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An Introduction by Kamala Das

SUMMARY

Kamala Das’ poem ‘An Introduction’ appeared in her first collection of poems, ‘Summer in Calcutta.’ In her poem, she speaks in the voice of a child, rebelling against the expectations and dictates of a patriarchal society that asks her to ‘fit in’ and to ‘belong’ against her own desires. ‘Malabar;’ a southern Indian location, covering a major part of Kerala, which also spreads to parts of Karnataka.

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Her resistance against patriarchy is to protect her identity in a male-dominated society. The poem begins with the assertion, ‘I don’t know politics, but I know the names of those in power,’ which demonstrates her distaste for politics in a world where politics is considered a man’s domain. Next comes her defiant declaration of her right to publish in whatever language she wishes, in response to demands that she should not ‘write in English.’ Her reaction to the critics is reiteration of the (language) appropriation of the colonial language to serve native needs. ‘Categorizers’; an allusion to those who perceive and group other people in various systems or brackets: the word implies an inclination to stereotyping people.

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The poem moves from the subject of language politics to the issue of sexual politics. During her pubescent years, the poet’s abrupt engagement and her first sexual experience both leave her traumatised. On the heartbeat, she defies the gender code and dresses up like a male by wearing a shirt and a trouser and ‘sits on the wall. The guardians of morality compel the attire of a decent woman with orders to step into a woman’s generally acceptable position as a ‘wife’ and ‘mother’. Madhavikutti; ‘the nickname that Kamala Das used in Malayalam when writing.

Kamala Das, comparing herself with the world’s other oppressed women, universalizes oppressed and finds liberation and love. The poem becomes a declaration on gender inequalities and a step to overcome the limits put on a woman by pursuing individual liberty, love that enables the body to deal with its own desires and a self that is permitted to enjoy the true glory of love.

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Q. Critically analyse the poem An Introduction by Kamala Das in your own words.

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Answer: The poem, An Introduction by Kamal Das, was published in Kamala Das’s first volume of poetry, Summer in Calcutta (1965). The poem begins with a statement that shows her frank distaste for politics, particularly in politically free India governed by an elected elite. The poet declares his right to speak three languages and defends his preference to write in two languages: his mother tongue, Malayalam and English. She doesn’t want to be advised by any guardian or relations in this matter. Her decision is hers: genuine and born with love. The poet sees his choice to write in English as natural and humane.

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The poem then moves from the topic of language politics to the question of sexual politics in a patriarchy-dominated society where a girl reaching puberty is told by some dominant parental figure about her biological changes. As a girl seeks to satisfy her teenage passion, a young lover is forced upon her to traumatise and coerce the female body, because the same is the place for the patriarchy to show its strength and authority. When she then chooses to cover her femininity in male clothes, the guardians impose traditional feminine attire, with reminders to conform into a woman’s socially determined features, to become a wife and a mother, and to become confined to the domestic routine. In order not to make herself a psychic or a maniac, she is threatened to keep inside the four walls of her feminine room.

But the poet is an independent woman who is seeking to voice universal womanhood and to share her experiences, positive or negative, with all the other women. Love and sexuality are a strong component of her quest for feminine identity, and identity consists of polarities. The poem ends with the repetitions of the first singular person I to suggest the vindication of the body and the self. The poet fully exposes himself and the role of women in society, especially at that time, to expose abuses in society.

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