Sahitya Akademi Award–winning litterateurs are the ones who always promise wonderful food for thought through their works. Born in Thrissur, Kerala, to a family of artists, Kamala Das is one such amazing 1985-recipient of the award. Her pool of meaningful evocative writing, comprising poetry, short stories, novels, and autobiographies, not only strengthened Indian Writing in English by adding to it a unique reflective confessional flavor but also forwarded an intricate feminist poetic voice that talks about complicated issues such as domestic and sexual oppression. Not in this poem though… Here she allows us to enter an intimate space with her and her mother.
A beautiful exemplification of Kamala Das’s reflective emotional poetic voice, My Mother at sixty six, is a run-on single-full stop poem that deals with the tender emotion of a child’s primordial fear of losing its first ever support – the mother, expressing it from an adult woman’s perspective. In this My Mother at Sixty Six summary, we will offer to you all a gentle exploration of these poignant lines. We will also do some heartfelt reading between the lines to get an idea of the poet’s emotions of insecure filial love and the consequent coping mechanism of processing such troubling emotions she employs.
- Suggested Reading: Line by Line Meaning of My Mother at Sixty Six
- Suggested Reading: Summary of My Mother at Sixty Six by Kamala Das in Hindi
Summary of My Mother at Sixty Six: Line by Line Explanation
Driving from my parent’s
home to Cochin last Friday
morning, I saw my mother,
The underlying tone of nostalgia is instilled into this poem right at the outset with the words, “parent’s home”. The overarching idea of things coming to an end also finds its first introduction into the poem through the words “last Friday”. Now, we maybe reading a little too much into this seemingly innocent choice of weekday, but think about it… What do you associate Friday with? Isn’t it the end of weekday busyness and the transition into weekend rest? It is in this same Friday-like limbo between adult life and old age that Kamala Das finds her mother at the ripe age of sixty six, while accompanying her on a thought-provoking drive. The poet mentions that her mother is sitting beside her, instantly creating an aura of intimacy. However, the fear of distance and abandonment soon sets in through the following next set of words:
doze, open mouthed, her face
ashen like that
of a corpse and realized with pain
that she was as old as she
looked but soon
put that thought away,
Kamala Das then paints a very realistic image of ageing, by portraying her mother as a dozing ageing lady, with a mouth ajar in carefree sleep and a face turned pale in course of the passing the time. And then, almost without warning, the motif of impending death is rudely introduced into the poem when the poet compares her dozing pale mother to a corpse. This almost reflexive comparison that the poet makes in her head culminates in the brutal realization that her source of life had actually aged and become old. But before the poet could even complete this painful train of thought, she brushed it aside, not allowing this realization to get processed. Look within, doesn’t this impulse of the poet of “putting that thought away” resonate well with what we all do when an unpleasant thought dawns on the surface of our mental horizons? It is through these little actions that the poem tells us a lot about human’s dual coping mechanism of denial and escape.
looked out at Young
Trees sprinting, the merry children spilling
out of their homes,
In an attempt to escape the painful realization that the poet has just had, she instead focuses on the trees that her car speeds by, creating the beautiful illusion that it is the trees that are sprinting, while it is actually the poet journeying ahead in life with her ageing mother. Through the transference of this fast motion onto the trees, we find the poet again negating the reality that it is actually herself and her mother who are progressing steadily into time and not the trees that are still young with all their greenery ahead of them. Next, the poet shifts her focus onto young children jovially stepping out of their homes in hoards to play, with their life bank still full of youthful years. What is interesting to note here is that when the poet wishes to avert her attention from the reminder of ageing and death, she chooses to look at “young” trees and “young” children, signifying youth and life. This strikes a sharp contrast with the ashen image of death the poet had conjured just a few lines ago, thus accentuating the poet’s desperate attempt to escape hard realities of life.
