padmavati, the Harlot" it appears to be fragile since the feminine resisting
voice is pathetically missing iIi it.

Kamala Das's "A Doll for the Child Prostitute" is a poignant story of
brothel life in an urban city like Mumbai. Life in the red-light street is infested with death, decay and endless suffering especially if the victims happen to be
young girls in their pre-pubertal stage. In this story Kamala Das narrates. the
untold misery of two teenage girls, Sita and Rukmini. Young Rukmini was
bartered away by her own mother to Ayee, the head of the brothel in exchange
for a meagre amount of money. At home there is not only poverty and acute
hunger but also the sexual harassment from the stepfather who had raped the
little girl. The child Rukmini was not unhappy about leaving her home for she
realized, "The man who had moved into her home some months ago, after her
father had disappeared, was a monster. He not only beat up her mother every
night but squeezed her own little breasts, hurting her dreadfully when she was
alone in the house. And, last week he had pierced her body until she bled all
over the floor."

To the helpless mother the brothel seemed the only safe haven
for her daughter where she could procure two square meals a day and some
shelter. It was in a dilemma, perhaps, when the need to protect her daughter
from the clutches of her second husband arose the mother with a guiltyconscience changes her daughter into an object of mass consumption. It was not
that she as a woman was unaware of the evils of brothel life, but that she had to
decide and choose between two equally vicious situations indicates the
existential crisis the mother arid daughter had to go through.

Sita, whom Rukrnini meets at the brothel, is a victim of hapless
circumstances too. The cholera epidemic created havoc in her life; she lost her
parents and all her three brothers and was forced to end up in the brothel for survival's sake. Being victims of similar plight and predicament the two girls
felt u feeling of warmth wId mpport from their tirst meeting. Sita being more
experienced initiated innocent Rukmini into the mysteries of hrothel life, its
nocturnal visitors and entertainment-seekers and exhorted her to "Obey them or
else Ayee will starve you to death. Do whatever they want you to do. Men are
real dogs." In their pre-pubertal days when life seemed all fun---carefree and
joyful-they hardly knew the significance of the sexual act. For them it came as
. an occasional punition meted out for some obscure reasons, which made them
resent the frequent interruptions during their game of hopscotch.

While thecoarse men, old enough to be their grandfathers, took the pleasure off their
young bodies, the two girls' minds were-far away, hopping in the large squares
of chalked diagram on the floor of the porch. They were suffering for no fault of
their own and Kamala Das rightly points out "their only mistake was that they
were born as girls in a society that regarded the female as burden, a liability." Sita's unexpected pregnancy, forced abortion and painful death left a
shocking and debilitating effect on young Rukrnini's mind.

Loss of her only friend and confidante brought relcntless agony to her already distressed and
cloistered existence. Her first heinous rendezvous at the brothel with the old
police inspector left her nauseated too. This man of her father's age tried to lure
her with promises of expensive gifts-a red frock, frilly panties and an imported
doll. Being satiated with women this ugly man keeps his lecherous eyes transfixed on Rukmini and plans to make a deal with Ayee to avail Rukmini's service solely to himself.

Besides Rukmini and Sita all the other occupants of the brothel are also
portrayed in sufficient details. Ayee, the caretaker is shown as caring but also
demanding at times. Her repeated assurance of availability of nutritious meals at
the brothel for the girls sounds more boastful and exaggerated than her real
concerns for their health. Yet, she is not as cruel and wicked as her rival,
Koushalya, who whips her girls to make them docile and obeisant. The
scandalmonger, Sindhuthai, with her accursed tongue is portrayed as a devilish
woman. Her gnarled hands with their dirty talons frightened little Rukmini
when she first stepped into the brothel. When the hag stared at her, she had felt
that a woodpecker was pecking at her skin. "What an odious creature," she
murmured to Sita who too abhorred her.

The brothels used Sindhuthai's service (unskilled expertise) to abort unwanted pregnancies and to malign each other's reputation. In exchange she gets some food, money for her liquor, pan and bidi
and occasional shelter. Her life is like a stray bitch. Radha and Saraswati are
shown as fully preoccupied with their art of alluring and enticing the visitors
and to give them optimum satisfaction. They are nonchalant yet professional,
having no regrets and distrac'tions like the young and beautiful Marathai who
cherishes the dream of having her own sweet home and her family. She did
make an unsuccessful attempt to elope with her student lover but soon realized
that the outside world is ~tagonistic towards prostitutes and men's phantasmal promises ate short-lived mechanisms for their own gratification. She thus
realized that the brothel is the only abode for women like her where they can be
safe and secure.

