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The Old Playhouse by Kamala Das: Summary and Analysis

The Old Playhouse, published in 1973 in The Old Playhouse and Other Poems , is a poem of protest against patriarchy in which  Kamala Das voices against the domination of the male and the consequent dwarfing of the female. The poetess expresses the common expectations of the male dominated Indian society. In the male dominated society a  women is expected to play certain conventional roles, and her own wishes and aspirations are not taken into account. 

The poem is written in the first person point of view. The persona in this poem is a woman, who gives an account of her unsatisfactory and disappointing conjugal life with her husband. She compares herself to a swallow and her husband a captor who wanted to tame her and keep her fully under his control by the power of his love-making. 

The husband wanted to make her forget all those comforts which she might have enjoyed in her home before being married; but, in addition to that , he wanted also make her forget her very nature and her innate love of freedom by keeping her in a state of subjection to him. 

The speaker says that she had come to her husband with a view to developing her own personality. But all she has had from her husband are lesson about him. Her husband, who is a self-centered person, makes love with her and he feels pleased by her bodily response to his love-making. He approves her state of mind and her mood when he makes love to her and he feels pleased by the tremors of her body during the sexual union. 

He, however, fails to understand that her response to his love-making is purely physical and ,therefore, superficial because she never experiences any feeling of oneness with him. According to the speaker, the notions of love and affection mean nothing to her husband. To him she is nothing but a plaything, a sexual partner and a housewife. In the course of the sexual union, he kisses her very hard , pressing his lips against hers and letting his saliva flow into her mouth. He presses his whole body against hers with great vehemence ,gratifying his sexual desire in this process. 

In this physical union, her husband is successful as he is able to penetrate every part of her body and make his bodily fluids mingle with hers. But he never realizes that she is still   emotionally unsatisfied and hungry. In the emotional and spiritual sense, he completely fails. 


The Old Playhouse

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. It was not to gather knowledge
Of yet another man that I came to you but to learn
What I was, and by learning, to learn to grow, but every
Lesson you gave was about yourself. You were pleased
With my body's response, its weather, its usual shallow
Convulsions. You dribbled spittle into my mouth, you poured
Yourself into every nook and cranny, you embalmed
My poor lust with your bitter-sweet juices. You called me wife,
I was taught to break saccharine into your tea and
To offer at the right moment the vitamins. Cowering
Beneath your monstrous ego I ate the magic loaf and
Became a dwarf. I lost my will and reason, to all your
Questions I mumbled incoherent replies. The summer
Begins to pall. I remember the rudder breezes
Of the fall and the smoke from the burning leaves. Your room is
Always lit by artificial lights, your windows always
Shut. Even the air-conditioner helps so little,
All pervasive is the male scent of your breath. The cut flowers
In the vases have begun to smell of human sweat. There is
No more singing, no more dance, my mind is an old
Playhouse with all its lights put out. The strong man's technique is
Always the same, he serves his love in lethal doses,
For, love is Narcissus at the water's edge, haunted
By its own lonely face, and yet it must seek at last
An end, a pure, total freedom, it must will the mirrors
To shatter and the kind night to erase the water.

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