Rehman 1 Lubna Rehman In House presentation Baran Farooqi MPhil Second Semester 19th March 2013

Self Representation- Kamala Das‟ My Story

“My Story is my autobiography which I began writing during my first serious bout with heart disease. The doctor thought that writing would distract my mind from the fear of a sudden death and, besides, there were all the hospital bills to be taken care of.... Between short hours of sleep induced by the drugs given to me by the nurses, I wrote continually, not merely to honor my commitment but because I wanted to empty myself of all the secrets so that I could depart when the time came, with a scrubbed out conscience... The serial had begun to appear in the issues of the journal which flooded the bookstalls in Kerala. My relatives were embarrassed. I had disgraced my well-known family by telling my readers that I had fallen in love with a man other than my lawfully wedded husband...This book has cost many things that I held dear but I do not for a moment regret having written it.” 1 My Story is a best-selling woman‟s autobiography in post-independence India. It follows Kamala Das‟ life from age four through British colonial and missionary schools favored by the Colonial Indian elite 2;


This quote is mentioned in the Preface of Kamala Das’ My Story. Just so she could scrub out her conscience, she became an explicit writer, unlike her time, which ultimately and unconsciously led her to become a controversial one too.

She was ill treated on racial grounds in her school. She had her first lessons of discrimination as a dark girl from south India. Her white classmates at her European school not only made fun of her brother who was plump and dark, though he was the cleverest in the class, but at times even tortured him until he bled from the nose. When the school had distinguished visitors, the brown children were hidden away.

Rehman 2 through her sexual awakening; an early and seemingly disastrous marriage; her growing literary career; extramarital affairs; almost homosexual relations; the birth of her three sons; and, finally, a slow but steady coming to terms with her spouse, writing, and sexuality. Rejecting the way of fellow female writers who try to tackle with the problem of existence avoiding any task about their bodies, she confronts and represents the issues of her body with unparallel boldness and honesty. But the most noticeable fact about her bold attempt is that, inspite of trying hard to kill the „Angel within herself and denying the traditional Indian morals and values, she is always aware of the fact that she is deviating from the accepted norms. She represented a world of say having its own morals and values. Own ideas to the extent that it showed through her autobiography how homosexuality is also not a “transgression” for her. Be it Sarada‟s anonymous lesbian lover3, Mamata‟s attachment to her Maths teacher4, or the girl Kamala herself admired5; these homosexual experiences are explicitly expressed in Kamala Das‟ autobiography which adds on to its controversy. As a revolutionary writer Kamala Das always stood apart and carved a niche of herself. My Story is the genuine outburst of her spasmodic force. It is altogether a novel arena of literature where being a woman she freely writes about her body, her instinct, her possessions, and her lust. It is a new kind of woman born in Indian context; a renaissance curvature of history which borders on “The Gita‟s” statement given be Krishna that nature in itself is wayward, boisterous and chaotic. Krishna says the world would be destroyed within a minute if He does not control it. Kamala Das is revolting precisely against such male Chauvinism. She wanted to live her life as a woman of flesh and blood, not as traditionally ideal Indian women like “Sita” or “Meera”. Das represents herself in such a way so as to not be tied up by the established norms of a „pativrata naari‟(a women devoted solely to one‟s husband) and makes every attempt to respond to the charms bestowed upon her by other men and

Kamala states in her autobiography “the lesbian admirer came into our room once when Sarada was away taking a bath and kissed her pillowcase and her undies hanging out to dry in the dressing room. I lay on my bed watching this performance but she was half-carzed with love, and hardly noticed me.”

“My friend Mamata fell in love with her and gazed at her with adoration while she took our class….when the teacher left Calcutta in search of a better job, Mamata grew listless and stopped coming to school.”- My Story

“…then she lay near me holding my body close to hers. Her fingers traced the outlines of my mouth with a gentleness that I had never dreamt of finding. She kissed my lips then, and whispered, ‘you are so sweet, so very sweet, my darling, my little darling’.”

