Kamala Suraiya Das also known as Madhavikutty, is India’s ‘Poet Laureate’. The “Dance of the Eunuchs” is included in the collection Summer in Calcutta(1965). The poem is an eloquent expression of the barrenness of Kamala Das’s love-life and emblematic of the spiritual aridity of her being. The poetess utilizes the symbolism of the eunuchs who are the very emblem of sterility. The dance of the eunuchs far from being an aesthetic extravaganza is rather a spectacle that is looked down upon.
The poetess begins by exclaiming that: “It was hot, so hot, before the eunuchs came.”
Climate change is not a matter of concern for them, as they are always subjected to cold air and frigid responses. The anklets just jingle and jingle without any rhythm to it.They are indeed a spectacle with their ‘flashing eyes’ beneath the fiery gulmohar. The gulmohar is a beautiful tree that is juxtaposed against something deemed unpleasant.
To dance, wide skirts going round and round, cymbals
Richly clashing, and anklets jingling, jingling
They were green tattoos on their face. They have to carve tattoos on their face, as the face of the eunuchs will be the only place that will be explored, that too, by disinterested eyes. Some were dark and some were fair. It is not mentioned whether they are good-looking or not, as they are not by default. The songs were harsh due to their coarse voices; a and the songs were melancholic. They sing of ‘lovers dying’ and ‘unborn children’. Where, both lovers and children are remote possibilities for them. While some beat their drums, some beat their ‘sorry breasts’. The breast are ‘sorry’ either because they are very small or because they out of place according to gender. They wail and ‘writhe’ in vacant ecstasy. The elation is vacant reflecting the vacuum in their life and the hollowness of their existence.
Were thin in limbs and dry; like half-burnt logs from
Funeral pyres, a drought and a rottenness
Were in each of them
Far from being shapely, their limbs were gaunt devoid of life like half-burnt logs from the funeral pyre, that is at once a symbol of the death of death. Not only were they overcome with drought, they were also rotten, as if in a state of decomposition. A thing tends to decompose due to lack of utility. They have no utility value, no function to perform in society, hence they rot. Crows as though foreboding some natural disaster stood still and kids watched ‘wide-eyed’ in shock, and not in awe. The eunuchs are termed ‘poor creatures’ in condescension. Their dance far from being rhythmic,is like going into convulsions, an inexplicable hysteria that scares the spectator.
The sky crackled and the thunder came. In T.S.Eliot’s “The Wasteland” what the thunder stood for was hope. Rain is generally a symbol of fertility. The first rain always has the fresh smell of mud emanating from it. Here, however it stinks of dust ,and urine of lizards and mice. Thus the poem ends without any ray of hope.
©Rukhaya MK 2010
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