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Melancholy and Masochism in the poetry of Kamala Das



Kamala Das, a famous novelist and poetess in the history of Indo-Anglian Literature, has proved her a true feminist and also shows the hidden face of female masochism and unreal identity of the men in her poetry. On this K. N. Daruwalla points out that, "Kamala Das is pre-eminently a poet of love and pain, one stalking the other through a near neurotic world. There is an all-pervasive sense of hurt throughout. Love, the lazy animal hunger of the flesh, hurt, and humiliation are the warp and woof of her poetic fabric. She seldom ventures outside this personal world."

The manner of her writing has similarity with the works of other Women Writers such as Toru Dutta, Anita Desai, Nayantara Sehgal, and Shashi Desh Pandey. Anita Desai's Cry the Peacock in which she clearly expressed her philosophy towards the most questioning trenchantly the pseudo irrationally resulting in their hibernation, masochism, narcissism, schizophrenia, exile and loss of identity. In order to give it the originality, she never tried to suppress the nuance of female psyche. She has used the psychological genre of Freud in the perspective of gender and sexuality, which determine the theory of femininity. Regarding this point of view, it can descript that Das's attitude towards sex is akin to Freud's discovery of sexuality in which the step by step open the reality or psychology behind sex and fantasy. In this reference we can take example of D.H. Lawrence's sexual harmony which was an essential condition for attainment of happiness in life. Likewise Lawrence, Das has chosen the concept of sex differently, and she did not use it as dry, monotonous and vulgar way, which we generally see in pornographic literature. Her sexual portrayal is always tinged with verbal overtones, metaphor, and symbols. She says;

                  I met a man, loved him, call

                  Him not by any name, he is every man,

                  Who wants a woman, just as I am every

                  Woman who seeks love. In him….the hungry taste

                  Of rivers in me ….the oceans' tireless waiting. (An Introduction)


Machos and melancholy are the two salient features of her poetry that clears her mindset upon the male-centered world. When we observers her poem or a word, we find the secret of her a nominal and despondent heart which she had suffered by her own personal point of view. In addition to the confession and acceptance of her torture and tension, she reveals the fact of her own freakiness that she would the symbol of meekness and act, what her husband desires to her such as,

                   Notice the perfection

                   Of his limbs, his eyes reddening under

                   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 your only, man. Gift him all. (The Looking Glass)

The following lyrics can easily reveal her attitude toward masochism where she accepts the priority and manhood of a man. These lyrics conclude with the introvert and extrovert idea of her thought in the ironical and satirist tone. Dr. Satish Kumar also stated that the poetry of Kamala Das is the direct way to experience the exploitation and torture through the lust and hunger of male dominated society. The women in the poem are every woman that seeks love; the man is every man that wants a woman to satisfy his lust. The lyrics mirror a real picture of the lustful relationship between every man and every woman and disillusionments and frustrations that follow such a relationship, especially for the woman.

In the respect of her disillusionment attitude towards the suffocative role of the mutual relationship between man and woman is able to prove the psychology of a woman who tolerates masochism inside her soul. In spite of it always satisfy his hunger sexual gratification and has no claim to prove her own wished whether she ready to do or not. It can be said that Kamala Das was feel uneasiness and uncomfortable with the tradition and rituals of society spread through generation by generation with hypocritical method of social system that the double morality of girls and women have not allowed leading their life from their own perspective, neither girls have allowed choosing their life partner as their own wish in spite of it, they have no right to meet them before fixing their marriage, it is totally rudeness and hardness of the society where she has no right to present her identity, on the other perspective women are the victim of tolerance. Against it, men are free to do anything they can rape an innocent girl or woman and it is the mindset of the society that they directly blame to that person who suffers such melancholy and depression. Men freely involve in homosexuality, adultery was really uncommon for him after admiration such kind of crime he much more gets confidence and can live freely. Neither girls, their unexpected pregnancy much affected on that person who just thinks it as the part of their entertainment and pleasure nor the childbirth process can harm at the manhood of the male dominated society. So victim girls were made to suffer the social stigma. Women were discouraged from writing and were expected to seek fulfillment in domestically. So disgusted was Kamala Das with this kind of social set-up that she wanted to totally bury the past and build up a new order founded on social justice, and equality between both the men and the women.

The pain and lust we can observe thoroughly her poetry where she stands as the voice of other women's obsession and suppression such as the theme of love, sex and frustration revels in her early poem Freaks where she reaches the anxiety of abnormality and behaves;

                        An Empty cistern, waiting

                        Through long hours, fills itself

                        With coiling snakes of silence…

                        I'm a freak. Its only…

                        Times a grand, flamboyant lust. (Freaks)

Through this point of views, she expresses her own frankness and openness while involving in
the act of sexual pleasure. She says the mind of the man set upon the female flesh as gratifying
only his Idly over puddles of and Desires skin's lazy hunger.

