QUEST FOR SELF IN KAMLA DAS`S POETRY VOLUME SUMMER IN CALCUTTA The dominant out-cry in Summer In Calcutta continues to be herself, her exploration and her various experiences. Her poetry reveals the dilemmas and poignant situations faced by Kamala Das under the strain of her longing for love, sex and resultant loneliness. She is obsessed with love & Sex. She pines for what is not there. She faces the pains of loneliness even in her child-hood. Neither her parents nor the society in which she grew helped her to free herself from this loneliness. As she complains about her parents:- "They took us for granted and considered us mere puppets, moving our limps according to the tugs they gave us--- I felt myself to be an intruder in any room rather than mine--- every morning I told myself that I must raise my-self from the desolation of my life and escape, escape into another life and into another country"1 Marriage does not give her any solace from this loneliness . in her married life she faces only lust and sex. She had no freedom in selecting an ideal lover for her. Kamla Das never liked the way her parents moved about and fixed as important an affair as her marriage without, even trying to know her ideas and aspirations and She finds herself as a helpless victim:-" I was a victim of a young man's Carnal --------------------------------------------- heingee & perhaps out of our Union, there would be Born a few children"2 While recollecting the first sexual experience from the first night she says:- "Then without any warning he fell on me, surprising me by the extreme brutality of the attack"3 This 'brutal attack' lends in her a sense of helplessness and alienation which prompts Das to become a rebel and she looks down up on all her relations with contempt and disgust: - "------Marriage meant nothing More than a show of wealth To families like ours"4 The immature sexual approach of her husband -developed contempt against the bonds of married life and male-domination. Her injured feminine self attempted to explore an identity and freedom. For this task she experimented herself with sexual adventures and suicide attempts. Her longing for true love gives her neither the peace of mind nor the emotional fulfilment. She complains of the failure of love within and without the bonds of marriage. The love which she found outside the lawfully wedded husband was a redefinition of her feminine self. She says:- "Like the majoritv of city dwelling woman, I too tried adultery for a short while, but I found it distasteful ---- whom we embraced, we fell in the cerulean pools of his many mirrors as a deathless motif---yet 1 hated the exploitation of my body"5 She fails in her attempts - to find a relationship which could give her love and security. The Dance of the Eunuchs' its jingling sound corresponds to the sterility of the emotions within her. As she says : "It was not, before the eunuchs came To Dance, wide skirts going round and, cymbals. Richly Clasing, and Anklets jingling ...... " Her quest for fulfillment of love leads her only to sterility and vacant ecstasy. The whirling movement and extended frenzy are contrasted with 'inner vacuity' Kama! Das herself suffered form such 'emotional vacuity'. The dance of the eunuchs is the symbol of her inner self. Das is a mere feminine injured self as the eunuchs are after wearing feminine dress. The dominant characteristics of the Summer In Calcutta are represented by the rottenness and barrenness of the dance of the eunuchs and their sweat and weariness. She received the same rottenness from her husband who offended her feminine self. The pain which the poetic self of Kamla Das presents is the result of this emotional conflict. In her husband she tried to seek the life giving force of love in both forms - physical and meta-physical. But,her husband gave her only 'skin-communicated thing-called love' who dribbled spittle into her mouth" This is really a disgusting experience faced by Das. Her husband was 'selfish' poured himself into her every nook and corner and embalm her poor lust with his 'bitter sweet juices.' It is the crucial encounter which makes her disillusioned by her partner whose inner self is small and shallow which her feminine self tries to seek love outside marriage. Her experience in love and marriage became painful which further accelerates the identity crisis in her feminine self. The Sunshine Cat is an example of this self : " Her husband shut her In every morning : locked her in a room of books With a streak of sunshine lying near the door, like A yellow cat, to keep her company, but soon it Winter came and one day while locking her in, he Noticed that the cat of sunshine was only a lone, a