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RNI : UPBIL/2012/44732
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Dr. Charu Mehrotra
Research Guide
Associate Professor and Head
Department of English
Bareilly College, Bareilly

Kamala Das was one of the most prolific and distinguished bilingual literary persons in the twentieth century in the history of Indo-Anglian literature. She was born on 31st March 1934 and expired on 31st May 2009 at the age of 75 years. She came to the fore in the literary world as the revolutionary and rebellious woman with her remarkable volumes of poems such as “Summer in Calcutta” (1965), “The Descendants” (1967), “The Old Playhouse and Other Poems” (1973) — etc. She campaigned for the emancipation and privileges of women with the help of her poems. Her poems explicitly focus on the problems that Indian women have been facing and enduring since ancient and middle ages under the male domination. They were treated only as puppets in the hands of patriarchy and phallocracy. So, Kamala Das brought into light the women’s silent cry for freedom. She attacked patriarchy, phallocracy, women’s oppression and exploitation within and outside the family with the help of her poems. In this respect she is definitely considered as the greatest rebellious feminist in Indo-Anglian literature.
The main purpose of this paper is to find out the revolutionary woman in the poems of Kamala Das. Her revolutionary woman is the woman who protests and revolts against the patriarchal and phallocratic systems of the society. Indeed, Kamala Das herself is in her woman persona of her poems. Hence, she wants to replace matriarchal system in place of patriarchal and phallocractic systems. Almost in all her poems, she explicitly protests and revolts against male domination and she demands for a revolutionary change. As P. K. J. Kurup rightly remarks : “Protesting the constraints of married life and male domination she became a rebel. Her offended feminine self went on emotional wanderings attempting to explore an identity and freedom.” [1]
Indeed, Kamala Das focuses only on the miserable conditions of women in the cruel clutches of patriarchal system which uses the women’s bodies for its pleasures. For women’s safety and security, she fearlessly protests and raises her voice against the traditions and customs which suppressed and repressed women’s liberty, identity, dignity and individuality in the family and in the society. She wants to free women from the dependence syndrome of husbands, fathers, sons, the community or religious traditions and customs. She intends and requires that women should also lead a normal life of their own. She boldly exposes the husband’s cruelty and tyranny which torture and oppress wifehood. As S. D. Sharma remarks in his article “Kamala Das’s poetry” :
“Kamala Das openly revolts against the traditionally accepted, strange, queer womanhood, concepts in the Indian society, which is so awkwardly full of abominable shams and cants. Rigid trammels of tyranny, she does not like at all. In a bitter piercing, cathartic tone, Kamala Das ridicules traditional imposters show of masculine strength and also man’s lust.” [2]
Thus, the poetry of Kamala Das is the poetry of protest and revolt. If we carefully open the poem “The Old Playhouse” and deeply study it, we will definitely find that the woman persona in this poem is purely revolutionary and rebellious who protests and revolts against the restrictions of married life, against the husband’s domination over the housewife. Indeed, the woman persona in this poem is Kamala Das herself. She tells about her conjugal life and relations which were not satisfactory and happy with her husband. She compares herself to a swallow and her husband to a captor who wanted to capture her and to keep her totally under his control. The husband wanted to make her forget all those comforts and happiness which she used to enjoy at her father’s house. The husband wanted to snatch the freedom of flying outside of domesticity. As addressing her husband, she protests and revolts in this way :
“You planned to tame a swallow, to hold her
In the long summer of your love so that she would forget
Not the raw seasons alone, and the homes left behind, but
Also her nature, the urge to fly, and the endless.
Pathways of the sky.” [3]
As the poem proceeds, its effect of protest and revolt becomes more intensified with the repetition of the address ‘You’. Her nature is exposed to us and we feel that she likes freedom more and more but she finds herself as captured like a bird in the cage of her husband’s claustrophobic house. Her desire to fly is restricted and she becomes the victim of her husband’s lust. As she expresses her emotions in these lines :
“You were pleased
With my body’s response,….
You dribbled spittle into my mouth, you poured
Yourself into every nook and cranny, you embalmed
My poor lust with your bitter-sweet juices.” [4]
Such kinds of her disgust and protest against her husband’s behaviour towards her are clear visible. Now the woman persona of Kamala Das feels suffocated and asphyxiated in her husband’s claustrophobic house in which his room was always lit by the artificial light of electric lamps and the windows always remained shut. Even the air-conditioner in his room gave no relief to her feeling of suffocation and asphyxiation. Her husband’s entire room gave bad smell of his masculine breath. Even the fragrant flowers in vases seemed without their natural fragrance and they have achieved the smell of her husband’s sweat. She could not also hear the singing and chirping of birds within and outside of the house. Such kinds of suffocation and asphyxiation caused to make her feel that her mind was like an old and abandoned theatre-hall which was no longer in use and all the lights of which had been put out. Her mind and soul, like an old and abandoned theatre-hall, have lost their reason and the ray of hope.
