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Experiences of the Indian Women in Kamal Das‟ Poems: A Feminist Reading

Colonial custom and practice stemmed from a World view which believes in the absolute superiority of the non-human and the sub-human, the masculine over feminine, and the modern or progressive over the traditional or the savage. In recent times, feminist scholarship originates and participates in the larger efforts of feminism to liberate women from the structures that have marginalized women as such, it seeks to redefine ideas of male and female. Feminists claim that literature bears the stump of male domination. A major portion of literature has been written from the male point of view either by ignoring or suppressing women‘s point of view. The ideology is inscribed and it is produced and reproduced in cultural practice. Feminists examine experiences of the women from all races, classes and cultures. The traditional images of women as on evil force, a temptress, an inferior being, and as an impediment in man‘s spiritual path have been totally discarded in favour of a more human, egalitarian image mainly due to the efforts of the feminist and the male humanists.

This paper proposes to highlight Kamala Das‘ assertive voice for the rights of women and explicate her attacks on the convention-ridden Indian society by subverting the traditional roles of a woman. Kamala Das suffered ‗double colonization‘ – one form from European domination and then separately she was
domination, exploited and apprised as a women and wife. Her poetry may be labeled as the poetry of protest which is direction against the poetry of protest which is directed against the injustices and the persecution to which women in India have always been subjected.

In the select poems, 'An Introduction,‘‘ 'Old Play house,‘‘ 'The freaks,‘‘ Luminol,‘‘ 'The Sunshine Cat‘‘ and 'A Feminist‘s Lament‘‘ from the collection 'Only the Soul Knows How to Sing‘, she pleads for the liberation of her sisterhood from the clutches of the sex-obsessed World of the domineering male.
Kamala Das has created a permanent place for herself in the contemporary Indian English poetry. She is one of the most popular poets of India who has gained space even in the West. Like Jane Austen, Kamala Das moves within her limited range with grace and skill. She is a Feminist blazing a new trial of emancipation for the Indian women. She is called the poet of the body for she is the first to speak frankly about sex. Das uses of franker, more pervasive anatomical imagery. She is against the conventional. She, by her bold confessions and iconoclastic attitudes towards taboos , emerges as a Western Oriented Indian women-on emancipated women-coming to terms with her modern existence even within the background of her Hindu ethos. She is feminist poet who in Showalter‘s terms-‗tries to be biological, to write from the critic‘s (her) body, has been intimate, confessional, often innovative in style and form‘ (314). Her attacks on senseless restrictions and conventions implore for the liberation of her sisterhood
from the clutches of the conventional roles set by the sex obsessed word of domineering male. Amritta Pritam of Panjab is her Indian counterpart in her passionate plea for the emancipation of women from the dominant male ego.
Das‘ poems reveal her protest against the conventions of the society and the constraints and restriction which husbands or society in general impose upon women. She made her poetry a vehicle for the expression of her resentments against all males because of her sad and bitter experience of her indiscriminate sexual relationships with a large number of men. She strove to establish her identity as a women through her poems, and she, infect, tried also to impart an identity to Indian women as a neglected class of Indian society. As a critic, Shayam Asuani says, hers is a fiercely feminine sensibility which articulates without inhibitions the hurt it has received in an insensitive and largely man-made world. She may be regarded as the champion of the rights of women‘s who sits upon breaking the chains of slavery. 

Das, in the poem, ‗ An introduction‘‘, portrays herself as a liberated modern women. The way she handles IndianEnglish with all its peculiar traits is as personal as she puts it: 'The language I speak Become mine …….All mine, mine alone‘‘(12). She is not happy about the critics, comment that writing in English is not appropriate to her as writing in her mother tone. She is not bothered about the critics. Like a true feminist, she asserts her individuality and does not brother about being accused of using a language half English and half Indian :

It is half English, half Indian, human perhaps, but it is honest, it is as human as I am human, don‘t you all? 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 (12-20).

Das feels at each with the English language and identifies is as the language of her past experience she raises her voice against the concept of early marriage to a man. With agony she says,……………he drew a youth of sixteen into the Bedroom and closed the door. He did not beat me my sad women body felt beater.

Her body has shrunk at the onslaught of her lover‘s lust. Her psychological and physical yearnings are not fulfilled whereas she is compelled to fulfill the needs of her husband. This experience make her react like a rebel. She against the convention ridden Hindu society which insists on her accepting a name, a role and a function. She hurls defiance at the do‘s and don‘t‘s inflicted upon her by the traditional society.