hair thin line, and in the evening when. He returned to take her out she was a Cold and Half-deal woman, now of no use at all to man"7 The 'yellow-cat' here stands for Kamla Das and her feminine self. She realized the miseries of utter loneliness and even humiliation at the hands of her callous husband 'a ruthless watcher' She gets only 'tears' in the name of love from her husband as well as other men who were the 'band of cynics.' Her husband locked her up in a room of books. When he returned he found her 'Cold" and 'half dead' of no use at all. Thus, her feminine self and poetic self got offended. That is why her poetry serves as the emotional or psychological equivalents of her own mental states. At this moment her poetic self seeks an outlet of these mental tortures by recollecting the comforts of the Nalapt House and the tender dealing of the grandmother. The atmosphere of terror and violence of her married life is contrasted by that of peace, softness and security of the old house which she remembers only with a sense of full satisfaction. The Nalapat house and grand mother gave her both love & security of which memory always lives in her poetic self : "There is a house now far away where once I received love .......... that woman died The House withdrew into silence, Snakes moved among books I was Then too young To read, and, my blood turned Cold like the Moon How often I think going There ...................... Thus, her poetic self is disturbed by her feminine self in her husband's house. Her husband has been declared as ar. unwelcome intruder into the privacy of her mind. As she is fed-up with her husband who is a mere 'Snatchcr of Freedom' seeks love to others. She writers : "My way and beg now at stranger's doors to Reeeive love, at least in small change" She got only lust, physical exploitation and resultant frustration in the hands of others - outside marriage Kamla's poetry is a well - documented dissertation of her wounded feminine self and its experience as she writes : "an armful Of I sprinters----designed To hurt, and pregnant with pain-- "10 Her feminine self feels humiliated by all - husband, lover, -society and also the humorous heaven. As her poetic self repents: "I am wrong, I am wronged I am so wronged."11 One finds that isolation and alienation has made her sensitive mind frustrated. In fact, her dissatisfaction in married life and the quest for love was the cause of the birth of hcr poetry. In fact, her feminine self got humiliated not only in ner husband's house but in the Nalapat House also of which unpleasant memory lingers upon her mind, she says : "The women of best Nair families Never mentioned sex, It \vas their principal phobia. They associated it with violence and blood shad. They had been fed on the stories of Ravana who perished due to his desire But she does not follow the moral stories and completely breaks away from the traditional roles of women and present her self-courage of being a woman. Here, her feminine self speaks in the first person pronoun. . She seeks love : "I am every woman who seeks love"13 But her love-self begins to turn into a tragic self when she got married to an unsympathetic husband who devoted ail his time to the official works. He could not sow the seeds of love in the field of newly bride. About her husband, she says : "My husband was immersed in his office-work, and after worth. There was the dinner, fo '.lowed by sex. Where was :herc any time left for him to want to see the sea - "14 Here, 'sea' stands for her feminine self. Here, her sexual self feels like a bird caught in spring which tries to fly-away but can not. Her feminine self is filled with tragic vision and melancholy. Her life, even her feminine identity, becomes a mere toy in the hands of her husband. As Hotense Allart opines: "I am delighted to have really learnt what a woman's fate is, for I talked about it before and was not married now, I do know"15 Instead of getting happiness in marriage Kamla Das gets in it a heap of tension and despair an even danger to her existence. She tells in - My Story- that she suffered a nervous break down as a neglected wife. She was kept closed into a room where her poetic self as well as her feminine identity got suffocation. About this cruelty against female H.M Parsley opines: "All agree in recognizing the fact that females exist in the human species, to day as always they make up about one half of humanity. And yet we are told that femininity is in danger, we are exhorted, to be women, remain women, become women..."16 She remembers the poem 'My Grandmother's House' by and lars;e its comforts. She writes: "The house withdrew into silence, snakes moved among books I was Then two young To read, and my blood turned Cold like the moon. How often I think of going There ............ "17 The grand mother's house is a symbol of security and protection which is now missing in her married life. Even the 'darkness' of this house keeps security for her feminine identity. She wants this darkness to be present in her married home. Her love-longing psyche expresses the feelings of fustration. Her love-self calls her husband darling, far sometime, out of love, she forgets the boredom of her frustrated life. When she feels 'proud' and 'loved' of this house. She has lost her way in quest of her true love. She has gone from Pillar to post in order to satisfy her hungers of love. She has remembered her grandmother with a sense of homesickness. Her present life is without love and pride which is stressly conveyed by her beg for love at 'strangers door'. A Hot Noon in Malabar is a good example where her feminine self moves between memory and desire. She is sitting inside her home. She tells strangers 'be here, far away, is torture'. This line practically echoed in her later life. Unfortunately, she could not escape herself from this 'torture' which is far away (in her husband house) from the Nalapat House. Her poetry bruised the SELF that expresses itself in so many different moocis. Her poetry is an expression of a frustrated feminine self which needs a loving husband, warmth and home. She wants to break away the dead and outworn social values to assert a strong feminine self. This protest ranging from weak feminine sense of helplessness and submission to a restless quest for happiness and shelter. This is an expression of her inner self which is eager to break the shackles and have its voice heard. As she declares : "As the convict studies His prison's geogralohy I study the trappings Of your body, dear love. For 1 must some day Find As escape from its Snare ......,....."18 These lines show that her quest for feminine identity is being eclipsed under 'your body' It is her ego-self which wants an 'escape from its snare' Kamla Das with the help of her artistic-self like a convict - wants to escape from the trappings of her husband. The expression 'clear love' functions here as a mere mockery of love. As a prisoner wants to run away from it after studying its geography and he may succeed in his efforts. Ironically enough, Kamla Das could not escape from her husband even after she was well known to his nature, habits and behaviour. Here once again her poetic self or ego self and feminine self seem to be fighting each other. Thus her ego-self has become an arena of fighting herself. The cause of kamla Das' frustration was her ruthless husband, his betrayal end resultant tortures : "......... Betray me? Yes, he can, but never physically, Touch of air and die with Metallic sighs What care I for their quick Sterile sting, white My body's wisdom tells and tells again That I shall find my rest, my sleep, my peace And even death no where else but Here in my betrayer's arms ............. These lines clearly indicate that her sexual hunger must have been satisfied. The expressions like :he can, but never physically' and 'my body's wisdom' show that her feminine self runs after sex while her ego-self which calls him 'sterile' wants to 'touch of air'. The question arises here how does she find sleep and peace in betrayer's arms? And once again her callous husband become cause of pain for her as lago is for the black moor. The callousness and betrayal of her husband has been pointed out by Bruceking, as he says : "Das' opened areas, in which previously forbidden or ignored emotions could be expressed in ways which reflect the true voice of feeling ............"20 Thus, Bruceking stresses upon the fulfilment of her emotion. The answer to the above asked question can be given in the same voice. In fact, her poetrv is an exploration of the geography of her inner self. Poem after poem the same song of fulfilment of emotion or emotional emptiness can be heard. Take the case of her poem 'The Freaks' in which one finds the intensity of feelings, impatience, frustrations, the hollowness of her inner self and a great contempt for the masculine self. As she says : "and empty cisiern waiting through long hours, fills itself with coiling snakes of silence-- I am a freak"2 - Here Kamla Das is caught in a typical situation. Their mind "willed to race towards love' but they can rioi make love because their sexual emotions are 'an empty cistern'. The disgust of a woman for sexually starved man, can be realized in the selection of such expressions like - 'sun-stained', 'a dark-cavern,' 'Puddles of desires', 'an empty cistern' etc. But her * husband is a passive