About the Poet– Kamala Das (also known as Kamala Suraiyya after her conversion to Islam in 1999) was on born 31st March 1934 in Thrissur, Kerala. She spent most of her childhood in Calcutta in a family of artists, where she felt ignored and unloved. In her teenage she married an older relative, and the emotional and sexual problems arising from that unsatisfying relationship and her young motherhood provided material for much of her poetry.
She wrote poetry, short stories, novels and autobiographies in both English and her native Malayalam. Most of her writing in Malayalam was written under the pen name ‘Madhavikutty’. She inspired women struggling against domestic and sexual oppression with her honest assessments of sexual desire and marital problems in over 20 books.
Some of her best known poems are “An Introduction” and “The Invitation”. She won the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1985 and was even short-listed for the Nobel Prize a year earlier. She died on 31st May 2009.
About the Poem– “My Mother at Sixty Six” by Kamala Das was published in the year 1999.
Setting of the Poem
“My Mother at Sixty Six” is set en route the airport from the poet’s parents’ house to the airport. It is during this journey that she suddenly realizes how old her mother has grown, and how she must die one day or the other.
Stanza-wise Annotation- Line by Line Meaning of My Mother at Sixty Six
Please note: N= noun, V=verb, Adj=Adjective, Adv=Adverb, P=Preposition
Cochin (N): Major port city on the south west coast of India in Kerala
Doze (V): Sleep lightly
Ashen (Adj): (Of a person’s face) very pale with shock, fear, or illness
Corpse (N): A dead body, especially of a human being rather than an animal
Sprinting (V): Present participle form of the word “sprint”, that is, to run at full speed over a short distance
Merry (Adj): Cheerful and lively
Spilling (V): Present participle form of the word “spill”, that is, (of a number of people) to move out of somewhere quickly
Security check: A search of an area or of a person and their baggage for concealed weapons or explosives
Yards (N): Plural form of the word “yard”, that is, a unit of linear measure equal to 3 feet or 0.9144 metre
Wan (Adj): (Of a person’s complexion or appearance) pale and giving the impression of illness or exhaustion
Pale (Adj): (Of a person or their complexion) having less colour than usual, typically as a result of shock, fear, or ill health
Familiar (Adj): Often encountered or experienced; common
Ache (N): An emotion experienced with painful or bittersweet intensity
Amma (N): One’s mother (often used as a familiar form of address)
“My Mother as Sixty Six” is one of the most relatable poems ever written by Kamala Das. All of us know that death cannot be escaped. We know this theoretically, but we choose to ignore this fact on a day to day basis in order to be able to live our lives peacefully. However, this thought does suddenly occur to us from time to time. And at such times, we become filled with sadness and pain. However, we also know that others do not like to be reminded of the brevity of life either. That is why we hide our pain and try to assure others that nothing of the sort will happen. No matter how hard we try, we cannot suppress the fear entirely, but must choose again and again to smile through the pain. This is an experience that all of us have been through at some point of time or the other. So when Kamala Das writes about it, we can feel that she understands us and she is able to express everything that we have felt in the exact amount and the exact order in which we have felt it. This is what makes the poem easy to relate to.
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Suggested Reading: Line by Line Meaning of My Mother at Sixty Six