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Wednesday, December 29, 2010


(Provided as a response to the request of teacher participants at the orientation programme for Higher Secondary School Teachers held district-wise at Kannur, Kozhikode and Malappuram)

Note on the author: Kamala Suraiyya (Malayalam: കമലാ സുരയ്യ) a.k.a. Madhavikutty (Malayalam: മാധവിക്കുട്ടി) was born on the 31st of March in the year 1934. Born into an uppercaste/class Hindu Nair family – 31 May 2009) was an Indian writer who wrote in both English and Malayalam. Her confessional writings broke a new terrain for feminist expression in the Kerala context and culture. The progressive evolution of feminism and condition and identity of women debates in the Indian context and Kerala subculture has been positively fuelled by writings of Kamala Das. She passed away on 31 May 2009 at the age of 75.
Her works include novels and short stories in English, and in Malayalam also. She used the name "Madhavikutty" for her Malayalam expressions. Her works include My Story (1976), A Doll for the Child Prostitute, The Old Playhouse and Other Poems (1973), The Anamalai Poems (1985), and Only the Soul Knows How to Sing (1996). Some of her more recent novels in Malayalam include Palayan (1990), Neypayasam (1991), and Dayarikkurippukal (1992).

• Indian poetess from Kerala writing in English, born in South Malabar - bold attempts to break the traditional shell of Indian woman through her creative writings, talks and interviews – employed a fiery tone and confessional mode most successfully shocking the conventional society but highlighting certain fundamental facts about women and their condition in a patriarchal society such as that of Kerala.
• This poem expresses a woman’s feelings as a mother – the narrative voice/speaker is a middle aged woman and the narrative is composed of chosen moments from her own life and involves feelings as a mother – the mother in the poem is not a glorified and idealized and angelic, goddess-like mother of patriarchal construction but a most sensitive woman who feels neglected, sidelined and reduced to the status of a providing slave or object – the poem brings out the loneliness that she feels in her middle age - middle age is when her children become critics of all that she does, when she is lashed with their tongue (severe with their tongue, also note the correspondence between severe and sever) – the poem presents the evolution of an infant into a youth most beautifully borrowing an image from nature, the life cycle of butterflies: they are like pupae in a cocoon (unimpressive, unprepossessing, extremely dependent on the mother, sucking nourishment and protection from her) achieving the harsh adult glory like butterflies – then everything changes: mothers are for serving tea and pressing their dress – a change that is painful and shocking to the mother who needs the company of her children, she misses her children, in loneliness she touches their books and other things, weep a little secretly, dreams of the days when she fed them with many animals stories, feasts - now she can only cry and she realizes that she is no longer young, it is time to wake up from the daydreams.
The poem employs free verse and a conversational tone. The rhythm suits the theme and it helps create the dreamy world of a lonely mother. The visual imageries: pupae to cocoon, jungle stories in golden ink, feasts of nature, child hood pranks.
This poem may be taken as an instance from the life of the poetess where she attempts a kind of self-writing in an effort to accept the harsh reality in her life as a mother, to tackle the callousness and the generation gap into which existence and patriarchy trapped her, a woman with a very passionate and most sensitive heart. In the Freudian parlance, it is possible to interpret her act of writing this poem as an instance of curing herself from the anxieties of being cast off (a strong word I presume, and so, may be qualified with “psychologically” for those who want to soothe the male-psyche) by her children in their adult glory or largely by the male dominant variety of Indian capitalism which commodizes the female body and faculties. The use of the capital (Mother) is an act of sweeping generalization of women as Mother to underscore the shared experience. Structure-wise, the whole poem is a long one-line construction which undermines rules of grammar and English composition ruthlessly to drive home the harsh realities of the mother by the jarring presence of capitals in unexpected places in a running sentence poem (Middle, Friends, It’s, Emerge, Need, Clothes, Weep, Once, Jungle-feast, It, In, You - these words occur at the beginning of each line creating an impression that it is a new sentence but these words are not preceded by full stops, except that there is once instance of an ellipsis which is symbolically loaded with the meanings of a pause in speech or an unfinished thought. At the end of a sentence, it signifies a gradual and slow transition or trailing off into silence. Ellipsis can be rightly interpreted as a half presence that points to loud and eloquent absence and may inspire a feeling of melancholy longing as it is in this poem. In certain poems punctuations reveal more than the words put together. Kamala Das leaves the ellipsis in the poem as a strategic entry point for an interpretive reading that will do justice to women for whom language itself was a tool of oppression. It is important to learn that the unloved women or women seeking love and finding it in the most unconventional ways, whether they are wives, lovers or mothers, are familiar figures one invariably encounters in the literary terrains brought forth into existence by Kamala Das/Kamala Suraiyya.
(Bibliography to be provided)

1 comment:

Least Intelligent said...

if possible can you mail me the text of the poem