Rehman 3 women. In this manner, she is shown to have a string of short and long term relationships. This is perhaps her own way of representing the rebel in a society of the late 20th century when traditionalism was the established norm, and rebellion, that too by a woman, was considered a taboo. She represents throughout, a spirit of boldness and a complete disrespect for the societal norms. Kamala Das boldly represents her thoughts as contrasted with the society she had to put up with. Therefore, things tended to become all the more difficult for her. The authoress has the least intention of seeking pity or justification for such actions and neither are those sentiments aroused in the reader. She honestly represents her true self in her autobiography. Be it confessing how she imagined to be a mistress of a rich man, or confessing how her foundations of sanity were shaken, or confessing how she stripped naked anytime and anywhere just because she thought her cloths to be traps; it‟s this incredible honesty of the authoress that has brought her both much acclaim and criticism. She is frank, bold and controversial in life and literature. Deriving her inspiration from her matrilineal background, she represents women‟s bodies in a celebrated form and silently pleads for its integrity in her autobiography (through her poems on headless dolls craving for an identity), and openly pleads for the same in her confessional poems. The frustration which she, contrary to expectations, discovered in her personal life finds out sufficient way in the form of her creations. She experiences that love, in her life, is a mechanical act of bodily union. She seems to be always in search of real identity and dignity of women. Her confessional poems are written as quest for essential woman. This is why she could boldly exclaim: “As the convict studies His prison‟s geography I study the trappings Of your body, dear love For I must some day find An escape from its snare.” (The Prisoner) Kamala Das strongly complains that nobody is serious for the wishes, aspirations, individuality and even the frustrations of women. They are all prisonersof the male ego, selfishness and greed. Kamala Das

Rehman 4 finds herself trapped and suffocated in such pitiable circumstances. In the society women are often targeted and exploited. Their household labour is not considered noteworthy. They are deprived of primary facilities of health and educations. She revolts against male domination and the consequent dwarfing of the female: “You called me wife I was taught to break saccharine into your tea and To offer at the right movement the vitamins. Cowering Beneath your monstrous ego I ate the magic loaf and Became a dwarf. I lost my will and reasons, to all your Questions I mumbled incoherent replies.” (The Old Playhouse). The same idea is reflected in her autobiography, My Story, where she describes her own pitiful lot where she is restricted to housekeeping, sewing buttons, serving tea and washing even the underwear of her husband and “drying it as if it is some national flag.” The voice inside her only said one word, “escape.” The idea of homosexuality is undoubtedly linked to the idea of love, which is yet another vastly expressed sphere of her life. At the age of sixteen, Kamala Das shares the same destiny like most of the Indian women. She marries K. Madhava Das. It is an arranged marriage by her parents. Das does not have any right to say anything about the marriage. She feels herself lost and unhappy. Even though she did not know about sex, she equated sex with brutality. She knew she will be the victim of a young man‟s hunger. Das‟ only expectation from her husband was conversation, companionship and warmth. But all she got in her marriage was brutality and rudeness. Kamala Das describes her first sexual intercourse with her husband as “an unsuccessful rape.” She thus represents a critique of the victimization of women in a patriarchal society. Das represents the powerlessness of the female body and she believes that for the victimized women in a patriarchal society, sexuality not only makes her vulnerable physically but also

Rehman 5 makes her vulnerable emotionally and spiritually. Sometimes this leads women to the point of committing suicide.6 Das‟s mysterious integrity extended to her exploration of womanhood and love. In her poem “An Introduction” from Summer in Calcutta, the narrator says, “I am every/ Woman who seeks love”. This feeling of oneness permeated her poetry. In Das‟ eyes, womanhood involved certai n collective experiences. Indian women, she argued, did not discuss these experiences in deference to social customs and Das consistently refused to accept their silence. In her work, feelings of longing and loss, loneliness or lack of love are not confined to a private misery, but rather they are invited into the public sphere and acknowledged. Das insisted that these feelings had been felt by women across time. In “The Maggots” from the collection, The Descendants, Das illustrated just how old the sufferings of women are. She framed the pain of lost love with ancient Hindu myth.