Summer in Calcatta, (1965) the first slander of her poetic gems and have consisted of fifty poems, that is able to present the background of the continent of Circe. It is an Indian poet's reaction to the torture of the Indian summer and symbolized what Kamala Das' reaction against the unconscious intimacy with her torture. Further, it can conclude that the poetess feels a sense of sensuous relaxation and a warm intoxication which warms as well as relaxes so that my worries doze in the image of April sun. The sensuality of Kamala Das can compare with the sensuous luxury of John Keats' Ode on Indolence a lso the same theme as the short- lived celebration of the gay mood .13(Kumar, 126)

The hollowness of sexual love and skin communicated relationship can observe from her poem In Love that shows the memory of the experience lingers in the mind and puts the question remain unanswered. A systematic recitation of her poem An Introduction which helps to reveal her confessional and autobiographical attitude and it also deals with the poetess's assertion to establish her feminine identity in the male-dominated culture and her performance for writing in English. She frankly able to disclose about herself on the tremendous loveless sexual assaults is committed on a woman in the name of marriage;

It is I who laugh, it is I who make love
And then, feel shame, it is I who lie dying
With a rattle in my throat….I am the belovled and the Betrayed.   
                                                                       (An Introduction)



Kamala Das has become the icon of world fame for the sake of her bold, uninhibited articulation of feminine sensibility along with other women poets like Gauri Despande, Mamata Kalia, de Souza and others. In this sense her anguish and quest for identity, is directly the progeny of an old social set-up. Moreover, Love and Sex are, used as the “leitmotif” of her entire collection of poetry, but the depth of her distress seems to have a constant sting in her soul, and that does invest her identity with a certain tincture of pangs. In further observation of this ideology K. R.S. remarks her that;

                  Love is crucified in sex, and sex defiles itself again and again.

Along with M.K. Nayak has explained her pain of feminism as;

The most oblivious (and to casual reader, colorful) feature of Kamala Das’s poetry is the uninhibited frankness with which she talks about sex referring nonchalantly to the ‘musk of the sweat between the breasts’, ‘the warm shock of menstrual blood; and even pubis.’

 In the world of the patriarchal system, the women become the subject of marginalization so she needs a plight to overcome. With the emergence of feminist ideas after the publication of Simone de Beauvoir has stated in her book entitled, The Second Sex (1949) that, the concept of feminine sensibility has well explained and elaborated with the emergence of women writing, arises a question by the masculine authenticity in order to suggest what criteria enforces on them or what genre of writing they have to be use. Along with, the importance of women's body and feminine mode of regression and suppression is not being the subject of their expression. However the concept of feminine sensibility has expanded into other areas such as exposing the woes and worries of women in the confinement of domestic life, the anxieties and depression they undergo, the exploitation, obsession, discrimination, and marginalization are grown after the cruel involvement of male-oriented world.


In the anthology of The Old Playhouse and Other Poems (1973) which have thirty-three poems in all and they are the source of her new dimension and artistic maturity. Still, she preoccupied with the theme of love in spite of the concept of personal decay and death. The meaning of the title has the symbolical meaning which refers a note or protest and revolt against male domination. Through this poem, the situation of a wife suffers much individual conflict after marriage. Here poetess's boycott against the whole male dominated society has come to light when she says;

                   You called me a wife /I was called 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 / Became a Dwarf, I lost my will and reason …(The

                  Old Playhouse)

The next poem The Stone Age is one of the finest example of her male-oriented psychopath where she elucidates that the wife resents the restraints imposed on her and the husband describes as an "old fat spider" weaves "webs of bewilderment " around her and confines her within the four walls of domesticity and this same conflict deals with the Persona of The Sunshine Cat in which she use to live in a dark room that has been locked by her husband. The similarity of both poems is able to pour the complaint after the departure of her husband in symbolically and melancholically;
                  You turn me into a bird of stone, granite

                  Dove, you build round me a shabby drowning room,

                  And stroke my pitted face absent mindedly while you read.

                  She dislikes him as other men haunt her mind. (The Stone Age)

To Conclude it can be said that the voice of Kamala Das has reached the ears of other women and make them able to struggle for their emotions and desires through her art of composing powerful confessional poetry. Although Das faced my hardship and suppression in her life but she could never stop her running feet as reaching the ground in the male-centered literature. As soon as she reaches the step of maturity, she engaged in married life as I have already mentioned it but it was her super willpower that she get as the rays of sun in this patriarchal system and reserved her fame in the world of Indo-Anglican Literature. In this way the marginalization and hindrances are not for accepting, it depends on us that we choose the way of melancholic and masochist or accept her as the true feminist spirit.

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