In the 'Old playhouse‘‘, Das exposes a love that seeks fruition through the fulfillment of the skin‘s lazy hungers‘‘ (12). She lances a strident attack on the social exploitation of women by man to station his carnal cravings. She approaches her husband considering him her lover with an intention to perceive her real self : ‗ I came to you but to learn/ what I was‘‘ (6-7). On the contrary, wherever she turns she finds the sex obsessed and dominant male World. Das is against the male egotism when she writes :

You were pleased With my body‘s response, its weather, its usual shallow convulsions. 
You dribbled spittle into my mouth, you powered yourself into every nook and cranny, you
embalmed my poor lust with your bitter- sweet juices(8-12).

The poetic persona feels that her husband, not bothering about her feelings, indulges in such things only to satisfy his needs. She makes a virulent attack on the constraints of conjugal life, the snares of domesticity as suggested by the phrase- tame a swallow‘‘. The ‗swallow‘, stand that her sense of freedom is stifled in this largely male dominated married life. She feels as if she customary subordination of the female sex to the male.

Beneath your monstrous ego I ate the magic loaf and
Become a dwarf. I lost my will and reason, to all your
Questions I mumbled in coherent replies (14-17).

The domineering male ego suppresses the women who become dwarf‘ and the poet considers that all men‘s techniques are similar. This autobiographical poem thus expresses a voice against the pressure of domesticity and against the male domination in the routine of family life. In another poem The Freaks‘‘ the poet protests the fulfillment of sexual urge and refuses to identify ‗‘skin‘s lazy hunger‘ with love Hence she asked the following significant question :

…………… Can this man with
Nimble finger-tips unleash
Nothing more alive than the
Skin‘s lazy hunger?(9-12)

The poet‘s male partner in this poems is a man sun stained cheek. He is a womanizer as his sun stained cheek symbolizes his frequent visit to different women at different times. Her male partner cannot surge on wings of love since he is rooted bodily responses whereas she is extremely doubtful whether he can be her match in her hunger for the higher riches of fulfillment.In Kamala Das‘s vision womanhood involves certain collective experience. Indian women are expected to be docile and not allowed to express their agony. Kamala Das consistently refuse to longing and loss as collected experience.
In the poem 'Luminol‘‘ the poet registers her protest against the skin communicated‘‘ ecstasies as they cases to gratify the earning of the souls. The poet longs for an escape from the sex obsessed world of man through pills into a beautiful state of sleep. She suggests that the higher reaches soul can be attained
only by an instance fulfillment through love and not through lust. The inner agonies expressed in the poem are not nearly those of Kamala Das, but of entire women folk.

In The Sunshine Cat‘‘ Das describes a specific case of abuse of a woman. The title suggests a yellow cat. It was not nearly a cat but a near streak of sunshine which spilled into the room when her husband kept her contained in a room. He could confine only her physical body. Her husband shut her
In, every morning; locked her in a room of books
With streak of sunshine lying near the door, like
A yellow cat. (14-17)

However clever the husband may have been, he could not stop the spirit‘s flight from her body. On the contrary, one day when he retuned, he had found her ‗cold and half-dead‘‘. To the world outside, she is sunshine cat appearing always happy with all physical comforts. In reality she is a yellow cat, a deceased cat. The denial of freedom and fulfillment has taken away all her charm, youth and beauty. In ‗A feminist‘s Lament‘‘ Das raises her voice against the concept of ‗I deal women‘. She begins the poem with a charge: ‗An ideal women, they said was but/ a masochist.‘‘ Masochist is a person who gets pleasure in her own pain or humiliation. An ideal women is supposed to be:

Trained from infancy
To wear the flannel of cowardice
Next to her skin, trained to lie inert
Under a male, committed by vows
To feed her, clothe her and buy for her
The 1000 sq ft flat with a loft
For storing the debris of passing years.

Das laments at the curtailment of freedom of the so called ideal women who seem to live with all comforts. As the title suggests, she laments about the helpless state of the woman. She urges every woman to the courageous and not to be a coward and asks, ―What was co urge with /at the very end.

Kamala Das, a revolutionary poet, has thus started the trend towards frankness in the treatment of the subject. Every poem of her has come directly from her heart and is based on an actual personal experience. Though such open hearted expression of her sense of insecurity and helpless, she legitimizes her feminine ego and her female identity. In her poems she expresses her desires to seek a pure and total freedom for the whole society and articulates the anguished assertive voice of woman who is silenced by the conversation ridden society.