Hello friends. In this lecture we are going to deal with Kamala Das and her poetry. First, we
will see the Historical and Literary Context, see her life briefly then look at three poems. First
one ‘An Introduction,’ we will read, just to give an introduction to Kamala Das, the kind of
poet the person she was ‘My Grandmother's House,’ and then we will discuss two poems we
have selected for this particular course: My Grandmother's House and The Looking Glass.
Analyze them linguistically, rhetorically, poetically and then conclude our presentation.
(Refer Slide Time: 00:56)
First, Historical and Literary Context. We have to understand that after the independence of
India, many metropolitan cities were growing in post independent India. That means,
migration of people from smaller towns to larger towns we have and also people move f rom
one state to another for different kinds of work. And as a result of this movement, wherever
men moved, women also moved along with them. So, we have said women's attachment to
their father, husband and son it happened in the life of Kamala Das.
And also, we have another phenomenon in our country, self-education of women and men in
some households, particularly in upper classes, where they could notsend their children to
schools and colleges for variousreasons, they educated themselves at home. And also, we
have a huge problem in our country about this unquestioned infidelity of married men. Men
may marry women and they would expect their women to be chaste, to be loyal to them,
whereas they themselves would not be, so this is the kind of situation we also notice.
At this time, we have this traditional poetry of Sarojini Naidu and also another poet we have
Lokita Gosh, and in the Independent India, independent women were coming up, and it took
a long time for us to see the new women after this post liberalized economy in our country.
We also had at this time the popularity of American poets, especially women poets like
Sylvia Plath, and Anne Sexton.
This led to the rise of the feminist voice in our country as well. We have many women
writers like Kamala Das, Eugene de Sousa, Gauri Deshpande, Charmayne D'Souza, Tilotama
Rajan, and Mamta Kalia. These are some samples we have a lot number of women poets in
our country today.
(Refer Slide Time: 02:54)
Now, let us see the life of Kamala Das briefly. She was born in 1934 and died in 2009. She
was a self-educated bilingual poet and fiction writer. We have to remember that she also
wrote short stories and also novels in Malayalam and some of them were translated into
English later on in her own lifetime.
She distinguished herself by her frank and open treatment of self in Indian writing after
independence. She was driven by a desire of and longing for true love, that is the crux of her
entire poetry. Often, she was nostalgic about her childhood roots in Kerala. She lived as a
child in Calcutta, she then lived as a wife in Bombay, and in Delhi and many other places like
this. She was moving with her father or with her husband or with her son and later on she also
lived along with her son in Pune.
She is considered a pioneer in confessional poetry in India. She has a number of volumes. We
have listed some of them here: Summer in Calcutta 1965, The Descendants 1967, The Old
Playhouse and Other Poems published in 1973. Such a great poet has been recognized with
awards several awards, including a Kerala Sahitya Academy Award in 1969, and a Central
Sahitya Academy Award in 1985. She was also nominated for the Nobel Prize. We have
many well-known poems we have listed some of them here, An Introduction, My
Grandmother's House,The Looking Glass and The Old Play House.
(Refer Slide Time: 04:36)
There is a quotation from Kamala Das, it gives us an insight into how she became a writer, a
writer of standing as we see today. Let us read this extract.
“A woman had to prove herself to be a good wife, a good mother
before she could become anything else. And that meant years and years
of waiting, that meant waiting till the greying years. I didn't have the
time to wait, I was impatient, so I started writing quite early in my lif e
and perhaps I was lucky. My husband appreciated the f act that I was
trying to supplement the family income. So, he allowed me to write at
night, after all the chores are done, after I had fed the children, fed him,
cleaned up the kitchen, I was allowed to sit awake and write till
morning and that affected my health.”
This is a story of not only Kamala Das, I think it is a story of many women who become
writers devoting their time during the nighttime after taking care of everything else,
everybody else at home. Naturally, it would affect their physical and mental health as well. In
the case of Kamala Das, we have to notice thatshe was impatient, she could not wait and that
kind of urgency we can see in her poems, so always longing to express herself that is the kind
of poet we have in Kamala Das.