lover who can satisfy only 'skin's lazy hunger' and love-self of Kamla Das remains hungry. Her helpless feminine self asks question. "Who can help us who have lived so long and have failed in love? The words '1 am a freak1 clearly mocks her feminine integrity. The details of the m^lc ana:cmy such as his cheeks are 'sun - siainec! . his mouth is ugly like a 'dark-cavern', and his teeth are 'uneven and calcife:-'us' obviously, indicate the strong hatred and disgust of her feminine self towards her husband. Here one finds that her poetic self fails in gaining a total vision of life. The reason for this failure is that she keeps no barrier between the poetic self and its direct expression. This becomes clear from the above mentioned poem 'The Freaks' which provides her with the basic awareness of self's loneliness and the vacant ecstasy. This is because of her obsession with 'body's wisdom' or physiological aspects of sex which is however no guarantee against the sense of alienation and emotional unfulfilment. Her poetic self achieves forces from her feminine existence which goes forward and backward in search of love. About this pendulum-like activity of the feminine self Devindra Kohli savs : "It is difficult to sav whether Kamla Das succeeds in resolving her tension between physical and spiritual aspect of love"22. In *The Music Party' her feminine self wants to be loved with warms feelings. As she says : "Music in front - A pale Girl in pink Beside the Harmonium; Behind me, Your stillness, Nothing else, No reason Why my ears Should have ignored The girl's signing, And sucked in With wild greed The whisper ,.."23. Here her feminine self does not want to ignore the 'singing girl' because she is gaining a wild sensuous pleasure a 'stillness'. Her inclination to physical hungers in search of the quest of her genuine self brings suffering for Kamla Das. Her creative Self wants to create a balanced relationship that can soften her wounded psyche. But her creative self gets disgust instead of an ideal lover which can lead her to a frantic search. A close study of her poems would reveal the fact that each of her lovers is presented by her with utter disgust : '"These men who call me Beautiful not seeing me with eyes but with hands and even ... even ... love"24. uOf what does the burning mouth of sun burning, in todav's skv. remind me ... his limbs lik pale and carnivorous plants reaching ... of my unending lust'2f\ These are the good examples which show that the poet's sexual encounter with each of her lovers gives not satisfaction, it -rather gives pain leading her feminine self to a sense of unfulfilment. There are gestures of relief for the self also, the self achieves a solace by transcending the pain. Her poem 'The Forest Fire' strikes a good balance between the suffering of creation and the suffering of human living. That is why she encounters life with its Sordidness in order to strengthen her poetic self. She says : "Of late I have begun to feel a hunger. To take in with greed, like a forest fire ... my eyes lick at you like flames, my nerves consume; and when in finish with you, in the Pram, near the tree and, on the park bench, I spit out small heaps of ash, nothing else ..." These lines show the evolution of her poetic self. It rises above the personal to achieve the realistic vision of truth. She does the determined attempt to get the 'Self experienced because it has clasped the complexities of existence beyond its ego. As Devinda Kohli has also the same vie\v. Her intense effort to "put my private voice away and to portray a larger panorama of experience transcending her personal moods and feelings"-'7. The image of the forest fire nmnifests her poetic self's liberal duty to life which enables her to achieve a belonging to phenomena beyond self. Though, this transcending of the self proves instrumental, for sometime, to achieve a necessary distraction from her mood of sadness and loneliness. But the detachment of the self is shortwhile. It again struggles to relate one's personal experience with the cosmos. This "becomes clear from the close study of the most celebrated poem. 