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 amIndian, very brown, born inMalabar,
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? The language I speak,
Becomes mine, its distortions, its queernesses
All mine, mine alone.
It is half English, halfIndian, funny perhaps, but it is honest,
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 that sees and hears and
Is aware. Not the deaf, blind speech
Of trees in storm or of monsoon clouds or of rain or the
Incoherent mutterings of the blazing
Funeral pyre. I was child, and later they
Told me I grew, for I became tall, my limbs
Swelled and one or two places sprouted hair.
WhenI asked for love, not knowing what else to ask
For, he drew a youth of sixteen into the
Bedroom and closed the door, He did not beat me
But my sad woman-body felt so beaten.
The weight of my breasts and womb crushed me.
I shrank Pitifully.
Then … I wore a shirt and my
Brother’s trousers, cut my hair short and ignored
My womanliness. Dress in sarees, be girl
Be wife, they said. Be embroiderer, be cook,
Be a quarreller with servants. Fit in. Oh,
Belong, cried the categorizers. Don’t sit
On walls or peep in through our lace-draped windows.
Be Amy, or be Kamala. Or, better
Still, be Madhavikutty. It is time to
Choose a name, a role. Don’t play pretending games.
Don’t play at schizophrenia or be a
Nympho. Don’t cry embarrassingly loud when
Jilted in love … 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 haste
Of rivers, in me . . . the oceans’ tireless
Waiting. Who are you, I ask each and everyone,
The answer is, it is I. Anywhere and,
Everywhere, I see the one who calls himself I
In this world, he is tightly packed like the
Sword in its sheath. It is I who drink lonely
Drinks at twelve, midnight, in hotels of strange towns,
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 sinner,
I am saint. I am the beloved and the
Betrayed. I have no joys that are not yours, no
Aches which are not yours. I too call myself I.
Summary and Analysis
An Introduction is Kamala Das‘s most famous poem in the confessional mode and she starts the poem with self-declaration. It is undoubtedly a subjective poem following the ‘school of feminism‘. It is her feminine gender that she is aware of and very clearly knows the status of her birth and bringing in a society dominated by the stronger sex. Posing herself as a rebel against the traditional Indian society, she defies the set rules and regulations of the society and wants to free herself from the bondage of ‘dos and don‘ts‘. Though she is critical of this chauvinistic society, she is proud of being an Indian. She feels quite high of herself when she says that she speaks three languages, writes in two and dreams in one. She remembers how her acquaintances had even commented on her choice of English language in her writings. She openly talks about her childhood days and the plight she faced that time. So desperate was she to come out of the curse of womanhood that she would wear her brother‘s trousers to ignore her gender. The elders would not tolerate her extrovert attitude and would even scold her and tell her to follow the norms of the traditional aspects of womanhood. The poet speaks about her depressed life and her disappointment she faced in the present situation. Gripped with loneliness she wanders alone from one place to the other. She experiences guilt and feels that her painful exposures are completely her own as she had favoured the essence of individuality.
The poet claims that though she is not interested in politics she seems to know the names of all those who are in power. She states that these issues are involuntarily embedded in her and she even is confident of taking the challenge of repeating these names in the correct sequence like replicating the days of the month or the months of the year. Very satirically does the poet point out that these politicians are trapped in the repetitive cycle of time, irrespective of any self-identity. Then she comes down to her roots and declares that she is, by default, an Indian. She declares that though she is born in Malabar, she does not belong to the place. She tries to protect herself from regional prejudices and defines herself firstly in terms of nationality and secondly in terms of colour.
She goes on to articulate that ̳she speaks in three languages, write in two, dream in one‘. By suggesting so, Kamala Das wants to justify that medium is not the prerequisite to writing; the main requirement is one‘s essence of thinking capacity. Kamala Das reflects the main theme of Girish Karnard‘s Broken Images – the clash between writing in one‘s own language and making use of a foreign one. The language she speaks is essentially her‘s, the prime ideas are not just an expression but an individual consciousness. Then she narrates her development, from a child to adulthood; revolting against the feminine changes of her physical self and trying desperately to retune her corporal existence. But she has no other option but to accept her situation and she slowly confronts with her state-of-affairs. Later her crave for love and affection is mistakenly understood by others as voracious sexual yearning. She explains her encounter with a man and to prove his universality refers him as ̳every man‘; and on his behalf the man classifies himself as ̳I‘, exposing the supreme male ego.
Initially the poet speaks about the tragedy of having to choose her own language that she inherited and the foreign language that she loved. Then she moves on to describe her perplexing adolescence and the typical and terrible pain of growing up. This is followed by her desire to be equal with the male counterparts in her own terms in spite of the pressure forced upon her by the family and the society to adhere to the traditional feminine role. And finally the poet realizes that her experiences are not just hers; they are the agonizing exposures of every woman. There is pain in her voice, anguish in her gesture and rebellion in her tone.
The poem is a plea for more creative liberty or for expression in Indian English. There is an obsession in the request which comes as insolence against those who wish to silence the poet. Though the poem begins with a dilemma of language it concludes with an assertion of identity. It explores the crust of the poet‘s self who is not just an individual woman but refers to the women fraternity throughout the ages. The poem is candidly confessional, frighteningly genuine and absolutely a coherent voice of the feminine sensibility.