The spirit of the revolutionary woman also can be seen in the poem “The conflagration” from “The Descendants” (1967). Here Kamala Das pleads for women’s liberation from male domination and ego. Her female ego cannot tolerate the male domination, therefore she raises a voice of protest and revolt even against her own female generation. She fearlessly scolds and asks the Indian women whether it is any happiness for women to lie beneath a man or a husband in order to satisfy his lust. She urges and exhorts women to come to their existence by expressing their independence because this world extends a lot beyond a man’s or a husband’s six-foot frame. Hence the domination of husbands or men is increasing day to day. Therefore women must have the courage to repress and suppress the male domination and husbands’ egotistical superiority. As she writes in the poem “The Conflagration” :
“Woman, is this happiness, this lying buried
Beneath a man? It’s time again to come alive,
The world extends a lot beyond his six-foot frame.” [5]
These lives clearly suggest that women should not underestimate their power and position in the family and in the society. They should not restrict themselves in the man-made vicious circles. But they should explore the meaning of their life. They should not forget their existence in the society. They should proceed forward in life so that they can get their liberty, identity, dignity, individuality, prosperity, right and might.
Observing the protest and revolt of Kamala Das, Iqbal Kaur also remarks : “Kamala Das did display tremendous courage in revolting against the sexual colonialism and providing hope and confidence to young women that they can refuse and reject the victim positions, that they can frustrate the sexist culture’s effort to exploit, passive and marginalize women.” [6]
If we study the poem “The Inheritance,” we will definitely find that in this poem the poetess protests against religious fanaticism. She expresses her protest in bitter words and in a mode of irony. The poetess points out the hatred and the intolerance which pervade in the world because of the fanatical attitudes of all the people whether they belong to Islam, Christianity or Hinduism. What human beings have inherited is not a feeling of “brotherhood”, “love” and “wisdom” but a feeling of hatred. What they have inherited is an “ancient virus” which they have been nurturing in their minds and souls.
In the poem “I shall someday” addressing to her husband, the revolutionary woman protests against her oppressive husband who captured her in a cage like a bird. She is intensively eager to get rid of her miserable condition. She intends to live all by herself. She desires for tasting the sweet fruit of liberty. She regards herself with a free bird and fearlessly says that she would someday leave the cocoon which her husband has built around her. She would someday take wings and fly around like petals of flowers flying around :
“I shall someday leave, leave the cocoon
You built around me with morning tea,
I shall someday take wings,
Fly around as often petals
Do when free in air.” [7]
The revolutionary woman persona of Kamala Das regards her marriage as a chastisement and a punishment with her oppressive husband. Because her conjugal life and relations with her husband were not satisfactory. She laments the loss of her liberty, identity and dignity through marriage in “The stone age”. Therefore, she raises a voice of protest in this poem :
“You turn me into a bird of stone, a granite
Dove, you build around me a shabby drawing 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.” [8]
If we study and analyse all the poems from all the volumes such as “Summer in Calcutta”, “The Descendants”, “The Old playhouse and other poems”, we will definitely find the revolutionary woman who also appears in these poems like “An Introduction”, “Glass”, “In Love”, “The Sunshine Cat”, “The Freaks”, “Of Calcutta”, “The Descendants”, “The Prisoners”, “The Proud One”, “Captive” and “Substitute.”
Thus, Kamala Das has been the motivating energy and guiding star for modern married Indian women since the twentieth century. She has emerged as the ‘New Indian Woman’ in the history of Indo-Anglian literature. She has been a champion of Indian meek women, who champions their liberty, identity and dignity in the twenty-first century. She came to the fore as the revolutionary woman who revolutionized the male domination over Indian meek women. Basically the traumas of unhappy marriage deeply echo in the poetry of Kamala Das, so she make her feminist protest and revolt as a good remedy for the traumas of unhappy marriage.

1. Sarangi, Jaydeep, ed. Kamala Das: The Great Indian Trend-setter. New Delhi : Authorspress, 2010. p. 128. print.
2. Kaur, Iqbal, ed. Perspective on Kamala Das’s Poetry. New Delhi : Intellectual Publishing House, 1995. p. 3, print.
3. Das, Kamala. Old Playhouse and other poems. Madras : Orient Longman, 1976. p. 1. Print.
4. Ibid. p. 1. print.
5. Lall, Ramji, ed. Indo-Anglion Poetry. New Delhi : Rama Brothers, 2009. p. 17. print.
6. Kaur, Iqbal. “Protest against sexual colonialism : Kamala Das’ My Story,” Women’s writing : Text and Contexts, ed. Jasbir Jain. New Delhi : Rawat Publications, 1996. p. 232. print.
7. Mohanty, Niranjan. “Sublimation of the Feminine Ego : Poetry of Kamala Das.” Malayalam Literary Survey 14.1 (January-March 1992) : p. 31. print.
8. Das, Kamala. The old playhouse and other poems. Madras : Orient Longman, 1973. p. 51. print.

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