None of these women are immaculate and free of guilt and vices, yet all
their accumulated evil deeds would not outweigh the old policeman's insidious
actions--his brutality, shrewdness and endless sexual appetite and pedophilic
hunger. In him the degeneration of his entire clan is well reflected. With his
complicit support the subterranean brothel culture flourishes, unperturbed and
unassailed. He uses his power and position to manipulate facts and figures that
becomes handy for the brothel-runners and in exchange he extracts his weekly
ransom and quenches his sexual thirst free of charge while pre-pubertal girls
like Rukmini and Sita are victimized for no fault of theirs. When Sita died he
rendered his loyal service to Ayee by calling in a doctor to produce a fake
medical certificate that reported the death as caused by appendix rupture and not by forced abortion and excess bleeding.

Yet Kamala Das ends this tragic and crude story of women's suffering
and exploitation with a positive note as she seems to lay open the possibility of
change and internal reformation through the power of female strength
emanating from innocence, guiltlessness and virtuosity_ As the story progresses
we witness a gradual transformation in the police inspector's attitude towards
Rukmini. When Rukmini confided the truth that he resembles her own father
and later when Sita died she broke down before him hiding her sobbing face on his chest, realization sparked off with lust and lasciviousness retreating making
way for fatherly affection and caring.

Ayee, a hedonist too displays great changes in attitude and her overall outlook. She expresses her desire to retire from the worldly life and dreams of going on a pilgrimage to Benaras, the holy
city. Her virulent and abominable feeling towards Sindhuthai dissipates and
gives way to love and compassion as she wishes to take her to Benaras as her
company. Ayee's partial feeling too gives way to impartial judgement as she
decides to marry off innocent Rukm~ to her son instead of the ingrate Mirathai
whom she earlier desired as her daughter-in-law for her beauty and literacy.

As realization dawns on him, Ayee's son too regrets his mistakes and begins to
accept the fact that every profession has its own code of manner and that he decides to return home. Thus there is a gradual change in the individual stance
of some of the characters and we witness hatred giving way to love, attachment
to detachment, dereliction to homecoming, delusion to rational consideration
and self-realization, partial judgement to impartial reflection, indulgence to
restraint and self-aggrandizement to self-effacement. Still the writer has not
painted a totally idealistic picture by showing the abolition of the sex trade.
Since in real life social aberration and uncontrolled promiscuity always exist,
there will also be some one like Saraswati to continue the trade with unabashed
professionalism. There is no moral conflict, no shamefulness, nor distraction
from the chosen path in her and she paddles on.

However, the presence ofSaraswati and the deviant ones whose demand she fulfils cannot smudge the
positive picture the writer aims at creating of feminine strength. This brings us
back to the question of woman, her role whether implicit or explicit, deliberate
or inadvertent in bringing changes in society as well as in individual life. Thus
though Rukmini is the victim her innocence proved a vital weapon for bringing
unprecedented change to a person no less a monster.

While Kamala Das portrays a harlot in a positive light by highlighting
her willingness to perform all her filial and sisterly duties and obligations
diligently in spite of her involvement in a lowly profession, the theme of man's
ungratefulness towards their parents and their overall attitude of negligence and
filial ingratitude do not slip her creative mind. This gets focussed in "The
Tattered Blanket". Here in this story the old mother is seen as painstakingly
waiting for her son for too long a time until her memories, longing and present thoughts all collide and transform into an amorphous form percolating as a
fragmented residue in some dark recesses of her senile mind.

Though bits and pieces of past memories remain intact and fresh, the past hardly coincides with
the living present and so she mistakes her son, Gopi for a stranger when one
evening he unexpectedly knocks at her door. The mother speaks as if in
delirium, unable to recognize her son standing beside her but narrates some
accurate details about him-his job, promotion, salary, placement as well as a
red blanket, now tattered and frayed, that once he gifted her while he was a
student in Madras. To the selfish and ungrateful son who pays this one last visit (as part 'of his official itinerary) to claim his share of the ancestral property the
mother's failure to recognize him becomes his alibi to overlook his own
absence, filial ingratitude and negligence.