(Refer Slide Time: 06:07)
We said we would look at three poems, first “An Introduction,” this was published in the
volume “Summer in Calcutta” in 1965. This is a confessional self-portrayed; we would
understand about her much better through her own words, we would just read this poem.
Then we will see “My Grandmother's House” published in Summer in Calcutta in 1965. This
is a nostalgic poem about the poet's grandmother's house, which gave her love and security
once in plenty. Then we will see “The Looking Glass” Published in “The Descendants” in
1967. This poem is an exhortative poem on a woman loving a man affectionately, and then
struggling alone in the absence of love, particularly true love.
(Refer Slide Time: 06:51)
Here is “An introduction.”
“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?
(Refer Slide Time: 07:25)
The language I speak,
Becomes mine, it’s distortions, it’s queernesses
All mine, mine alone.
It's half English, half Indian. funny perhaps, but it is
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 thatsees and hears and
(Refer Slide Time: 07:57)
You had a good introduction to Kamala Das through her own words, particularly about using
different languages or expressing her own thoughts about her joys and pains and that kind of
freedom thatshe took in her hands, she was able to express in English language f earlessly,
courageously till the last minute of her life. Now let us see the poem that we have for
discussion “My Grandmother's House.” First, we will read it and then discuss it.
“There is a house now far away where once
I received love... That woman died,
The house withdrew into silence, snakesmoved
Among books, I was then too young
To read, and my blood turned cold like the moon,
How often I think of going
There, to peer through blind eyes of windows or
Just listen to the frozen air,
Or in wild despair, pick an armful of
Darkness to bring it here to lie.
(Refer Slide Time: 08:55)
Behind my bedroom door like a brooding
Dog... you cannot believe, darling,
Can you, that I lived in such a house and
Was proud, and loved... I who have lost
My way and beg now atstrangers’ doors to
Receive love, at least in small change?
You would have noticed ellipses in this poem and many other poems also you will see that;
This is a frequent strategy thatshe uses in her poetry. She uses this strategy to imply several
(Refer Slide Time: 09:29)
Let us see the Thematic Contrast as we have seen in many poems. This is a poem about
Grandmother's House that implies in contrast, the Husband's House as well. We have
Malabar on the one hand that is Kerala and childhood experience in Kerala and her lif e with
husband in Bombay and other places. Past and present, love and death, young and old,
despair and hope, darkness and light, silence, sound and speech, blind eyes and seeing eyes.
All these pairs of ideas are built into this poem to convey the kind of despair, the poet
experiences in her life.
(Refer Slide Time: 10:15)
Now, we come to Poetic Devices. We have some of them. Metaphor, we find in ‘The house
withdrew into silence.’ Simile in ‘my blood turned cold like the moon.’ This kind of unusual
simile and metaphor, makes poets, good poets like Kamala Das. Then we have another
“to peer through blind eyes of windows or
Just listen to the frozen air,
Or in wild despair, pick an armful of
Darkness to bring it here to lie.” (7-10)
Simile in ‘Behind my bedroom door like a brooding Dog.’ Moon comesthen darkness comes
and we have dog. And finally, we have a rhetorical question, we have modified the line
words a little to make it a real rhetorical question. If you look at the words very clearly you
will find thatsyntactically there might be some problemsmay be referring to the desperate,
emotional atmosphere thatshe creates in the poem.
“Can you... believe... I who have lost
My way and beg now atstranger’s doors to
Receive love, at least in small change?” (14-16)
That is the kind of an economic metaphor thatshe brings into the rhetorical question that she
asks at the end of this poem.
(Refer Slide Time: 11:33)
When we come to rhyme, rhythm and meter, we see that there is no specific rhyme scheme in
the poem. It is written in free verse, and we can see some kind of conversational rhythm,
which has this iambic pattern in this poem. We also notice some kind of meter relating to
Tetra and Penta because we have lines with 5 feet and also lines with 4 feet. Then we have
one only one stop at the end that is, this poem is a long sentence with a question mark at the
We have Caesura and Enjambment in this poem. Let us read this extract we have given here.
“There is a house now far away where once
I received love, that woman died,
The house withdrew into silence, snakesmoved
Among books, I was then too young.”
We have iambic pentameter and also iambic tetrameter in this poem.