'An Introduction' Here, her poetic self struggles to keep her identity a separate entity - against The categorizes'. It asserts the growth of her feminine identity and poetic consciousness which was fading away slowly with despair. She asserts her identity, she says : "... who are you, I ask each and everyone, the answer is, it is I Anywhere and every where I see the one who calls himself ... It is I who laugh, it 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 betayed"28. The physical attraction encompasses 'everyman' and 'every woman' on the common sexual ground. The expression which asserts her identity is 'it is can be an answered who are you', thus encompassing the whole humanity into 'I'. She speaks herself as a woman and as a poet with contempt against conventional attitude. As a poet she does not want to be put into the world of 'Categorizers'. On the other side she docs not refuse to abadon the world with all its ramifications and brightness despite her awareness of herself as a haunted and tortured woman. To assert her femininity she straightly speaks in the first person pronoun T, thus breaking the barrier between 'the man who suffers and the mind which crecites'. The poem 'An Introduction' gives two attributions - one to her as a rebel against the oppression and the second to poetic self as a tragic dignity for its evolution. Kamla Das has tied her best to reconcile the clash between the flesh and the spirit. As a female poet she seeks a definition of her SELF as a woman and as an artist. That is why she concerns her poetry with herself. As Feroza Jussawala says : "Her self as woman and ... her self as poet amd artist .. are tied together. The 'feminine sensibility' can be described as her personal self : her feelings as a woman, her physical desires and her evolution from teenage bride to adulteress and mother figure"29. She learns that in her quest for ideal love lies her disappointment 'Getting a man is easy' for the satisfaction of sexual hunger. The expression 'living without him afterwards have to be faced' lends a few streaks of philosophical insight into her artistic self. The awareness which dawns upon her mind at the time of her physical decay and destruction brings her to a new light. As she states in her poem The Testing of the Siren : "Ah \vhy does love come to me like pain Again and again and again ... I shut my eyes, but inside eyelids there \vas no more light, no more love, or peale, only the white, white sun burning, burning, burning ..."30. These lines show that the momentary quest of self for the philosophical insight gives no consolation to it. Kamla Das remains loyal to the 'confessional-utterances' to resolve the dilemma. And her poetic self does help to her 'psychic project'. But the expressions like 'I shut my eyes', 'Burning, burning' are beyond the protective hands of 'poetic-self hence can not escape her feminine self from being an object of frustration and even death consciousness. REFERENCES 1.Kamla Das, My Story (New Delhi : Sterling Publications, 1976), pp. 77-79. 2.Rejeshwar Mittapalli and Pier Paolo Picincco, Kamla Das : A Critical Spectrum (ed.) (New Delhi : Atlantic Pub. & Dis. 2001), p. 44. 3.Kamla Das, My Story (New Delhi : Sterling Publications, 1976), p. 92. 4. Rajeshwar Mittapalli and Pier Paolo Picincco, Kamla Das : A Critical Spectrum (ed.) (New Delhi : Atlantic Pub. And Dis. 2001), p. 44. 5. Kamla Das, My Story (New Delhi : Sterling Publications, 1976), p. 193. 6. A.N. Dwivedi, Kamla Das And Her Poetry (New Delhi : Atlantic Pub. And Dis. 2006), p. 61. 7. Kamla Das, Summer in Calcutta (New Delhi : Everest Press, 1965), p. 49. 8. Ibid. p. 15 9. Ibid. p. 15 10. Rajeshwar Mittapalli and Pier Paolo Piciucco, Kamla Das : A Critical Spectrum (New Delhi : Atlantic Pub and Dis.), p. 149. 11. Kamla Das, Summer in Calcutta (New Delhi : Everest Press, 1965), p. 24. 12. Kamla Das, My Story (New Delhi : Sterling Publishers, 1977), p. 22. 13. Ibid. p. 60 14. A.N. Dwivedi, Kamla Das and Her Poetry (Atlantic Publishers and Dis. 2000), p. 29 15. Stephens Sonya, A History of Women's Writing in France (Cambridge University Press), p. 139. 16. Simone De Beauvoir, The Second Sex (Tran and ed). H.M. Par Shley (Vintage Pub. 1977), p. 9. 17. Kamla Das, Summer In Calcutta (New Delhi : Everest Press, 1965), p. 15. 18. Bhatnagar K. Manmohan, Feminist English Literature (Atlantic Pub. And Dis. 2002), p. 7. 19. Kamla Das, Summer In Calcutta (New Delhi : Everest Press, 1965), p. 18. 20. King Bruce, Modern Poetry in English (OUP, Bombay, 1987), p. 152. 21. Kamla Das, Summer in Calcutta (New Delhi : Everest Press, 1965), p. 10. 22. Devindra Kohli, Kamla Das' Contemporary Indian English Verse, ed. Kulshestha, Chirantan (New Delhi : Arnold - Heinemann), p. 23-24. 23. Kamla Das, Summer in Calcutta (New Delhi : Everest Press, 1965), p. 30. 24. Ibid. p. 61. 25. Ibid. p. 14. 26. Ibid. p. 51. 27. Devindra Kohli, Virgin Whiteness : The Poetry Kamla Das (Calcutta : Writers workshop, 1968), p. 14. 28. Kamla Das, Summer In Calcutta (New Delhi : Everest Press) 1965, p. 60. 29. Feroza Jussawalla, Kamla Das : The Evolution of the Self, The Journal of Indian Writing in English, Jan-July 1982, p. 54. 30. Kamla Das, Summer in Calcutta (New Delhi : Everest Press 1965), p. 64.
DEVIRAM SHARMA MA