Introduction by Kamala Das- Autobiographical Elements

Every work of art that a writer creates or writes actually carries some germ of the writer’s life. There by any attempt to say something about a poem or any piece of literature is actually an attempt to say something about one’s own self. Kamala Das in her autobiography My Story asserts that “. . . a poet’s raw material is not stone or clay; it is her personality.” This assertion confirms the presence of autobiographical elements in Kamala Das’s poem. Following the precedence of the romantic poets Kamala Das makes her poem an outcry of her personal feelings, experience and reaction to situation.

As the name suggests An Introduction, gives an introduction to Kamala Das not only as a human being but also as a poet. This poem is not merely an autobiographical poem but also a confessional poem. In a confession a person talks not only about himself/herself but also about his or her deepest and darkest aspects of life. The poem is a kind of bildungsroman where Kamala Das gives a vivid representation of her childhood, her coming of age, her puberty and her adulthood. Kamala Das not only gave a detailed picture of her ego but also a catalogical detail of her existence. She mentions her nationality, her complexion, her place of birth and her political orientation within a few lines. Then she goes to talk about her linguistic preference where she mentions:

“ . . . I speak three languages, write in

Two, dream in one.”

Like any other poet she had to struggle with her choice of language which was English. Here she is one with many poets who faced the same kind of dilemma. In this section it can be said that drifting away from telling her own story to tell the story of every poet who struggles to write poetry. Again, she goes on talking about the value of individual freedom in writing poetry and comments on the difficult question of nativisation of English language.

Then she continues telling the story of her childhood as to how the enlargement of the limbs came to signify mental maturity. She boldly speaks about her pubic hair as another signifier of growth and maturity. Even when she was not mature enough to understand the complex equation of marriage she was forced into one, instead of getting love all she got was marital rape. This creates a wound in her psyche which alters her personality forever. She holds herself in contempt. She starts hating her womanhood and starts behaving as a man. Here to she was restricted by the ever imposing and restrictive society. She was asked to behave like a woman. Very aptly Kamala Das creates the identity of a woman with such markers as:

“ . . . dress in saress, be girl

Be wife, they said. Be embroiderer, be cook

Be a quarreler with servants . . . “

Here too we find the poem not to be an autobiography of a single person but all of the rebels who ever resist the conformative attitude of the conservative society. The choice of names which are offered to Kamala Das makes the poem appear to be more personal. It reflects the phase of identity crisis that everybody and especially a woman has to face.  She recalls all the abuses that have been hurled against her when she tried to be free of the stereotypes. In her search for love she always went to the wrong person and talks of her bitter experience in lines of her poem. Kamala Das confesses that she used to drink, indulged in illicit sexual relationship and felt ashamed at her behavior. Ultimately she realizes it is useless to be somebody and she settles for an identity of nothing.

What is praiseworthy is that the autobiographical elements in the poem do not remain merely as the raw materials of life. The autobiographical facts in her poem, undergo poetic transformation some of the autobiographical elements enliven poetic curiosity. We are curious to know whether she really peeped through the windows of other people or whether she really was a nymphomaniac. Moreover the language that Kamala Das uses, suits well autobiographical voice. Even the imagery, tone, style and syntax combined to produce good poetic effect out of the raw autobiographical details in the poem.

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4 thoughts on “Introduction by Kamala Das- Autobiographical Elements”

  1. The last lines seem controversial. She does not talk about herself getting involved in illicit relationships, rather she talks about man who does that.

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