Kamala Das: The Woman Who Broke Barriers

In an era where women were enclosed within the walls of customs and traditions, Kamala Das rose ferociously against the world. From expressing her relation struggles to her sexual desires Kamala Das is a writer who laid out her life in literature despite the criticisms she received for it.

Born in Punnayurkulam Kerala in 1934 Kamala Das was introduced to literature from a young age thanks to her parent’s literary background. However, Kamala spent her early years in Calcutta. She was married quite early, at 15, to a bank officer who was fairly older than her but encouraged her passion for writing. Kamala Das wrote in two languages, Malayalam (her native tongue) and English, and has expressed the criticisms she received for this in her poem, An Introduction;

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 human as I am human, don’t

You see?

Her most famous works include her poetry collections included in Summer in Calcutta (1965), The Descendants (1967), and The Old Playhouse, and Other Poems (1973). Her novel and short-stories such as “A Doll for the Child Prostitute” (1977) and her other Malayalam works were some of her most significant works. However, her most criticised work was her own autobiography My Story (1976) that invited harsh criticisms for her open and intimate sexual confessions.

The poet-author apart from her confessional poetry also sketched out the experiences of being a woman in India. The strong patriarchal opinions and her strong feministic yearnings make Kamala a woman who followed her own principles.

Apart from the negative lime-light Kamala’s literary art is one that speaks volume. Her poems are often filled with rich and intense imagery emotions with the verse outlined creatively to convey Kamala’s feelings and bring the experience of her abyss to her readers.

In her poem, Summer in Calcutta the beginning verse goes;

What is this drink but

The April sun, squeezed

Like an orange in

My glass? I sip the

Fire, I drink and drink

Again, I am drunk

The main idea of the poem is that Kamala Das is drunk on the summer vibes of Calcutta. She describes the April sun as an orange juice that is making her feel happy, satisfied and worry-free. She loves the heat of the sun and forgets all her pains of the past momentarily. One may assume Kamala to be drunk on alcohol while sitting in the sun although this cannot be true as Kamala re-iterates again and again that it is the sun that makes her drunk. The whole scene in the poem describes the transient happiness and pleasure that Kamala receives by being under the sun and away from her marital life.

In another poem, My Grandmother’s House, Kamala describes the sense of security she felt in her grandma’s house when she was young. She also explains how apart from being a haven how the house comforted her and made her felt proud for who she was. Her present life is so full of devastations that she now longs to go back to her past.

Kamala maybe majorly known for her explicit use of sexual imagery but her art always spoke for her, portrayed her emotions honestly and made her a woman who stood strong with her convictions.

Categories: Education, Literature

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