An Introduction Essay By Kamala Das Husband

Read this article to know about the summary and analysis of the poem An Introduction written by Kamala Das.

Introduction to An Introduction by Kamala Das

The poem An Introduction is an autobiographical verse of Kamala Das that throws light on the life of a woman in the patriarchal society. I have divided the poem into five parts for better understanding. I have tried to first give a brief explanation of the lines and then provide a comprehensive analysis. Hope you may go through the poem and understand its central idea.

Men as the Rulers of Country

I don’t know politics but I know the names
Of those in power, and can repeat them like
Days of week, or names of months, beginning with Nehru.

The poet starts explaining by saying that she doesn’t know the politics yet she is well aware of the politicians of her country from Nehru to the ones of her own times. And as the politics of India has always remained in fewer hands (of males) she has memorized the names of all the politicians like the days of the week or the names of the month.

The lines depict how the males have been ruling the country without giving this right to the women. Moreover, the rulers are fewer in numbers because democracy exists only in words. In reality, the rule of the country remains in the hands of some people only who have assumed themselves to be the permanent rulers.

Women are Individuals As Well

I am Indian, very brown, born in Malabar,
I speak three languages, write in
Two, dream in one.

Now the poet comes towards her own life experience. She says that she is an Indian and brown in color (as compared to the British). She is born in Malabar. She can speak three languages, write in two and dreams in one of the dreams have a universal language. In these lines, she explains her Indianness.

Like most of the citizens of India, she is also capable of speaking three languages and writing in two probably the English and her native language. She says that she dreams in one because the world of dreams is common to all. In this world, every individual, male or female, uses the same universal language.

In my opinion, these lines can be interpreted in another way as well. The poet perhaps tries to show her ability in the educational sphere which is no access to most of the women. She says that she speaks three languages and is also capable of writing in two. In addition, is also dreams of any man of the world. She probably compares herself to the man of the world trying to show that she is no lesser than him.

She possesses all those qualities and abilities that make him superior. Hence, though she is a woman, she is no lesser than him in terms of ability, passion, and creativeness. Moreover, in the world of dreams, she is equally an individual as the man is and so she wants this status in the real world as well.

Poet’s Struggle for Freedom

Don’t write in English, they said, English is
Not your mother-tongue. Why not leave
Me alone, critics, friends, visiting cousins,
Every one of you? Why not let me speak in
Any language I like?

Being well familiar with the English she uses this language in her writings. However, this habit of her is not liked by her friends, relatives, and critics. They all condemn her for writing in English as according to them, English is the language of the colonists. She asks them why they criticise her. Why she is not given liberty to write in whatever language she desires.

In these lines, she exposes the jealous nature of her nears and dears who cannot endure her skills. This makes them criticise her. Having no logical reason to put restrictions on her writing in English, they try to tell her that the language she writes in, is the language of Colonists and thus she should avoid using it. However, she asks them how a language can be owned by a particular community. It belongs to every person who uses it and thus she should not be stopped from using it.

The language I speak,
Becomes mine, its distortions, its queernesses
All mine, mine alone.
It is half English, half Indian, funny perhaps, but it is honest,
It is as human as I am human, don’t
You see?

The language in which she writes is her own along with all its imperfections and strangeness. The language is, though not fully English yet she considers it to be honest because like her as her language is also imperfect like her which a quite normal thing is.

In these lines, she shows her ownership of the English and also the freedom of using it. She is imperfect but this makes her a human. Thus she should not be scolded for her mistakes or shortcoming. But she wonders why the society ignores the mistakes or even blunders of men and questions the mistakes of women although the fact is that every person in the world is imperfect.

It voices my joys, my longings, my
Hopes, and it is useful to me as cawing
Is to crows or roaring to the lions, it
Is human speech, the speech of the mind that is
Here and not there, a mind that sees and hears and
Is aware. Not the deaf, blind speech
Of trees in storm or of monsoon clouds or of rain or the
Incoherent mutterings of the blazing
Funeral pyre.

The language expresses her joys, grief, and hopes. For he, it is like cawing is to crows and roaring is to lions i.e. it is an integral part of her expression. She further says that her speech (in English) is the speech of humans that minds can understand and not strange and queer like the sound of trees in the storms or of monsoon clouds or of rain or of dead as these voices cannot be understood.

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Her Miserable Married Life

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

She moves towards her married life. She was a child although the size of her body grew up i.e. she entered the stage of puberty yet her soul was immature. As she was still a child (after marriage) she asked for love. However, her husband quenched his own lust on the bed. The poet here not only describes her married life but tries to narrate the story of every woman in her country. Her grieves and sorrows are the grieves and sorrows of every woman of her country.