That night in her husband‟s arms, Radha felt So dead that he asked, What is wrong, Do you mind my kisses, love? And she said, No, not at all, but thought, What is It to the corpse if the maggots nip?7

Radha‟s pain is searing, and her silence is given voice by Das. Furthermore, by making a powerful


She wanted to go as extreme as getting a divorce but at the same time she knew that it was impossible: “I could not admit to all that my marriage had flopped. I could not return home to the Nalapat House a divorcee, for there ha d been goodwill between our two families for three generations which I did not want to ruin. . . My parents and other relatives were obsessed with public opinion and bothered excessively with our society’s reaction to any action of an individual’s broke n marriage was as distasteful, as horrifying as an attack of leprosy.” – Reference from My Story.

“The Maggots” from the collection, The Descendants.

Rehman 6 goddess prey to such thoughts, Das makes the case for ordinary women to have similar feelings. In her poems she expressed her personal experiences also in a similar manner“.oh, yes, his Mouth, and….his limbs like pale and Carnivorous plants reaching out for me, and the sad lie of my unending lust.”8 And “When I asked for love, not knowing what else to ask For, he drew a youth of sixteen into the Bedroom and closed the door, He did not beat me But my sad woman-body felt so beaten. The weight of my breasts and womb crushed me. I shrank pitifully.”9 Das once said, "I always wanted love10, and if you don't get it within your home, you stray a little.” Though some might label Das as "a feminist" for her candor in dealing with women's needs and desires, Das has never tried to identify herself with any particular version of feminist activism. Das' views were represented as what she called the "gut response." Throughout My Story, Das identifies and resists socalled morality as an oppressive source of gendered ideology that functions through the exploitation of women‟s bodies, sexuality and emotions. She argues that the repression of women‟s intellectual and cultural productions (frequently cited as a women-centered culture) exposes the inherent hypocrisy of a phallocentric society. According to her, the voices of women—their standpoints, their awareness, their

8 9

“Summer in Calcutta” Excerpt from Das‟ poem “An Introduction” She wanted love in the way she thought it to be. Not the carnivorous lust she was a victim of every night. “A rape” as she called it.


Rehman 7 worldview—are not only unheard but, at times, condemned in the name of morality. Rather than submitting to the constructions of that hegemonic social order, Das represents and explores possible forms of resistance, particularly in the form of writing herself, and by challenging gender normativity that have kept women oppressed. By refusing to allow her gender to be objectified through social definitions, Das also depicts a “calculated unreliability” in her autobiography that demonstrates her discomfort in fitting into a given “category of subjecthood.” Thus, My Story also represents essentially an account of a woman‟s search for love and happiness in the face of loss, loneliness and societal restrictions.11 She longed for some form of connectedness with the universe and her writing was one way of achieving this. Kamala Das, against all odds, represented herself honestly. Her confessions can be called to be a self representation of a woman who was denied love, when she valued nothing but love all her life. Love and affection remained a craze, a longing and a dream for her. She got almost everything in life-name and fame, a degree of wealth but she could never get love, as she saw it. It is in this background that she writes about love in all her writings because of which she is also known as a „confessional poet‟. Another decision of her life that gave her notoriety was her conversion to Islam. This journey from Krishna to Allah, from Kamala Das to Kamala Suraiyya was a controversial one. Various questions were raised to which she said “I do not care about anyone‟s reaction. It is my own decision. I have shifted all the idols and pictures of Hindu gods in my room into the guest room. Hindus have only hurt me, scandalized me. This is a new birth for me…. Two plain reasons lured me to Islam. One is the Purdah. Second is the security that Islam provides to women. In fact, both these reasons are complementary. Purdah is the most wonderful dress for women in the world. And I have always loved to wear the Purdah. It gives women a sense of security. Only Islam gives protection to women. I have been lonely all through my life. At nights, I used to sleep by embracing a pillow. But I am no longer a loner. Islam is my


She states “I was like a house with all the lights put out.” She passed through months of intense depression and contemplated taking her life. She wept like a ‘wounded child’.