The widowed sister tries to intervene hoping to revive the mother's memory but amnesia spreads like a thick veil and she simply cannot relate the past with the living present and the son remained
for her a total stranger. The sister interrogates the brother in the hope that he
might realize his mistakes, but he conceals all his guilt and shame in a shroud of
reticence avoiding the obvert display of emotions, attachment and feeling of

While in this story the selfish and impertinent son tactfully remains
silent and laconic, the married daughter in the story "Grandfather" is rendered
quiet/silent/voiceless due to overwhelming emotions and her constricted state of
existence. This story brings to our attention the psychological trauma most
women undergo when they confront situations of inner conflict in which they are incapable of taking any drastic steps to resolve dilemmas, that eat up their
morale and that which arise not for any fault of their own, but due to the
stranglehold of distorted patriarchal values and conventions.

Very often marriage in a patriarchal society thrush upon women such dilemmas and
psychological conflicts especially when they are forced to make a choice
between loyalty towards the spouses and in-laws, on the one hand, and their
parents and siblings, on the other. In India, the two usually do not go hand in
hand and a married woman (daughter-in-law) is expected to be extra loyal to her husbartd and his family in a manner, which may at times demand complete
deafnesslblindness towards the need of her own parents, brothers and sisters.

Love and emotions, which naturally do not tend to remain confined
within any demarcated boundaries if truncated abruptly bring untold miseries to
the bearer. This is exactly what happens to Thankam in the story "Grandfather",
when the father in his dotage begs her to take him to Bombay and the husband
intervenes in a rude and imperious manner to stop her from doing that.

Thankam feels devastated for not being able to respond positively to her father's
desperate need and wish to spend the last days of his life in her company. His
emotionally charged questions, "Have you stopped needing me, Thankam?"
"Doesn't anyone want old people?" "Have I become unwanted?" "Won't you
allow me to die in your own home?" pierced her heart and mind like poisonladed
arrows and in utter helplessness she replied, "1 don't know what to do, what 1 should do." Seeing her perplexity the husband steps forward to
manipulate the situation. While inner conflict and a sense of enormous guilt
torment the wife, the husband does not hesitate to put forth his arguments and
excuses with an air of insouciance.

The way Kamala Das portrays the couple's dealing with the old man's request in a way highlights the inherent differences between men and women's approach to emotional matters and their subjective
and objective views. In this story the man is able to distance himself from the
crux of the matter without any hesitation, contrition and obvert display of
emotion, whereas the woman remains submerged in the situation as if she is drawn'towards the vortex of a whirlpool, helpless and speechless. This difference, however, does not prove that men are by nature emotionally stronger and stabler than women-a common assumption that is not only
erroneous and baseless but also pernicious. Patriarchal values and conventions
have long nurtured the idea that it is man's birthright to dominate his wife.

Notion of self-declared supremacy over one's spouse has coloured the thoughts
of man and has guided all his actions. Woman's socialization, on the other hand,
has taught her to be less self-assertive which is why her vengeance and
helplessness at times get expressed through tears and e~otional outburst that in
the common parlance get interpreted as her inherent weakness and instability.
In this story, Kamala Das very sensitively presents the insinuated ways
men usually present their arguments. When Thankam's father desperately requests her to take him along with her to her home in the city, the husband
intervenes to show that the old man's words were not meant to be taken
seriously and he asserts, "Father doesn't mean what he says. He was merely
joking. You (Thankam) took him seriously."

