'Dance of the Eunuchs' by Kamala Das: A Short Summary and Analysis

The Dance of the Eunuchs

It was hot, so hot, before the eunuchs came
To dance, wide skirts going round and round, cymbals
Richly clashing, and anklets jingling, jingling
Jingling... Beneath the fiery gulmohur, with
Long braids flying, dark eyes flashing, they danced and
They dance, oh, they danced till they bled... There were green
Tattoos on their cheeks, jasmines in their hair, some
Were dark and some were almost fair. Their voices
Were harsh, their songs melancholy; they sang of
Lovers dying and or children left unborn....
Some beat their drums; others beat their sorry breasts
And wailed, and writhed in vacant ecstasy. They
Were thin in limbs and dry; like half-burnt logs from
Funeral pyres, a drought and a rottenness
Were in each of them. Even the crows were so
Silent on trees, and the children wide-eyed, still;
All were watching these poor creatures' convulsions
The sky crackled then, thunder came, and lightning
And rain, a meagre rain that smelt of dust in
Attics and the urine of lizards and mice....

Included in the collection Summer in Calcutta(1965), 'Dance of the Eunuchs' is one of the most remarkable poems of Kamala Das. This is another autobiographical poem written in confessional style that symbolically portrays the poetess's personal melancholy in her own life. 

'Dance of the Eunuchs' vividly conjures up the atmosphere of a hot, tortured, corrupt, sterile and barren world through vivid symbols and images. The dance of the eunuchs whose joyless life reflects the poet‘s fractured personality is a noticeable piece of autobiographical poetry. Kamala Das has vividly visualized the world of ―vacant ecstasy and sterility through numerous functional images and symbols in her poetry. In fact Eunuchs try to eke out a livelihood by dancing. Their dancing is mechanical and painful. The conditions and the climate are forbidding. The spectators are merciless. Even God seems to add their woes. The eunuchs‘ voices are harsh and their songs are full of melancholy. The themes of the songs are those of lovers dying and children left unborn. Some beat their drums while others beat their flat breasts and wept. The joy on their faces is only a mask as they writhe in pain and their faces are really vacant. The atmosphere of heat and sterility is, first of all, expressed through ―fiery gulmohur‖ and ―the jasmines in, their hair‖ could not provide them with a soothing effect. 

The image of ―'Their sour breasts' again suggests their sterility and barrenness because they belong to neither sex. They are destined to remain unfulfilled. In fact their personality reflects the psychological outburst of the poet. It can be examined on the lines of abjection theory developed by Julia Kristeva ―The abject is that which is rejected by social reason- the communal consensus that underpins a social order . ―The abject exists accordingly somewhere between the concept of an object and the concept of the subject representing taboo elements of the self barely separated off in a liminal space.

 According to Julia Kristeva- ―The abject is situated outside the symbolic order, being forced to face it is an inherently traumatic experience, as with the repulsion presented by confrontation with  filth, waste or a corpse- an object which is violently cast out of the cultural world, having once been a subject'' Similarly the highly suggestive images of: …………………… a meager rain that smelt of dust in Attics and the urine of lizards and mice….highlight the depressed and dejected mental state of Kamala Das. According to Kristeva‘s theory of abjection, fear is the dominant/operative word. Making a connection between language and phobia, Kristeva claims that ―phobia does not disappear but slides beneath language and ―any practice of speech, in as much as it involves writing, is a language of fear.

 Similarly the heightened sensibilities of the poet through the picturisation of
the external factors forge the image of the psychological state of the poet herself. ―It is a poem that successfully delineates the contrast between the superficial joy and the inner depravity. The eunuchs become the objective correlative of suppressed desires.