(Refer Slide Time: 12:33)
To give an overall impression of this poem, let us see the points that we have listed here. It is
a single sentence poem with a question mark at the end about remembering the grandmother's
house in a small town while living in the speaker's own husband's house in a city. The major
focus is on the love received in the past and the love refused in the present. Hence, we have
this comparison between the past and the present.
Hence, the nostalgic past holds sway over the chaotic and meaningless present.If there is no
real love, there is no real life, only a mechanical life that means a death in life. This is a kind
of experience that many poets have expressed in their poems. The rhetorical question about
begging love from strangers is really heart rending. The poem uses more of similes and
metaphors to draw a visual connect with the reader and fill the vacuum in the speaker's lif e
and perhaps, in the readerslife too.
(Refer Slide Time: 13:40)
Let us move on to the next poem, “The Looking Glass.”
“Getting a man to love you is easy
Only be honest about your wants as
Woman. Stand nude before the glass with him
So that he sees himself the stronger one
And believes itso, and you so much more
Softer, younger, lovelier, Admit your
Admiration. Notice the perfection
Of his limbs, his eyes reddening under
The shower, the shy walk across the bathroom floor,
Dropping towels, and the jerky way he
Urinates. All the fond details that make
Him male and youronly man. Gift him all,
(Refer Slide Time: 14:19)
Gift him what makes you woman, the scent of
Long hair, the mask of sweat between the breasts,
The warm stock of menstrual blood, and all your
Endless female hungers. Oh yes, getting
A man to love is easy, but living
Without him afterwards may have to be
Faced. A living without life when you move
Around, meeting strangers with your eyes that
Gave up their search, with ears that hear only
His last voice calling out your name and your
Body which ones under his touch had gleamed
Like burnished brass, now drab and destitute.”
(Refer Slide Time: 14:59)
Let us see the thematic contrast between illusion and reality, reflection and refraction,
integrity and pretension, man and woman, love and death, strength and weakness, body and
soul or spirit, togetherness and loneliness, strangers and lovers, drab and bright. The whole
poem is full of contrast like this, between love and death, between body and soul, between
strength and weakness of the man and the woman.
It is a kind of advice that the speaker gives to young women. If you want to have love for
your husband express all your love to him in the way in which he wants, then only you can
get his attention. But this is a poem with lot of undertones, ironic undertones.
(Refer Slide Time: 15:53)
Let us see the poetic devices in this poem. The first line we have in this poem is repeated so
we have repetition ‘getting a man to love is easy.’ This is a kind of statement that the poem
goes on explaining to the young women, we have alliteration in ‘so that he sees himself the
stronger one,’ assonance in ‘softer, younger, lovelier,’ and then assonance and also
alliteration in ‘this cute little line, admit your admiration.’
Then we have alliteration, ‘The shower and the shy walk,’ again metaphor and repetition in
‘gift him all gift him,’ metaphor in ‘endless female hungers.’ Simile in ‘body, which once
under his touch had gleamed like burnish grass now drab and destitute.’ Alliteration in ‘like
burnished brass, now drab and destitute.’ What was golden? What was beautiful once is now
dull and drab and destitute, nobody to care for.
(Refer Slide Time: 17:01)
We can see the aspects of rhyme, rhythm and meter in this poem. This is actually an
unrhymed poem. With this iambic rhythmic pattern, which is full of common speech pattern,
the whole poem is like an address speech to young women looks like a kind of motivation,
but as we said, it has a lot of undertones, ironic undertones. Therefore, we can say the poem
is in iambic pentameter. We have all 10 syllablesin each line.
We have end stop in many places. Seven full stops are there in the middle of lines, that is
something remarkable. That means the movement from the beginning to the end is full of
stops, obstacles, the moment is full of problems. Then we have Caesura and Enjambment, let
us see the extract that we have,
“Getting a man to love you is easy
Only to be honest about your wants as
Woman. Stand nude before the glass with him
So that he sees himself the stronger one.”
We have 5 feet in every line.
(Refer Slide Time: 18:16)
Let us see the overall impression now. “The Looking Glass” is a mirror poem, suggesting that
the woman has to reflect whatever the husband wants to see in him as a strong man, so that
she can receive unconditional love, lust from him. The speaker tells a young woman admit
your admiration even if it is fake, to keep up appearances of the man being strong.
