Critical Analysis Of An Introduction By Kamala Das

About the Poet:

Kamala Das is the pen-name of Madhavi Kutty. She is one of the three most significant Indian poets writing in English today. The other two are Nissim Ezekiel and A.K. Ramanujan, Kamala Das was born at Punnayurkulam in southern Malabar in 1934. She was educated mainly at home and denied the advantage of regular school and college education. This is surprising as both her parents were poets and should have encouraged their talented daughter. She was married at the age of fifteen. She now has three children and is settled in Bombay.

Since both the parents of Kamala Das were poets, poetry was, so to say, in her blood. She constantly speaks of her Dravidian blood and of her Nair heritage.

Kamala Das is one of the most distinctive, original and Indian poets writing in English. She has published only three slender volumes of poetry, but some of her poems are bound to find an honourable place in any future anthology of Indian poets writing in English. Her experiences were limited and so also is her range.

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Quest for love, or rather the failure to find emotional fulfilment through love is the central theme of Kamala’s poetry, and her greatness as a love-poet arises from the fact that her love-poetry is rooted in her own personal experiences. It is an outpouring of her own loneliness, disillusionment and sense of frustration. Marriage and love need not be mutually exclusive, but for Kamala Das, as she tells us repeatedly, they have proved to be so. When she speaks of love outside marriage she is not actually propagating adultery and infidelity, but merely searching for a relationship which gives both love and security. That is why she sometimes gives a mythical framework to her search for true love and identifies it with the Radha-Krishna myth of with Mira Bai’s relinquishing of the ties of marriage ein search of Lord Krishna, the true lover. In one of her better known lyrics. An Introduction, she tells us, how she was asked to belong’, ‘to confirm, and how she rebelled and tried to be even with the male-worked its own terms.

The poetess is quite alive to her feminity, asserts it and celebrates it in one poem after another. She was a social rebel, and like all rebels against the accepted social norms, frustration and disillusionment were her lot in life, and her self-expression in the poetry is therapeutic. Her poetry mirrors her life in all its nakedness-the oft experienced horrors and the rare joys of love. The form of life is truly reflected in the form she achieves in her poetic practice.

Courage and honesty are the strength of Kamala Das’ character and her poetry, and the courage lies in not only being able to admit that one has aged when one has, but is also being to assert in the face of it that in the final analysis one has no regrets and that one has lived beautifully in this beautiful world, and that one can……. look at my maker, if at all that is possible with no apology for my past exuberances, no extenuations, for deep inside, I known well that I have lived beautifully in this beautiful world.

Like most Indian poets writing in English, Kamala Das is also bilingual. She writes both in Malayalam and English. Once when asked why she chose to write in English, she replied that English being the tongue most familiar to her, she used it to express herself. Her choice of English was by no means a deliberate one. One of her better-known poems ‘An Introduction, which has often been regarded as her poetic manifesto, throws considerable light on her use of English. In other words, she recognises the immense possibilities of English to bear the various shade and nuances of feelings, its vast storehouse of emotional analogues and other equivalents.

Kamala Das’s poetic diction has nothing to do with philosophical musings or religious chants. Nor does she wield her instrument to compose songs of love or of nature. It is no Pandora’s box, but a cluster of simple counters emotionally charged and, at times, transformed into emotions themselves. She is unlike the modernists whose dislocated syntax startles us as much as their poetic apprehensions puzzle. Kamala Das does not make experiments with words but only imparts a personal touch to them.

Kamala Das uses words imaginatively, so that they are adequate to express her emotions. Her words come to her effortlessly, and become one with her emotions. Sometimes, a powerful verbal-drama is enacted through her use of emotionally charged words.

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Critical Appreciation- An Introduction

This is one of Kamala Das’s better known lyrics and it is also included in The Summer in Calcutta. It voices the poet’s quest for identity and fulfilment. It begins colloquially with the poet introducing herself as an innocent Indian girl.

 This is a confessional poem about the poet’s self. The speaker does not claim to have a knowledge of politics, but she happens to know the names of them in higher seats of power and can repeat them like days of weak or names of months. She has been suffering from a crisis of identity. but she likes to extricate herself from that situation. The lack of interest in political affairs testifies to her indifference to awkward events. She is interested in mental exploration. The poetess in the presence of the speaker reveals her Indian background, her feminine sensibility and her linguistic activities. The speaker is not involved in the dirty game of politics. She tries to maintain her personal integrity and identity. She is a candid speaker.

The poem may not be her poetic manifesto, but it certainly tells us much about her views regarding the medium of poetic expression. The medium does not matter much, it is the thought-content which is of the utmost importance. Thus An Introduction offers neither an excuse for writing nor a poetic manifesto: it is vitally related to her urges and aspirations and registers the graph of her growth and consciousness, love and despair, and all that she can do with the English language.

The lyric is concerned basically with the question of human identity, but it effectively uses the confessional and the rhetorical modes in order to focus on questions relating to a woman’s or an Indian poet’s identity in English. The speaker admits that English is not her mother tongue. She does not use English as her mother tongue. She follows the natural bent of her mind to use English as a medium of creative expressions. She likes to use any language that she likes. She observes in this context:

The language I speak

Becomes mine, its distortions, its queerness

All mine, mine alone. It is half English, half

Indian, funny perhaps, but it is honest.

Then comes the puzzling adolescence and the pain of growing up. This is followed by a desire to be even with the male world on its own terms, despite the family and social pressures to conform to the traditional feminine role:

Dress in sarees, be girl,

Be wife, they said, Be embroiderer, be cook,

Be a quareller with servants. Fit in.

Oh Belong, cried the categorizers. Don’t sit

On walls or peep in through our lace-drapped windows.

 Be Amy, or be Kamla, or better

Still, be Madhavikutty It is time to

Choose a name, a role

The expression ‘every man’ refers to man as the universal masculine self. The expression every woman similarly refers to every person as an embodiment of the universal feminine self. Mrs. Kamala Das, in this poem, traces out her development as an adolescent woman. In her vision, the man who covets her sexually suffers the embodiment of the universal masculine self, while, as the confesses:

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 Waiting.

 This is a confession of the necessity and the need for the cultivation of the cult of sex, or the aesthetics of the body.

Kamala Das presents a new aesthetic in poetic terms. But the full import of the line “I speak three languages, write in Two, dream in one” is not quite clear to us. True, she is bilingual, writing novels in Malayalam and poetry in English. She confirms the view that the choice of medium is only of marginal significance, since a genuine poet does not choose to write in a language which he is not fully conversant with.

The lyric shows a desire to understand the workings of the feminine consciousness. Her best known poem An Introduction’ is concerned with the question of human identity, but it effectively uses the confessional and the rhetorical modes in order to focus on questions relating to a woman’s or an Indian poet’s identity in English.

In the poem, the poetess celebrates herself with full gusto and vigour. The entire poem is a quest for identity, in which the poetess passively explores the limits and contradiction in herself. The poetess is vividly aware of the contradictions involved in her quest for identity. In whatever the poetess does, she is fully conscious of her identity as a sensitive, percipient poet. The image used by her for the self is very apt and appropriate. What is most remarkable about the poetry of Kamala Das is her intense desire to know herself in totally, without full concentration on an confidence in the integrity of her creative self.

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