My Grandmother’s House by Kamala Das
‘My Grandmother’s House’ is one of the nostalgic poems first published in Summer in Calcutta. It is nostalgic because it portrays the happy, carefree days of the poetess when she was a child (before her marriage). She yearns for the return of those days. In Malabar, she used to live in the aristocratic parental home which was affectionately supervised by her grandmother. The permanent departure of the dear and near ones marks almost all her literary pieces, whose dominant mood is one of melancholy and pathos and nostalgia.
Summary of ‘The Grandmother’s House’
Kamala Das provides us detailed information regarding the genesis of this poem in Chapter 33 of her Autobiography, My Story. She writes:
“After the sudden death of my grand – uncle and then that of my dear grandmother the old Nalpat House was locked up and its servants disbanded. The windows were shut, gently as eyes of the dead are shut.
My parents took my great grandmother to the house called Sarvodaya where she occupied noiselessly the eastern bedroom on the ground floor, shaded by the tall mango trees through the leaves of which was visible the beloved house. The rats ran across its darkened halls and the white ants raised on its outer walls strange totems of burial.”
The grandmother has been a source of affection and inspiration to the poetess but her death has rendered her sorrow – stricken and desolate. The house looks totally deserted, now inhabited by snakes and rats. Kamala feels lonely and depressed. During one of her illness – during her nervous breakdown in the noisy city of Bombay – she had taken shelter in Malabar and nursed back to perfect health by her anxious grandmother, but, alas, she is now no more alive. The expression ‘blind eyes of windows’ and ‘the frozen air’ reinforce the idea of death and desperation.
The grandmother’s house is associated with an impenetrable sense of security and protection, which is now missing in her married life. Even the ‘darkness’ of the grandmother’s house was secure for her instead of terror or violence. Kamala Das rather wants that darkness to be lifted bodily and shifted to her new married home flooded with light (but with no security). She expresses this feeling of hers through an evocative image:
“Pick an armful of
Darkness to bring it here to lie
Behind n\my bedroom door like a brooding
A ‘dog’ is a trusted companion keeping an unerring eye on the door to scare away the strangers and the enemies and to safeguard the inmates with all main and might.
The last few lines are addressed to the ‘darling’, i.e. her husband.
Kamala Das tells him that:
“I lived in such a house and
Was proud, and loved …”
How nostalgic and pathetic these lines are! The sense of pride and love she once had in the house of her grandmother is now no more her property, since she has become a beggar for love who knocks helplessly at strangers’ doors to receive it at least in a small measure. She has lost her way in quest of true love. This situation is in utter contrast to her previous life lived in the soothing company of her grandmother. Kamala Das tells us that she has often remembered her with a sense of nostalgia and beggarliness. That her present life is sans love, sans pride, is emphatically conveyed by her begging for love at ‘strangers’ doors. There can possibly be no worse pathetic situation for a married woman than this.
Questions and Answers
1. What is Kamala Das’ profession?
2. Name one more poem by Kamala Das where she fondly cherishes her childhood memories?
Ans. “A Hot Noon in Malabar”
3. Name the poetess’ grandmother’s house?
Ans. The name of the poetess’ grandmother is Nalpat House
4. Which expressions reinforce the idea of desperation?
Ans. The expression is ‘blind eyes of windows’ and ‘the frozen air’
5. Which feeling does the poetess miss in her married life?
Ans. The poetess misses the sense of security and protection.
6. Why has the poetess become a beggar for love?
Ans. She has become a beggar for love who knocks helplessly at strangers’ doors to receive it at least in a small measure.
7. How is the present life of the poetess?
Ans. Her present life is sans love, sans pride is emphatically conveyed by her begging for love at ‘strangers’ doors.