Analysis of An Introduction by Kamala Das

 
Kamala Das, also known as Kamala Suraiya, was born in 1934 in Malabar, in the state of Kerala, to a highly literate, conservative Hindu Nair family of Royal ancestry. She received a private education till she was 15, and was given in marriage at 16 and subsequently had three sons. However, since her love of poetry was very strong, she began to write at an early age, and wrote in both English, and Malayalam, under the penname “‘Madhavikutti.” She also courted controversy when she converted to Islam in 1999. She died in 2009.

The poem ‘An introduction’ was published in her first collection, Summary in Calcutta in 1965. The poem reveals the attitude of Kamala Das to poetry and life, through her discussion of the life of a woman in a search for self-discovery and self-exploration, in a patriarchal society. It is also personal and autobiographical as it seems to address issues encountered by Das herself, the female poet who chooses to write in the English language. As such, it can be categorized as a confessional poem, exposing and unraveling herself. She also has the experience to back up her assertions about freedom and oppression as she played a critical role in the establishment of the Indian feminist movement.

 

Overview

Title: Starts with an indefinite article to highlight the topic as one of the introductions of a certain subject. She may point out her own introduction to a certain subject. When reading through the poem, the reader understand this is an introduction to her self-exploration in a patriarchal society.

Form: sixty-line poem that is contained within a single stanza. The lines range from three words up to eleven, lines vary greatly in length and syllable number.

Meter:  no specific metrical pattern.

Rhyme: no proper rhyme scheme, written in free verse. There are several examples of half-rhyme and internal rhyme.

Tone: confessional.

Theme: feminism, equal rights, woman’s quest for identity, freedom, and marriage

Narration: first person, this seems to be the story of the poetess herself. 

 

Deep-End Analysis

The poem is divided into meaningful portions, however, the poem contains only one stanza.

 

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.

 

Allusion: names of the politicians in India

Colour Imagery: very brown

Anaphora: “I” (give conviction filled statement about who she is.)

Enjambment: the whole poem runs as a single portion of a speech; so, enjambment can be seen throughout the poem.

At the beginning of the poem, it is notable of the honesty of the speaker through her casual and colloquial way of presentation. She at the beginning sets the tone to her inferiority before the powerful figures in the country. Their names are a part of her, a tribute to their overwhelming power. This contrasts significantly with the lack of power she felt while growing up, as it is the way they are brought up, drawing a rigid line between powerful and powerless.

The poem first deals with her desperate attempt to rationalize her linguistic choice in writing and speech. This refers to the linguistic legacy of colonialism where writers in most post-independent nations are blamed for writing in the colonial language which is seen as a tool of cultural subjugation. She continues to describe language and the role it plays in her life by saying that she is judged for writing in English.

She protests against those stereotypes, claiming that the language she uses is a part of her; through “distortions,” her language can only be defined as her own. So, at the beginning we see a rebellious character who wade against the conventional social streams.

 

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.

 

Compare and contrast: half English, half Indian (Her identity, seen through her voice, Indian have very unique way of using English, therefore there is a variety of English called Indian English)

Visual imagery: blazing funeral pyre, trees in storm, monsoon clouds, rain

Auditory imagery: crow “cawing” (an image which is simple, ordinary and familiar in an Indian context, and therefore, appropriate to suggest her ease with the English language.) roaring of lion

 

Das exclaims what English language meant to her. To her, it is a part of herself. To her, language is a living breathing thing which helps her to convey her emotions. Das describes the control she has over her voice, whether through speech or text. It can display all of her emotions and her inner self. As she says, the language she uses is no more foreign, it is full of meanings unlike the distinct sounds heard in certain untamed forces of nature.

 

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.

 

Paradoxical: He did not beat me/ But my sad woman-body felt so beaten. (She felt humiliated for losing herself before male dominance)

Stream of consciousness: her speech is instinctive, flows like a stream, connecting her past to present like a spontaneous speech.

Flash back: She relates the past incidents in her life.

 

She introduces her loss of childhood innocence under the grip of patriarchal society. Though in her heart and mind she had been a child, she was defined as a grown up mainly due to the changes visible in her body. Her pre-mature marriage is a revelation about the system of child marriage prevailed in India. The simplification of a woman as nothing more than a body that led her to marriage at sixteen. She reveals how her feminine self was squeezed into a small domestic frame. She also places blame on her own body for leading her to this place.

 

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 …

 

Anaphora: be (emphasizes the patriarchal force upon her)

Repetition: Don’t (repeated ‘no’ to her radical actions)

 

The speaker is ridding herself of the female image that has harmed her. Her role as a woman is supposed to be meek, quiet, and contained. She rejects her assaulted female identity through a rejection of female attire and instead attempts to embrace a more empowering image in a patriarchal society. But she is once again blamed for being nonconformist.

 

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.

 

Metaphor: …the hungry haste of rivers, in me…the oceans’ tireless/waiting. (her emotional desires wanting to be fulfilled)

Repetition: I (The “I” represents the agency he has in the world. Men make their own decisions and have the ability to use the pronoun in order to get what they want.)

Simile: he is tightly packed like the sword in its sheath (the place of the man is well placed in the society and the sword might represent the power the male possesses.)

 

Das describes the lover she met as a symbolic representation of patriarchal society. The name ‘man’ is of little importance as he is meant to represent every man in the world who uses women as he pleases. she celebrates her sensuousness, and is unashamed of her quest for love and satisfaction. Das describes the way that men are able to move through the world with a solid identity. They are allowed their choices and emotions. She is frustrated as he is a product of patriarchal society which is rigid and unyielding.

 

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.

 

Repetition: I (at the beginning, the “I” represents the male who enjoys freedom without any limit of time or space; later, the “I” changes into herself who tries to enter the world of equality)

Paradox: I am sinner, I am saint. I am the beloved and the betrayed (the confusion inside herself in searching her identity. In a way this is identifying her true self; nobody is perfect.)

 

As Das put forward, a free person like a man is able to go and “Drink… at twelve” and stay in “hotels of strange towns.” As the lines continue the division between the speaker and the “I” is blurred. She is trapped between her own need for free life and the world which tries to keep her contained. Eventually, a reader comes to understand that she is trying to come to terms with her own independence and identity as both “saint” and “sinner.” The final statement is one of protest and resistance. Das states that she has “Aches” which belong to no one but herself. She too can be “I.” She concludes by attempting to figure out who he is, and determines that as a woman, she will remain both “beloved” and “betrayed”, forever unfulfilled.

Das uses the medium of poetry to protest and rebel against societal restrictions and taboos, and reawaken her stifled identity. She writes about love, betrayal, and anguish. She celebrates female sexuality, and recounts even the frustrations of her own marriage. As such, she is brutal in her sincerity and honesty, and is identified as a confessional poet, and has been seen as one of the most controversial women writers in India.

 

Hope you had a clear understanding of the poem. It is rather a long poem but the diction she used is not very hard to unwrap. Leave a comment to enrich this post. Share the post if you find it useful.

 

Sources: www.poemanalysis.com, resource book provided by NIE

 

 

Post a Comment

0 Comments