She also advises the young women to give their best female of charm to their men to make
them happy to satisfy their ego but ironically, the love once given and received and lost is a
pain one has to learn to live with, leading to the status of a beggar of love, approaching
strangers for love. This poem uses alliteration, assonance metaphor, and simile to capture the
unrelenting despair of the speaker in search of love in intimate relationships.
(Refer Slide Time: 19:19)
To give you a summary of the poems that we have discussed, let us see the historical and
literary context. After independence many women were educated at home or elsewhere, and
they started writing about their own feelings, and a new kind of women was coming up in our
country. Kamala Das, as a woman with a lot of sufferings in her own mind and heart because
of some kind of difficulties in her own intimate relationships, she started writing poems,
frankly, freely spontaneously about herself and about her society.
We read this introduction to her in the poem ‘An Introduction,’ which tells us about her own
free thoughts. She does not want anybody to interfere in her life, she took life in her own
hands. Then when we come to ‘My Grandmother's House,’ we saw how she was loved, and
she feltsecure at home in her grandmother's house, whereas, it does not happen in the case of
the man's house.
She feels lonely, she looks for love from strangers. And in the case of this ‘Looking Glass,’
again, we see how this woman looks at the man as a mirror, whatever the man wants to see,
the woman has to reflect. More importantly, the woman has to sacrifice herself and make the
man feelstronger, so that he will accept this woman as a person, otherwise she would not be
accepted and that means more and more problems will be there at home, in interpersonal
relationship within home.
And these kinds of problemsin intimate relationships, she was able to capture in her poetry
and become one of the women poets in our country to reach such status, international status
to be considered even for this Nobel Prize. She was richly recognized in our country, by
readers and also various systems of her society. We can see the difference between the
charming lady in the first picture and the kind of matured, mellowed lady in the second
picture, Kamala Surayya.
(Refer Slide Time: 21:35)
We have some references for you. If possible, look at some of these references, read some more of her poems, you will be able to understand and appreciate her much better. Thank you.
Hello, friends, A K Ramanujan is a great poet in our country and he was born in 1929, and
died in 1993 and he has had a very distinguished career. First, we willsee the Historical and
Literary Context to provide you a brief life sketch of A K Ramanujan and then we will read
three poems. One, we will read just for the sake of understanding A K Ramanujan’s own
‘Self-Portrait’ and then discuss two poemsin detail, ‘Looking for a Cousin on a Swing,’ and
‘A River.’ Finally, we will conclude with an overall impression and a summary.
(Refer Slide Time: 00:53)
Let us see the Historical and Literary Context. We deal with the post independent India,
which became a youthful and energetic nation. And one of the aspects of post independent
India we have to realize is, the kind of divisions regionally and linguistically all the while
growing as a great country. We have faced conflicts between tradition and modernity. Do we
have to follow the old way of life or do we have to follow the new way of life offered by the
We have this attraction of the Western culture, science, individualism and all that. And
during this time, we have had many well-trained youths in India, looking for opportunities
abroad, many of them moved away.In the context of literature, we found the development of
modernism, particularly through Pound and Moore (Marianne Moore.) And in the political
scenario, we have this Cold War and Area Studies in the US.
American government took interest in certain areas and they promoted Area Studies. And one
of the areas studies, Asian and Dravidian study center received Ramanujan. That is why we
need to understand this relationship between Cold War and Area Studies and how Ramanujan
got into the US.
We also have to see the growth of English as a medium of creative writing in our country
after independence. This gave an opportunity for exploring both, western and eastern
traditions in our literature. Many poets started experimenting with poetry in English, like
Ezekiel, Dom Moraes, Kolatkar, Kamala Das, we have of course Ramanujan and Mahapatra.
(Refer Slide Time: 02:37)
Ramanujan was an extraordinary poet, a translator, a folklorist and a linguist. He was
appreciated for his modernist poetic outlook with a deeper understanding of the past,
especially South Indian languages, literatures and cultures. He was widely recognized for his
visual understanding and the expression of the world in his poems, which he learned from
Marianne Moore and also from the ancient Tamil poets and Kanada poets.