The young girls of her country are forced to marry old men without having their consent. They are so young at the time of their marriage that they cannot accept that they have grown up. However as their body parts including the genitals grow up, they have to accept that they are mature now and thus have bind into the nuptial alliance. They girl after being married desire that her husband should show compassion to her and love her. But instead, she is drawn to the bed and made to endure the pains of sex that she is not willing to do.

He did not beat me
But my sad woman-body felt so beaten.
The weight of my breasts and womb crushed me.
I shrank Pitifully.

She says that she was not beaten by him yet her womanly body felt to be beaten and wounded and thus she got tired of it (her body). He genitals seemed to her as some burden that has crushed her. She started hating her female body because it is her body that has given her so much pain.

Then … I wore a shirt and my
Brother’s trousers, cut my hair short and ignored
My womanliness. Dress in sarees, be girl
Be wife, they said. Be embroiderer, be cook,
Be a quarreller with servants. Fit in. Oh,
Belong, cried the categorizers. Don’t sit
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 …

To avoid its load, she tried to become a tomboy by adopting the attire of males. But it was not led by her in-laws. They started taunting her. She was commanded to dress in sarees, be a girl, wife, embroiderer, cook, quarreller with servants etc. She was asked not to hide her real self. Her in-laws even commanded to remain silent and endure her unachieved love.

The lines expose the condition of a woman in the house of her in-laws. She is forced to give up her frankness and attain the nature of a daughter-in-law. She is forced to do everything that her in-laws desire her to do. She has to accomplish all the tasks though she is not willing to do so. Still, she is taunted, scolded as well as abused. She is even advised not express her grief if she is troubled y her married life.

Her Struggle for the Status of ‘I’

I met a man, loved him. Call
Him not by any name, he is every man
Who wants. a woman, just as I am every
Woman who seeks love. In him . . . the hungry haste
Of rivers, in me . . . the oceans’ tireless
Waiting. Who are you, I ask each and everyone,
The answer is, it is I. Anywhere and,
Everywhere, I see the one who calls himself I
In this world, he is tightly packed like the
Sword in its sheath. 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.

She meets a man (whose name she does not mention). The man is, according to her, the everyman who desires a woman (to quench his lust) as a woman desires love from a man. When she asks him about his identity, his answer is ‘I’.

This ‘I’ or the ‘male-ego’ gives him liberty to do whatever he likes. He can drink at midnight, laugh, and satisfy his lust. However, he feels ashamed after losing a woman due to his own shortcomings and also this ego of ‘I’ dies when the person dies and thus his end is no different than the end of the woman.

I am sinner,
I am saint. I am the beloved and the
Betrayed. I have no joys that are not yours, no
Aches which are not yours. I too call myself I.

Hence like him, she can also attribute the title of ‘I’ to herself. Like men, she is also sinner and saint, beloved and betrayed. Her joys and pains are no different than those of men. Hence she emancipates herself to the level of ‘I’.

Filed Under: English LiteratureTagged With: Poems Summary

Kamala Das 1934-

(Has also written under the pseudonyms Madhavikutty and Kamala Suraiyya) Indian poet, short story writer, novelist, playwright, essayist, nonfiction writer, children's writer, and autobiographer. The following entry presents an overview of Das's career through 2000.

Das is one of the best-known contemporary Indian women writers. Writing in two languages, English and Malayalam, Das has authored many autobiographical works and novels, several well-received collections of poetry in English, numerous volumes of short stories, and essays on a broad spectrum of subjects. Since the publication of her first collection of poetry, Summer in Calcutta (1965), Das has been considered an important voice of her generation who exemplifies a break from the past by writing in a distinctly Indian persona rather than adopting the techniques of the English modernists. 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. Das's work in English has been widely anthologized in India, Australia, and the West, and she has received many awards and honors, including the P.E.N. Philippines Asian Poetry Prize (1963), Kerala Sahitya Academy Award for her writing in Malayalam (1969), Chiman Lal Award for fearless journalism (1971), the ASAN World Prize (1985), and the Sahitya Akademi Award for her poetry in English (1985). In 1984, she was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Biographical Information