When heedlessness ,did not work and the old man remained stubborn the young man makes an excuse of not having the flight ticket for him. He tried to guise his alibi with a vague promise
so as to make it sound real. He said, "When we return from here in June we
shall take you with us. This time we have not bought a ticket for you." Still the
old man continued to resist the son-in-law's dissuasion and placing the entire
matter of decision taking at ,his daughter's hands he said, "1 have told her of my desire' to'live'with her. Now it is up to her to decide what to do." At this point
when all the argwnents did not seem to work the son-in-law directed his anger
at his grief-stricken and confused wife,

"What kind of madness is this? If you take him to Bombay at his age you will have to face the consequence of your action." His angry words came as a threat and exhortation, but Thankam made
one last attempt by making a moral as well as an emotional statement, "But he
is my father." At this the husband replied with his razor sharp tongue, "Did I not
have a father too?" Before the husband's domineering nature and asperity of
manner, Thankam had neither the will nor the strength to take up the cudgels
and follow her own course of action. Instead, she hid her face with trembling
hands and sobbed. Through the portrayal of Thamkam, Kamala Das has brought
to light the life of a typical Indian housewife whose married life is absolutely
constricted and whose existence as a whole is ruined by perpetual spousal
intervention, threat and domination. Confronted with situational dilemma she takes recourse to silence, sobbing, emotional outbursts and complete inaction.

It is to be noted here that Kamala Das has not painted only one-sided
picture of women as sentimental, soppy, introvert and silent victims of
patriarchal prejudices. She has painted a multi-dimensional canvas--a mosaic of
different hues and shades--wherein women have postured in different moods
and attitudes exuding varied feminine qualities. In "A Little Kitten", the woman
is depicted as capable of transgression after initially suffering from ennui,
suspicion, and frustration due to her husband's infidelity. It is the same old story of the' boss falling in love with his secretary and the frustrated wife grows restive, feeling ditched and betrayed.

The lonesome wife desires to have a kitten to keep her company while her husband is away busily engaged with his routine office work. As days passed by the newly wedded wife ,sulked and lost her
bridal beauty thinking unkind thoughts incessantly. Life in the city was not a
bed of roses for her and she wished to bid adieu to her husband. When she packs
up her belongings and decides to depart, the husband dissuades her by one
loaded question: "What will your parents say?" This same man's conscience did
not even prick once when he philandered with his secretary and he never
stopped to ask himself, "What will my wife think if. .. ?"

In the Indian society conservatism still pervades and it is not customary
for married women to disclose bitter truths and events from her conjugal life to
her parents. That is because after marriage she is regarded as another's possession over which the parents have no claim and the doors of the parental
home are literally shut on her. She cannot expect her parents to be 'considerate,
reliable and friendly when it comes to disclosing and sharing her painful secrets.
Her marriage is symbolic of severing of the umbilical cord that united her with
. her mother at her birth. When ditched by her husband she has nowhere to go.

The woman in the story realized this and so she balked hearing the husband's
words. However, she decides to stay back not as a loyal and subdued person but
one who adventures to seek out her own kitty all by herself. The act of
transgression is metaphori~ally referred to as a scratch from the playful kitten.

Kamala Das balances the lopsided picture of conjugal relationship by
implicitly showing the woman's capability to deviate from the culturally
prescribed role of a wife that demands her to prostrate before her husband with
joined palms, closed eyes and blind faith. Here the woman is not indulging in
illicit love affairs, she is not carried away by paroxysms of joy arising from
consummated love and new found freedom. Yet the fact that she has taken a
giant leap by stepping outside of the legal ambit of marriage, its constricted
ambience is worth taking note of. Kamala Das has not intended to show her as
an adulteress. Rather, she is shown as a woman who is simply capable of
fmding her own solution to the problem created by her better/worse half though
her horizon remains shrouded, engulfed in an amorphous smoky form indicating
a blurred vision.

In the story "Iqbal" the woman is portrayed as confused by her
husband's queer behaviour towards his poet-friend, Iqbal. Being innocent and ignorant she did not suspect the two men's relationship instantly. It was not
until much later when Iqbal was lying asleep in the hospital bed and she closely
scrutinized the contours of his feature--its feminine grace that the past got
revived and in a fast track flaShback she seems to recall her honeymoon days
and her first meeting with Iqbal at the station.

All this while she had been wondering what her husband had found in his fTiend's poetry that made him rave over it. She now realized why her husband during their honeymoon talked passionately about his YMCA days spent in the company of his friend and why
he was so excited to recite the love poems composed by his friend. At the
hospital she also recalled how she felt stabs of jealousy when her query about
Iqbal's possible love affair with any girl was unanswered by her husband. She
recalled her husband's sullen moods when Iqbal refused to come for Sunday
lunches and his panic-stricken face when he returned home one day to inform
her about Iqbal's suicidal attempt. She came to realize why from the beginning
Iqbal was not friendly with her, never looked at her nor ever smiled.