… but after the airport’s
security check, standing a few yards
away, I looked again at her, wan, pale
as a late winter’s moon and felt that old
familiar ache, my childhood’s fear,
Now the setting shifts to the airport – the universally recognized symbol of goodbyes and endings. The previous image of youth is again sharply contrasted with the image of a late winter’s moon. The season winter always carries with it the sense of an ending and the moon always generates am ambience of longing and lonesomeness. And as the poet observes her mother go through the airport security check, she cannot help but acknowledge that her mother is now weak, with her colours of life diluting, just like a feeble winter moon. This time, though, this thought is not pushed away; hence it gives rise to an ache within the poet that is all too familiar, having been around since childhood days – the fear of losing her mother, something that all of us have felt as kids. This adult voicing of a deep fear that has its roots in childhood is poignant and pregnant with meaning, but the poet does not delve any deeper into this thought, and instead says her goodbyes:
but all I said was, see you soon, Amma,
all I did was smile and smile and
Through the course of the poem, the poet has stirred some deep-seated fears of losing her mother, and has brought to the fore the troubling relationship we humans share with the idea of death and ageing with regard to our loved ones. However, in the end, the poem takes on the spirit of hope, expressed through “see you soon, Amma”. Additionally, from denial the poem shifts towards a calm acceptance and resignation, evoked beautifully through the poet’s action of breaking into a long smile as she watched her mother depart. If you look deeper, you might notice a slight hint of bravery in the way the poet makes peace with what is inevitable – through self-comforting smiles.
My Mother at Sixty Six Analysis and Meaning
Through this summary of the poem, My Mother at Sixty Six, we have sought to bring to you poet Kamala Das’s thought process of first denying her mother’s ageing towards death and then her gentle acceptance of the same. The poem begins with the poet’s mother beside her and ends at a parting, with the hope and desire of meeting soon again. And in the middle, there are contrasting references to both vitality (young trees and children) and impending death (corpse, wan and pale late winter moon), shedding light on the conflicts we go through while coming to terms with the fact that all springs eventually turn into winter and youth steadily progresses towards old age. This poem is indeed a thought-provoking reflection on child-mother love and relationship, fear of losing loved ones, denial and escape, and quiet acceptance of harsh realities.
Does it not make you think of the times we have all been scared of losing someone – a parent, a friend, or a lover –not just to death but simply to circumstances. Just like the poet, don’t we all have the tendency to escape hurtful emotions? However, do we all succeed in processing and accepting those emotions as the poet has towards the end? Maybe that can only happen in poetry but it is so much harder in real life. Writing this “My Mother at Sixty Six” explanation has really gotten me thinking… Could you all tell me how each of you deal with loss or thoughts of losing the one you love?
Suggested Reading: My Mother at Sixty Six Analysis by Kamala Das
Solved Question and Answers:
1. “Driving from my parent’s home to Cochin last Friday
Morning, I saw my mother, beside me,
doze, openmouthed, her face ashen like that
Of a corpse and realized with pain
That looked as old as she was
But soon put that thought far away.”
a. Where is the poet at present?
The poet is on her way to Cochin Airport from her ancestral home. She is travelling in a car with her mother sitting beside her.
b. How does she describe her mother?
Kamala Das describes her mother as old, pale and senile. As she was asleep, the poet noticed that her mother looked very pale and colourless like a dead body. She seemed to have lost the vitality of life.
c. What thoughts had she given away?
The poet has put away the haunting thoughts of losing her mother.
2. “but after the airport’s
security check, standing a few yards
away, I looked again at her, wan,
pale as a late winter’s moon”
a. Who is ‘her’ here? Why does the poet look at her again?
‘Her’ is the poetess Kamala Das’ sixty six year old mother.
The poetess looked at her again for the last time to reassure herself that her mother is well. She drove away her thoughts of pain and fear at seeing upon her mother’s old age. It was a look of reassurance to meet her again.
b. Explain “pale as a late winter’s moon”
This is an example of a simile. The poet has compared her mother’s face to a winter’s moon. Winter symbolizes death and a waning moon symbolizes decay. Just like winter loses its magnificence and beauty when covered with fog and mist, similarly the poet’s mother has lost her youth, vitality and have become inactive and withered.
You may also want to take a look at this Video-Playlist to Learn More about this Poem in an audio-visual format!
Keywords – my mother at sixty six line by line explanation (1.0), my mother at sixty six explanation (1.2)