Das was born into an aristocratic Nair Hindu family in Malabar (now Kerala), India, on March 31, 1934. Her maternal grandfather and great-grandfather were Rajas, a caste of Hindu nobility. Her love of poetry began at an early age through the influence of her maternal great-uncle, Narayan Menon, a prominent writer, and her mother, Balamani Amma, a well-known Malayali poet. Das was also deeply affected by the poetry of the sacred writings kept by the matriarchal community of Nairs. Das's father, a successful managing director for a British automobile firm, was descended from peasant stock and favored Gandhian principles of austerity. The combination of “royal” and “peasant” identities, along with the atmosphere of colonialism and its pervasive racism, produced feelings of inadequacy and alienation for Das. Educated in Calcutta and Malabar, Das began writing at age six and had her first poem published by P.E.N. India at age fourteen. She did not receive a university education. She was married in 1949 to Madhava Das, an employee of the Reserve Bank of India who later worked for the United Nations. She was sixteen years old when the first of her three sons was born; at eighteen, she began to write obsessively. Although Das and Madhava were romantically incompatible according to Das's 1976 autobiography, My Story, which describes his homosexual liaisons and her extramarital affairs, Madhava supported her writing. His career took them to Calcutta, New Delhi, and Bombay, where Das's poetry was influenced by metropolitan life as well as by her emotional experiences. In addition to writing poetry, fiction, and autobiography, Das served as editor of the poetry section of The Illustrated Weekly of India from 1971 to 1972 and 1978 to 1979. In 1981 Das and her husband retired to Kerala. Das ran as an Independent for the Indian Parliament in 1984. After her husband died, Das converted to Islam and changed her name to Kamala Suraiyya. She currently lives in Kerala, where she writes a syndicated column on culture and politics.

Major Works

Das published six volumes of poetry between 1965 and 1985. Drawing upon religious and domestic imagery to explore a sense of identity, Das tells of intensely personal experiences, including her growth into womanhood, her unsuccessful quest for love in and outside of marriage, and her life in matriarchal rural South India after inheriting her ancestral home. Since the publication of Summer in Calcutta, Das has been a controversial figure, known for her unusual imagery and candor. In poems such as “The Dance of the Eunuchs” and “The Freaks,” Das draws upon the exotic to discuss her sexuality and her quest for fulfillment. In “An Introduction,” Das makes public traditionally private experiences, suggesting that women's personal feelings of longing and loss are part of the collective experience of womanhood. In the collection The Descendants (1967), the poem “The Maggots” frames the pain of lost love with ancient Hindu myths, while the poem “The Looking-Glass” suggests that the very things society labels taboo are the things that women are supposed to give. In The Old Playhouse and Other Poems (1973), poems such as “Substitute,” “Gino,” and “The Suicide” examine physical love's failure to provide fulfillment, escape from the self, and exorcism of the past, whereas poems such as “The Inheritance” address the integrity of the artistic self in the face of religious fanaticism. In Tonight, This Savage Rite: The Love Poems of Kamala Das and Pritish Nandy (1979), Das invokes Krishna in her explorations of the tensions between physical love and spiritual transcendence. The Anamalai Poems (1985), a series of short poems written after Das was defeated in the 1984 parliamentary elections, reworks the classical Tamil akam (“interior”) poems that contrast the grandeur and permanence of nature with the transience of human history. Poems such as “Delhi 1984” and “Smoke in Colombo” evoke the massacre of the Sikhs and the civil war in Sri Lanka. In My Story, originally published in serial format, Das provides details of her extramarital affairs and her unhappy marriage to Madhava Das. She is also the author of a novel, The Alphabet of Lust (1977), and several volumes of short stories in English. Under the name Madhavi Kutty, Das has published many books in the Malayalam language.

Critical Reception

Critical response to Das's poetry has been intimately connected to critical perception of her personality and politics; her provocative poetry has seldom produced lukewarm reactions. While reviewers of Das's early poetry have praised its fierce originality, bold images, exploration of female sexuality, and intensely personal voice, they lamented that it lacked attention to structure and craftsmanship. Scholars such as Devindra Kohli, Eunice de Souza, and Sunil Kumar have found powerful feminist images in Das's poetry, focusing on critiques of marriage, motherhood, women's relationships to their bodies and power over their sexuality, and the roles women are offered in traditional Indian society. Many critics have analyzed Das as a “confessional” poet, writing in the tradition of Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, and Denise Levertov. Some scholars, such as Vimala Rao, Iqbar Kaur, and Vrinda Naur, have deemed Das's poetry, autobiography, and essays frustratingly inconsistent, self-indulgent, and equivocal, although they, too, have praised her compelling images and original voice. Such commentators have suggested that Das is both overexposed and overrated. Other scholars, such as P. P. Raveendran, have connected the emphasis on the self in Das's work to larger historical and cultural contexts and complicated, shifting postcolonial identities. Indian critics have disagreed about the significance of Das's choice to write of her experiences as an Indian woman in English; some scholars suggest that, in her shunning of traditional aesthetic form, she has created a new language for the expression of colonial contradictions. Despite disagreement over the aesthetic qualities and consistency of Das's body of poetry, scholars agree that Das is an important figure whose bold and honest voice has re-energized Indian writing in English.

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