Yet when eventually suspicion took roots in the young woman's heart she neither had the
time nor the need to grow jealous, frustrated, sullen and revengeful since she
was already heavy with her child. Pregnancy brought pride, joy and confidence
to her and rendered her husband's homosexuality redundant and impertinent.
She sensed that Iqbal was perhaps jealous of her, her ability to conceive and that
might have finally led him to commit suicide. She felt no sympathy towards him and in the hospital she proudly displayed the bulging convexity of her belly and
derived great satisfaction and happiness even though Iqbal grew agitated and
screamed at her. All his abuses and loud words got drowned in the
repercussions of her laughter.

The story is not about the conflict between heterosexuality and homosexuality or about the triumph of the former over the latter. Multiple sexual allegiances are shown here-the husband is bisexual, the conventional wife, confirmed heterosexual and on the periphery of their relationship stood the homosexual friend. We can assume that the husband's bisexuality gradually
wanes off with the coming of the child and he became passionately attached to
his pregnant wife. Under this circumstance, it was natural for Iqbal to grow
lonely, jealous and frustrated and his suicidal attempt points at his psychological
instability. The wife felt betrayed and appeared a scapegoat.

Yet among all the three she is perhaps the strongest for she could face the husband's infidelity, his
swinging moods and remain impervious, resilient and stoic as she learns to look
at her own changing body and celebrates its nurturing and procreative powers.
. Her pregnant state becomes a symbolic gesture of her self-assertive power and
individuality and she learns to extract immense joy, bliss and fulfillment from it
during moments of personal crisis.

"The Sea Lounge" is a story about two lovers' final rendezvous, but
it is not a conventional love story. Through the portrayal of the lovers Kamala Das once again brings out the differences in man and woman's outlook, changing attitude towards love and relationship. The boy in this story is grateful to his girlfriend for all the love she had showered upon him, but he still feels that she is not the right person for him to marry. So in their final meeting he
decides to disclose the truth that he had no intention to marry her.

Kamala Das has not named the two characters in this very short story.
Yet, in their anonymity they project the pervading changes gripping our society
and culture today, the radical transfonnation in modem men and women's
attitude towards love, marriage, relationship and free choice. The man is portrayed as- being unable to free himself fully from certain characteristic conservatism and traits of conventional value orientation.

 However, one positive aspect of him is that he begins to accept sophistication (like high education)
quite unlike his predecessors who preferred conventionality and traditional
outlook as positive marks of woman and womanhood. Yet, when it comes to
admiring a woman and accepting her as a life partner, he displays predilection
for stereotypical feminine qualities. Masculine and feminine qualitics arc not
universally defined concepts, they are culture-specific and bear different and
sometimes opposing connotative meanings and values to people from diverse
cultural backgrounds and affiliations. In the Indian context feminine
characteristics imply an obvert display of grace, humbleness and selfeffacement.

Boldness and assertion of one's self and individuality arc regarded
as deviation from a truly feminine character and are regarded as threats by most
men. The matrimonial columns in newspapers clearly bring out the average
Indian man's appreciation, expectation and demand of the qualities in his would-be bride. If on the one hand, sophistication which implies high educational qualifications, economic independence and career orientation are appreciated and adulated, on the other hand, there is a pervading demand for
such qualities like fairness of complexion, good height, slenderness, grace,
amiability and sobriety. Even highly educated families in order to extract a big
dowry throw such demands through the mass media (especially newspaper ads)
for their foreign-degreed, high salaried sons.

In this story the man is shown as trapped in such conventionality. His
admiration for women who are feminine distanced him from his pres~nt lover.
The woman on the other hand, is shown as a modern girl who has her own
individuality, self-determination and confidence. She is not the sentimental type
who drowns herself in tears and remorse when the lover departs and betrays her.
Whcn the man discloses his intention not to marry her, she accepts the
reality with stoicism.

Her openness and broadmindcdness are expressed when
she urged the man to have no guilt-conscience about her. When the lover in
order to appear sympathetic asked her about parental pressures on her to tie the
nuptial ties soon, she replied with confidence and maturity, "I will marry myoid
beau, the one who has been crazy about me for years. Let us not worry about it
now. Tell me about your new job." She did not have to wallow in self-pity since
she realized her own beauty and her own worth.