He received the Padma Shri Award in 1976 and the MacArthur Award in 1983. He has
written four volumes, three of which were published in his lifetime and the f ourth one was
published after his death. ‘The Striders,’ ‘Relations,’ ‘Second Site’ and the fourth volume is
called ‘The Black Hen,’ which was included in the Collected Poems published in 1996. Some
of the frequently anthologized poems of A K Ramanujan are ‘Looking for a Cousin on a
Swing,’ ‘A River,’ ‘Small Scale Reflections on a Great House.’
(Refer Slide Time: 03:42)
We have chosen three poems, one for reading, and two for discussion. The first poem we
want to read is ‘Self-Portrait.’ It is a nine-line poem on the stranger within oneself. Then the
poem that we want to discuss is ‘Looking for a Cousin on a Swing,’ it is a 23-line poem on
the nascent and mature dimensions of sexual awakenings. And then the second point we have
to discuss is ‘A River,’ it is a 49-line poem on the glorious and guilty aspects of nature and
culture, especially poets in Tamil tradition, and literature. All these three poems were
published in the first volume ‘The Striders’ in 1966.
(Refer Slide Time: 04:25)
Let us see the ‘Self-Portrait’ now.
I resemble everyone
but myself, and sometimes see
despite the well-known laws
the portrait of a stranger
often signed in a corner
by my father.”
The whole question of this poem is, what am I? Who am I? It is about the identity of the
speaker. We are an undated piece of painting by our own parents, father and mother. People
are, we are strangers to ourselves when we analyze ourselves very closely, particularly
through artistic medium, like poetry or painting. That is why this poem is very interesting for
us to understand how A K Ramanujan migrating to the US was able to look at himself
through the image of his father, and finally see himself as a stranger within himself.
(Refer Slide Time: 05:20)
Let us see this poem, ‘Looking for a Cousin on a Swing’ now.
“When she was four or five
she sat on a village swing
and her cousin six or seven,
sat himself against her;
with every lunge of the swing
she felt him
in the lunching pits
of her feeling;
we climbed a tree, she said,
not very tall, but full of leaves
like those of a fig tree,
and we were very innocent
Now she looks for a swing
in cities with fifteen suburbs
and tries to be innocent
not only on the crotch of a tree
that looked as if it would burst
under every leaf
into your brood of scarlet figs
if someone suddenly sneezed.
(Refer Slide Time: 06:09)
When we come to the Thematic Contrast, we can see the contrast between past and present,
the young and the old, the girl or woman and boy and man, village and city, innocence and
experience, nature and culture, growth and decay, pleasure and pain, boredom and meaning
fear and freedom, individual behavior and social norm. How children were growing up in
nature in villages, and how adults are growing up in cities, corrupt cities, that is where we
have this innocence and corruption or experience. Both have similar dimensions about the
awakenings within oneself in the body, how they feel about each other.
(Refer Slide Time: 06:53)
We have a number of poetic devices in this poem, metaphor we have in ‘she f elt him in the
lunging pits of her feeling,’ then another metaphor in ‘and afterwards we climbed a tree, she
said,’ simile in, ‘but full of leaves like those of a fig tree,’ we also have something like an
allusion to the fig tree here to the Bible, Adam and Eve, the kind of awakening that came
between Adam and Eve after eating this apple.
We have a metaphor in, ‘now she looksfor a swing in cities with fifteen suburbs.’ Another
metaphor in ‘not only on the crotch of a tree that looked as if it would burst under every leaf
into a brood of scarlet figs.’ We have irony in this poem, it is all about the experience and
tries to be innocent about it.
We do something not innocent, but people feel about it. Then we have repetition in the words
swing and innocent. We also have a pun on lung, swing, crotch, brood,scarlet. These words
are transposed from one context to another, that is where we have this pun and also the kind
of sexual meanings which are hidden in the poem, some of which will appear obviously some
others we have to dig deeper into.
