An Introduction” is Kamala Das’s most famous poem in the confessional mode. Writing to her, always served as a sort of spiritual therapy: ”If I had been a loved person, I wouldn’t have become a writer. I would have been a happy human being.”
Kamala Das begins by self-assertion: I am what I am. The poetess claims that she is not interested in politics, but claims to know the names of all in power beginning from Nehru. She seems to state that these are involuntarily ingrained in her. By challenging us that she can repeat these as easily as days of the week, or the names of months she echoes that they these politicians were caught in a repetitive cycle of time, irrespective of any individuality. They did not define time; rather time defined them.
Subsequently, she comes down to her roots. She declares that by default she is an Indian. Other considerations follow this factor. She says that she is ‘born in’ Malabar; she does not say that she belongs to Malabar. She is far from regional prejudices. She first defines herself in terms of her nationality, and second by her colour.
I am Indian, very brown, born in Malabar,
And she is very proud to exclaim that she is ‘very brown’. She goes on to articulate that she speaks in three languages, writes in two and dreams in one; as though dreams require a medium. Kamala Das echoes that the medium is not as significant as is the comfort level that one requires. The essence of one’s thinking is the prerequisite to writing. Hence she implores with all-“critics, friends, visiting cousins” to leave her alone. Kamal aDas reflects the main theme of Girish Karnad’s “Broken Images”-the conflict between writing in one’s regional language and utilizing a foreign language. The language that she speaks is essentially hers; the primary ideas are not a reflection but an individual impression. It is the distortions and queerness that makes it individual, in keeping with Chomsky’s notion of ‘performance.’ And it is these imperfections that render it human. It is the language of her expression and emotion as it voices her joys, sorrows and hopes. It comes to her as cawing comes to the crows and roaring to the lions, and is therefore impulsive and instinctive. It is not the deaf, blind speech: though it has its own defects, it cannot be seen as her handicap. It is not unpredictable like the trees on storm or the clouds of rain. Neither does it echo the “incoherent mutterings of the blazing fire.” It possesses a coherence of its own: an emotional coherence.
She was child-like or innocent; and she knew she grew up only because according to others her size had grown. The emotional frame of mind was essentially the same. Married at the early age of sixteen, her husband confined her to a single room. She was ashamed of her feminity that came before time, and brought her to this predicament. This explains her claim that she was crushed by the weight of her breast and womb. She tries too overcome it by seeming tomboyish. So she cuts her hair short and adorns boyish clothes. People criticize her and tell her to ‘conform’ to the various womanly roles. They accuse her of being schizophrenic; and ‘a nympho’. They confuse her want of love and attention for insatiable sexual craving.
She explains her encounter with a man. She attributes to him not a proper noun, but a common noun-“every man” to reflect his universality. He defined himself by the “I”, the supreme male ego. He is tightly compartmentalized as “the sword in its sheath’. It portrays the power politics of the patriarchal society that we thrive in that is all about control.It is this “I” that stays long away without any restrictions, is free to laugh at his own will, succumbs to a woman only out of lust and later feels ashamed of his own weakness that lets himself to lose to a woman. Towards the end of the poem, a role-reversal occurs as this “I” gradually transitions to the poetess herself. She pronounces how this “I” is also sinner and saint”, beloved and betrayed. As the role-reversal occurs, the woman too becomes the “I” reaching the pinnacle of self-assertion.
©Rukhaya MK 2010
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