The man entranced by her presence wanted to woo her again regretting that now she would go away from his life without any promise of letter and future meeting. But she did not show
any intention to look back with any anticipation of love and admiration. And
when the man asked her, "May I give you lift, I can drop you wherever you
want to go ... " she boldly refused and expressed her desire to take a long walk'

In this story Kamala Das has portrayed the young woman as
individualistic in character. She captures the confident mood of the modern woman who learns to adjust herself to changing time and circumstances and
who offers resistance to conventional values ..

In another very touching story entitled 'Neipayasam' (Rice Pudding)
Kamala Das brings to light with equal admixture of pathos and sarcasm the
stereotypical image of woman as wife and mother. In this story the young
woman, mother of three children (sons) dies in the course of her routine
household chores. She collapsed while sweeping and the husband was shellshocked
to spot her "lying near the broom with her mouth half-open, her pale
limbs flung out in absolute disarray."

Though the couple had a love marriage (a rare phenomenon in a
conventional society like India where arranged marriage is still the nonn), and
the husband showed enough concern and love, even taking pride in the wife's
physical beauty, the woman's life is not one of unusual happiness and marital bliss.

Drudgery of household work--cooking, cleaning, sweeping, washing--all
sapped her energy. Kamala Das graphically describes the kitchen, the utensils
hanging in the right place, the cooked food that remain covered, in order to
show how the woman diligently fulfilled the stereotypical role as a wife and a
mother. The woman had not failed to cook a full supper for her family even
before dying. The children n·ot knowing that their mother is dead relished the
payasam uttering: "Our Amma cooks the best payasam, this is wonderful...she
is the best cook in the world."

'In this story the husband's internalization of the dominant cultural
discourses about womanhood is seen in his failure to express any genuine
feeling of despair and loss at the moment when the doctor at the hospital
declared that his wife was dead. Though he loved her dearly, her 'untimely
demise' is not regarded as a matter of great personal loss and bereavement.
Instead, an irrational feeling crossed his mind as he wallowed in self-pity
thinking that he is now "saddled with thc young children ... " "How would he
bathe the children? How would he cook their lunches and send them to school?
How would he be able to nurse them back to health when they fell ill? No, it
was not possible for him to bring them up alone."

A married woman especially in the patriarchal social set up of India is
regarded as one on whom the husband and all her children depend for all kinds
of help and support. A woman's socialization teaches her to accept this role and she perceives them as totally dependent on her and needing her in order to
survive and flourish.

There is thus a gradual and perpetual loss of a woman's
individuality once she is married. She comes to be regarded not as an individual
in her own right but as a 'great' cook, a 'great' caretaker of the entire household
and happiness is entwined and inextricably linked with the endless service she
renders to her husband and children. If this woman happens to die early the
vacuity her demise creates in the life of the dependants who outlive her is
condoled not for her physical absence but for the shifting of the onus of the
drudgery of domestic work,on the dependants' shoulders.

This harsh reality that arises from gender biases in a patriarchal society is reflected in the story. Here
the death of the wife is not mourned as a personal loss by the husband rather it
is regarded as an accursed event because in the wife's absence he IS
overburdened with the household responsibilities that he is diffident to
undertake. Perhaps this is why in our society re-marriage of widowers is more
common and readily acceptable than that of widows' .

As we have seen women are the protagonists of all the stories that offer
a myriad of different female characters. Kamala Das' s stories present all
variations on the feminine stereotype in radically subverted form. The cultural
image of the feminine ideal is not encapsulated in any of the characters. She
does not write the conventional story of woman, with its romantic and domestic plot centred on a man and marriage and motherhood as fulfillment. Instead, she
explicitly contests all these.

Moreover, Kamala Das aims at problematizing the
reproduction of gendered binary of sexual dominance-submission in her stories
by questioning the active/passive dichotomy in heterosexuality. Therefore,
though men are portrayed as dominant, women do not necessarily appear
submissive and docile. Even a harlot becomes a symbol 'of resistance.
Moreover, by depicting women caught up and influenced by society's double
standards for women, Kamala Das as a female writer has been able to subvert
even the most stereotypical images of women.

(Source: Shodhganga)

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