Friday, 19 October 2012

Kamala Das: I too call myself I

The Stone Age 

Fond husband, ancient settler in the mind,
Old fat spider, weaving webs of bewilderment,
Be kind. You turn me into a bird of stone, a granite
Dove, you build round me a shabby room,
And stroke my pitted face absent-mindedly while
You read. With loud talk you bruise my pre-morning sleep,
You stick a finger into my dreaming eye. And
Yet, on daydreams, strong men cast their shadows, they sink
Like white suns in the swell of my Dravidian blood,
Secretly flow the drains beneath sacred cities.
When you leave, I drive my blue battered car
Along the bluer sea. I run up the forty
Noisy steps to knock at another's door.
Through peep-holes, the neighbours watch,
they watch me come
And go like rain. Ask me, everybody, ask me
What he sees in me, ask me why he is called a lion,
A libertine, ask me why his hand sways like a hooded snake
Before it clasps my pubis. Ask me why like
A great tree, felled, he slumps against my breasts,
And sleeps. Ask me why life is short and love is
Shorter still, ask me what is bliss and what its price.... 

(from The Old Playhouse and Other Poems)  

 Kamala Das Aka Kamala Suraiya, writer and poet (1934-2009), stands out as an oddity on the Indian literary movement. She had little formal education and that too with inordinate breaks but her English poems figure in anthologies that are prescribed texts in literature studies in the US, UK and some Indian universities. Kamala Das was undoubtedly an iconoclast and had a literary flourish of her own. (source)

"Yes, I know, yesterday I might have been against liberation, today I am for it. Tomorrow I do not know what I would say, and how I feel."

In her autobiography -- My Story -- she told the story of her sexual life, her relationship with men and her views on the world. My Story gave her the image of being an amoral woman. But it was a huge success and has been published in more than 15 languages....

She released her first nude painting in the 1980s, she proclaimed: "I find the nude female body the most beautiful in the world."
She makes no attempt to hide the sensuality of the human form; her work seems to celebrate its joyous potential while acknowledging its concurrent dangers.

She once said, "I always wanted love, and if you don't get it within your home, you stray a little"(Warrior interview). Some might label her as "a feminist" for her candor in dealing with women's needs and desires.

Being short-listed for Nobel Prize in1984, Das possessed a significant position in the Indian literary scenario. Writing in English and Malayalam, Das 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 in 1965, Das has been considered an important voice of her generation who exemplified a break from the past by writing in a distinctly Indian persona rather than adopting the techniques of the English modernists.

An Introduction

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

Kamala Das
from "Summer in Calcutta "

Kamala: The ignited soul, by Shreekumar Varma:

Kamala Das’ restless spirit made her move from Hinduism to Islam, from Kerala to Pune, from one claustrophobic, tradition-bound space to another, always searching. She experimented with verse and fiction, drama and painting, probing and mining an ideal world that always seemed to elude her. 
When the soul ignites, words are often a balm. And from those words rise others with other words. Kamala Das inspired a young nation of poets.

~more about Kamala Das~
~more about My Story [pdf]~
~Last Lines~

more on this blog:

Kamala Das II: Painter-Poet

1 comment:

Sarojini Sahoo said...

Thanks for the write up on Kamala Das and also thanks for attaching a link to my blog. Most women are taught to suppress their libido and it is thought to be the conspiracy of patriarchy in order to maintain its hierarchy. Women are valued for their unique qualities and "rulers," either from the religious or socio-political spheres, tell us, in essence, what a woman should think and do. Once again, the question of women empowerment deteriorates into another form of what it is intended to eliminate. Direct about sex and uninhibited, a woman cannot approach a male if she so desires. She doesn't need the hierarchy to tell her when it is right. She doesn't play games, because the games are meant to limit her to begin with. Taboos and myths are shattered. The truths about sexuality are not important for a woman; they are only meant for men. Through out her life and literature Das fought against this patriarchal sexual politics. She is not only a poet of words but an activist of action in her real life. Thanks again for such discourse.