Afterwards' and After: Social Concerns in the poems of Kamala Das
" He ( the poet) is responsible for humanity, even for the animals, he must see to it that his invention can be smelt, felt, heard." ( Arthur Rimbaud)
From the queen of erotica to a poetic pilgrim, the critical nexus on Kamala Das's poetry has oscillated between opposite poles. These varied critical stances reflect that the genius of the poet refuses to be strait-jacketed into a uniform notion. In this paper, I will attempt to reveal the social issues that imbue the oeuvre of her poetry.
Kamala Das in her much discussed autobiography, My Story , pointed out: " A poet's raw material is not stone or clay; it is her personality."1 In direct contradiction to Eliot's theory of poetic creation, Mrs. Das asserts that her poetry is subjective and through it she voices forth her strains and stresses. This, however, does not imply a selfish preoccupation with the self but a melioristic vision that is shocked and disgusted at the plight of fellow mortals. Her sensitive soul is deeply affected by the maladies that lie deeply ingrained in the social matrix.
In the poem Afterwards -- no intertextuality with Hardy's poem -- written when the poet was in her teens, she questions the notions of scientific progress that has ushered the nuclear holocaust:
" Son of my womb,
Ugly in loneliness,
You walk the world's bleary eye Like a mote. Your cleverness Shall not be your doom
As ours was."
She contrasts the pre-explosion and post-explosion states of the world and drives home the tragedy that the workings of the human intellect have brought on earth. It is on this blighted earth that the desiccated future generation will have to roam. But time must move on and the "son" must play his part:
" The earth we nearly killed is yours Now the flowers bloom again, But a savage red, it takes Time to forget the blood".2
Through powerful imagery, Kamala Das presents a death-life sequence that points to the fact that man is powerless of controlling the consequences of his own mindless suicidal acts.
Imagine the condition of this sensitive soul when she is forced into a marriage in which love is crucified in sex. In spite of living in a matriarchal and matrilocal society, she was terrified at the lot of women within the social nexus. Her love poems' throw a whirlwind of protest against the androgynous culture. It is this protest that she becomes a feminist, though the poet feels she is more feminine than feminist. She does not hate men; she movingly records the sad plight of her self which is also the predicament of thousands of women in phallocentric society. In Captive , she records the sadness of a loveless marriage with all its concomitant agonies:
.. for years I have run from one gossamer love to another, I am now my own captive."3
The personal pronoun I' does not stand for the poet alone, but for numerous women who have dumbly suffered a...
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