The word ‘freak’ has the following meanings:

  1. A thing or occurrence that is markedly unusual or irregular
  2. An abnormally formed organism, especially a person or animal regarded as a curiosity or monstrosity.
  3. A sudden capricious turn of mind; a whim:

Here , the first stands for the sexual act in the poem that is unnatural, simply for the reason that it is not natural (not arising out of love).

The second meaning can be attributed to the object of the act, the poetess herself- an eccentric.

The third implication is responsible for the poem itself as a whole, a sudden whim that results in the poet’s inspiration.

The man in question is described in terms of his unattractive attributes: his sun-burnt cheek, his dark mouth, the uneven teeth that gleam (implying that the person is most probably dark) etc. The poetess begins the poem with ”He talks” as he is the supreme authority as in “And God said…” The act of love also has patriarchy reigning supreme. His mouth is a dark cavern of hidden egoistic secrets. The cavern is also a passage for the poetess to reach her love’s heart, that she fails to achieve. The teeth hanging from the roof of his mouth appear as uneven as stalactites.The word ‘stalactites’ denotes lack of warmth.

As they tried to pursue the goal of love, they trip over puddles of desire.  Kamala Das utilizes the word ‘Idly’ to signify that this does not happen accidentally.The poetess means to iterate that if the person wanted to really love her, he would have succeeded.That is, if lethargy did not come as a hindrance.

Nimble finger-tips unleash
Nothing more alive than the
Skin’s lazy hungers?

He touches her with his fingertips; he touches her superficially without the feeling of affection. It is nothing more than the skin’s cravings. The poet rhetorically poses a question as to who could have helped those lovers who treaded the path of love too long enough, and still failed in the blossoming of love.

The heart is described as an “empty cistern.” A cistern is meant for holding some liquid. Here the cistern is empty is incapable of holding love. Moreover, according to popular belief, to see an empty cistern foretells despairing change from happiness to sorrow. Therefore Kamala Das comprehends that the present is momentary and will eventually give away to despair. The cistern is rather is filled with coiling snakes of silence that creep up their very being. The snakes are symbolic of poison, and their coiling represents a maze from which the poetess has no escape. In her typical confessional mode, the poetess declares:

I am a freak. It’s only
To save my face, I flaunt, at
Times, a grand, flamboyant lust.

The term “freaky” also applies to a person who is sexually adventurous.. As an extension of this definition, the word can refer to someone who is viewed as being  a sex addict in extreme, or for whom sex is a central focus of their lives. Therefore, the poetess puts on the air of being a nymphomaniac. She does not put it forth as an act of love, simply because she knows that she will never be loved back. She tries to ‘save her face’ from this basic impossibility that she attributes to men in general.

©Rukhaya MK 2010

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