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In the middle of the Twentieth century, more precisely, after the advent of independence in 1947 in India, there emerged a prominent cultural awakening demanding the recognition of the feminist prerogatives, and Indian feminist writing in English revealed a hitherto unknown feminine psyche. Kamala Das plays a very significant role in making the feminist concerns and points of view violently clarified through her poetry. She successfully poetizes the modern Indian feminist rebellion in accordance with the Twentieth Century Western Women’s Liberation Movement like Simone de Beauvior and Virginia Woolf. In the characteristically unrelenting Indian socio-cultural milieu, Das makes a poetic revolt by way of introspectively pondering over the unfortunate state of existence in which Indian women conduct themselves. Besides being a feminist poet, Das is also distinguished by the ‘confessional’ strain in her writing. Confessional poetry is highly subjective; the poets write with considerable frankness and sincerity and usually focus the readers’ attention on the trials of life, their misery and heartaches.
‘An Introduction’ is a confessional poem that makes a lot of revelation about the poet (as confessional poems typically do): her Dravidian blood, her political knowledge, her linguistic acquirements, her creative talent, her tormenting experiences in married life, her alienation from the society, her quest for identity and attempt at self-exploration. For Das, the English language was a medium that transcreated from her emotional, artistic and responsive mind, the coherent words that speak her joys, longings and hopes. She was conscious of her ability to express honestly and eloquently in a language that was not her mother tongue and is thus dismayed that she should be dictated not to write in English:
“ … Why not leave
Me alone, critics, friends, visiting cousins,
Everyone 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.”
The poem thus expresses “a state of her credo, her attitude to language.” She goes on to recognise the potentiality of the English language to bear the various shades and nuances of her feelings and emotions:
“… It voices my joys, my longings, my
Hopes, and it is useful to me as cawing
Is to crows or roaring to the lions …”
Her poems being the proper outcries of the occasion, they evidently take their life-blood from modern Confessionalists.
The poem is a witty and candid piece of self-revelation. Das talks about hr artistic, social as well as sexual alienation. This intensely personal and autobiographical quality of her poetry recalls, in some aspects, the works of such confessional poets as Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath who attempted to work out their traumas in their poetry. Especially with regard to her anguish and frustration in marital life, Das ‘let(s) (her) mind striptease’ and exudes autobiography, as she reveals the carnal exploits to which she has been inhumanely subjected by her husband. Here is to be found a curious blend of self-pity and an implicit protest against the passivity and timidity of the Indian woman and her subservience to her husband. Das is blatantly iconoclastic in her approach to marriage. Th carnal imagery she uses reveals her strong feminine sensibility, sincerity, sensuousness as well as spontaneity.
The poem is also a revolt against conventionalism and the restraints imposed on women by the society. The poet describes how she rebelled and tried to be even with the male world on her own terms:
“ … I wore a shirt and my
Brother’s trousers, cut my hair short and ignored
At this juncture of the poem, she faces an evident identity crisis and in an attempt at self-discovery and self-exploration, she chooses to dress in male attire. It may be noted here that redefining the identity is one of the major concerns of confessional poets. There is an underlying sense of emotional agony, though it is the spirit of rebelliousness that is the most conspicuous. Interestingly and ironically, even as she tries to ignore her womanliness it is the woman in her that emerges in the process. Wearing a man’s apparel was a radical move on her part and predictably here too, the society is resentful. It exhorts her to “fit in”, to “belong” by dressing in sarees, cook, embroider and quarrel with servants. Ironically, they ask her to “choose a name” but do not really give her the freedom to choose. She was enjoined to curb her emotions at all costs. If she expressed her emotional needs, she would be considered a schizophrenic and if she voiced her sexual needs, she would be labelled a nymphomaniac. All confessional art is actually a means of killing the beasts within us by exposing all the dreadful dragons of dreams and experiences. Das does precisely the same thing here. The cathartic effect of her poem, as in the case of all confessional poetry, is clearly seen here.
Though the poem is wholly autobiographical, the poet has successfully raised the confessional traits of her poem to the level of universal appeal:
“ … 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 ocean’s tireless
The poem here acquires wider dimensions and realises a certain degree of objectivity despite being primarily subjective. In seeking emotional and spiritual sustenance from her lover and being only sexually gratified, she becomes an ‘everywoman’ figure. This ultimately culminates in Das merging her identity entirely with all womanhood as she magnifies as well as condenses her identity at the same time:
“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 th beloved and the
Betrayed. I have no joys which are not yours, no
Aches which are not yours. I too call myself I”
It is thus her essential feminine spirit that is borne out in the poem. In fact, several faces of the woman have been exhibited in the poem through the confessional mode – woman as an artist, woman as a wife, woman as a lover, woman as a social rebel, and, above all, woman as an untiring seeker of the nature of the psychological processes behind both femininity and masculinity. In the process of asserting her femininity on her readers, its trials and tribulations, its hopes and despairs, the poetess also embarks on a journey to search for her own identity through which she creates a personal mythology. The use of free verse and a colloquial diction contribute to the poet’s spontaneity of expression which further enriches the confessional mode used in the poem as it aids in an uninhibited expression of emotions.
This essay is about an analysis of Kamala Das' confessional poem 'An Introduction'.73
Part of the Something Else collection
Published on March 04, 2017
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