(Refer Slide Time: 08:13)
Let us see the Rhyme, Rhythm, and Meter. This is a poem in free verse and some words are
repeated and that is why we have some kind of rhyme in swing and innocent. We have this
conversational speech pattern which is like iambic where we have this a little story, we can
say that, this is actually a cute Indian story of Adam and Eve, similar to the biblical Adam
When we come to meter, we can say that, the meter of this poem is polymetrical. Because the
line length varies from 3 syllables to 8 syllables, mano-, di-, tri- and tetra meter. We have
Caesura, Enjambment and End-Stopped Line in this poem. Let us see the extract we have.
“When she was four or five
She sat on a village swing
and her cousin, six or seven,
sat himself against her.”
So, 3 feet and 4 feet; and this kind of alteration we have in this particular extract.
(Refer Slide Time: 09:10)
This overall impression will give us an understanding of this poem much better. This is a
lyrical poem of love, longing and lust at different stages of human life from childhood chance
encounters to serious and meaningless adult engagements. The speaker narrates the innocent
experience of their swing between cousinsfrom the age of four to seven. The swing continues
behind the thick foliage of the fig tree, but the participants pretend to be innocent about the
The clever play of shifting voices from male to female to male is a comment by itself on the
collusion between male and female. When the grown-up cousin looks for such swings in
cities, the problem of propriety arises, particularly after marriage. The poem is full of sexual
imagery with psychoanalytical symbolism in which Ramanujan was seriously interested to
understand human behaviors and cultures.
Actually, when poets write poems, they want to understand themselves they want to
understand the society, they want to pass on their understanding to the posterity. It is a quest
for the meaning of life.
(Refer Slide Time: 10:21)
Let us move on to the second poem, ‘A River,’ which we have given in differentslides and in
city of temples and poets,
who sang of cities and temples;
a river dries to a trickle
in the sand
bearing the sand ribs,
straw and women's hair
clogging the watergates
at the rusty bars
under the bridges with patches
of repair all over them
the wetstones and glistening like sleepy
crocodiles the dry ones
shaven water-buffaloes lounging in the sun.”
(Refer Slide Time: 10:54)
The poets only sang of the floods.
He was there for a day
when they had the floods.
People everywhere talked
of the inches rising 20
of the precise number of cobbled steps
run over by the water, rising
on the bathing places
and the way it carried of three village houses,
one pregnant woman 25
and a couple of cows
named Gopi and Brinda as usual.
(Refer Slide Time: 11:19)
The new poetstill quoted
the old poets, but no one spoke
in verse 30
of the pregnant woman
drowned, with perhaps twins in her,
kicking blank walls
even before birth.
He said: 35
the river has water enough
to be poetic
about only once a year
it carries away. 40
(Refer Slide Time: 11:37)
in the first half-hour
three village houses,
a couple of cows
named Gopi and Brinda
and one pregnant woman 45
expecting identical twins
with no moles on their bodies
with different colored diapers
to tell them apart.” 49
The design of the printed page is crucial for Ramanujan’s poetry. We have for example, the
line to tell them apart separately printed which is noticeable in this poem. Spacing, line or
words, line length everything matters in Ramanujan’s poetry and many poets for that matter.
(Refer Slide Time: 12:18)
Let us see the Thematic Contrast now between city and village, summer and rainy seasons,
wet stones and dry stones, human beings and animals, old and new poets, birth and death,
similarity and difference, ordinary, normal and poetic expressions or life. We have the river
here, and the name of the river is the Vaigai river which flows once a year and brings water at
life, and also death. The river of life and death that is what we find in this poem. But the
poets sing of the river partially, they do not have a complete picture. They f orget about the
pregnant woman or the three village houses or the animals that is the cows, Brinda and Gopi.
(Refer Slide Time: 13:09)
We have some poetic devicesin this poem. The metaphor we can see in ‘barring sand ribs,’
like a human body, the ribs are open. Then we can see the simile ‘the wet stones glistening
like sleepy crocodiles,’ the stone on the riverbed, that is like sleepy crocodiles. Then we have
‘the dry ones shaven water-buffaloes lounging in the sun.’ Then the whole poem is about
irony. The world and new poets singing about the river, but not mentioning anything about
the pregnant woman with twins or the cows floating in the floods.
This is a partial picture; poetry should not be partial itshould be able to cover up the entire
vision. The poetry is inclusive that is what A K Ramanujan is trying to convey through this poem.
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