Rehman 8 company. Islam is the only religion in the world that gives love and protection to women. Therefore, I have converted. ” This issue was further controversial when she thought her conversion to be a mistake. Always open about her thoughts, she declared later that it was a mistake to convert. She later believed that God is in every cell of every human being. It is a kind of power which cannot be imprisoned in any temple, mosque, church or mausoleums. She later believed it to be a supreme and a supernatural power that lived in every human being. Das wanted to generate a new role for the women in society and lend voice to the themes of loneliness and subaltern anguish. This paper tried to show how by the act of defining female space, she becomes a threat to the existing patriarchal discourse. She critiqued, mocked and subverted these representations by writing through her body and about her bodily needs. Das had turned inwards, towards the self and given voice to the otherwise suppressed women‟s voice. A writer who herself could never imprison her thoughts, conscious of her creative abilities; she tried to break chains and restraints. She indulged in selfawareness, self-introspection and self-exposure; that is, a self representation, thus leading to self discovery and self examination. Kamala Das‟ self confessed psychological trauma, frustration, a woman‟s inner life in all its sad solitude, its desperate longing for real love, its desire for transgression, its turbulent poetry and the resultant quest for identity and wholeness is a result of the revolt against the male dominated society.

Rehman 9

Works Cited Anjum, Tasneem. “Confessional Mode in the Poetry of Kamala Das and Sylvia Plath”. The Criterion: An International Journal in English. 2.2 (2011): 1-4. Google Scholar. Web. 10th March 2013. Anklesaria, Havovi. “The Histrionics of Kamala Das” The Hindu 6th Feb 2000, Web. Ansari, Mohammad Shaukat.”Depiction of Women‟s Dilemmas in Select Poems of Kamala Das: A Review”. Language in India 12 (2012): 677-686. Google Search. Web. 16th March 2013 Chaudhary, Megha; Kishor, Kamal. “Confessional Aspect in Kamala Das‟ Prose”. International Reffered Research Journal 3.28 (2011): 52-52. Google Search. Web. 9th March 2013 Deepa. “My Story- Kamala Das”. Just My Thoughts. 2009. n.pag. Google Search. Web. 10th March 2013 “From Kamala Das to Dashi: Doing the Right Thing for Wrong Reasons?” Shetubondhon. n.pag. Google Search. Web. 11th March 2013. Interview. “Interview with Kamala Das”. By Rediff On The Net. New Delhi, 1996. n.pag. Print.

Rehman 10 Menon, Priya. “I too call myself I”: The Non-normative Subject in Kamala Das’ My Story” Journal of Postcolonial Cultures and Societies 3.2 (2012): 93-112. Google Scholar. Web. 12th March 2013.

Mondal, Anushri. “Book Review: My Story by Kamala Das- An Intense Autobiographical Account”. n.p. n.p. n.pag. Google Search. Web. 9th March 2013 Pandey, Sushma. “Kamala Das: Search for Spirituality in her Poetry”. n.p. n.p. n.pag. Google Scholar. Web. 11th March 2013. Piciucco, Pier; Mitapalli Rajeshwar. Kamala Das: A Critical Spectrum. New Delhi: Atlantic Publishers and Distributors, 2001,2007. Online Google books. sentation&source=bl&ots=XUOOy01pDC&sig=cfqCdrQiu6cXy1xtqWAH_yi9Q1M&hl=en&sa=X&ei=5BE7 UZjQDsjOrQfWq4H4Dw&ved=0CEkQ6AEwBQ#v=onepage&q=kamala%20das%20self%20representation &f=false Poems by Kamala Das -

Rehman 11 Sabriye, Sezer. “An autobiography From a Postcolonial Perspective: Kamala Das‟ My Story”. n.p. n.p. 64-74. Google Scholar. Web. 10th March 2013 Selvi, R.Tamil. “A Kleidoscopic View of Kamala Das‟ My Story”. Language in India Vol 11 (2011): 276-285. Google Search. Web. 11th March 2013. Sarkar, Deepasree Das. ““An Introduction” and “Stone Age”- A Feminist Approach to Kamala Das’ Poems”. IOSR Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences 6.6 (2013): 15-17. Google Search. 16th March 2013. Versey, Farzana. “From Krishna to Allah: Kamala Das Suraiyya”. Cross Connections. n.p. n.p. n.pag. Google Search. Web. 10th March 2013. Wadhwa, Poonam. “Kamala Das Bold Poetic Foray of Articulating Female Desire: A Step Towards Emancipation”. International Indexed & Referred Research Journal. 4.36 (2012): 80-82. Google Search. 12th March 2013.

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