book excerptise:   a book unexamined is wasting trees

Summer In Calcutta

Kamala Das

Das, Kamala (Madhavikutty, Sarayya);

Summer In Calcutta

D C Books, 1965/2004, 67 pages

ISBN 8126409193 9788126409198

topics: |  poetry | indian-english

the poems in this volume have floated like cottonseed over the indian mindscape, and gotten stuck to one's hair and cheeks and eyelashes, until one has made them one's own. they have given birth to more poetry in recent times than any other indian poet.

kamala das's poetry appeals to you directly, like a ripe mango, it needs no training in taste to appreciate. there may be more refined poets, but they are like caviar or whisky - not quite palatable at first taste.

kamala das's voice, earthy and direct, sheds a harsh light on everything around you, revealing small stuff that you never knew existed in you.

which is why we all love her. all of us who love indian poetry.

1965 debut

this is das's first book, published in 1965 (everest press, delhi) but it was like a "parcel of dynamite", as o.j. thomas calls it, exploding in your face, shredding masks and bringing out the hidden discontents of the world - especially the woman's point of view. (OJ Thomas: Kamala Das: 'The tragedy of life is not death but growth', in Paolo Piciucco, Kamala Das: A critical spectrum, 2001.

the unexpurgated discussion of sex, the woman's body and her desires, was
such a far cry from the sentimentalist themes of earlier indian women
poets.  the work won applauds but also rejection.  her following works,
the descendants (1967, from pc lal's writers workshop, calcutta) and
the old play house (1973, macmillan) were cut from much the same cloth:
honest, direct, uninhibited, iconoclast.  critics started attacking her as
a publicity-seeking writer dripping with sex, while others argued
that the honesty seen in her poems was a fake.  but her poems started
appearing in anthologies, and readership has never failed her.  A quick
analysis of books written on indian english poets shows that there are more
books with "kamala das" in the title than any other indian poet (42,
followed by nissim ezekiel with 32). (full list)

while her english works, particularly her poems, remain attractive for a
pan-India - and possibly worldwide - audience, das also wrote extensively
in malayalam. she won the sahitya akademi prize for her malayalam short
story collection Thanuppu (cold).  many indian poets are bilingual
writers; Kolatkar also won the akademi award for his Marathi poetry.

kamala das has been written up about more than any other indian poet.

so enough  said.


The Dance of the Eunuchs p.7

It was hot, so hot, before the eunuchs came
To dance, wide skirts going round and round, cymbals
Richly clashing, and anklets jingling, jingling
Jingling... Beneath the fiery gulmohur, with
Long braids flying, dark eyes flashing, they danced and
They dance, oh, they danced till they bled... There were green
Tattoos on their cheeks, jasmines in their hair, some
Were dark and some were almost fair. Their voices
Were harsh, their songs melancholy; they sang of
Lovers dying and or children left unborn....
Some beat their drums; others beat their sorry breasts
And wailed, and writhed in vacant ecstasy. They
Were thin in limbs and dry; like half-burnt logs from
Funeral pyres, a drought and a rottenness
Were in each of them. Even the crows were so
Silent on trees, and the children wide-eyed, still;
All were watching these poor creatures' convulsions
The sky crackled then, thunder came, and lightning
And rain, a meagre rain that smelt of dust in
Attics and the urine of lizards and mice....

The Freaks p.8

He talks, turning a sun-stained
Cheek to me, his mouth, a dark
Cavern, where stalactites of
Uneven teeth gleam, his right
Hand on my knee, while our minds
Are willed to race towards love;
But, they only wander, tripping
Idly over puddles of
Desire. .... .Can this man with
Nimble finger-tips unleash
Nothing more alive than the
Skin's lazy hungers? Who can
Help us who have lived so long
And have failed in love? The heart,
An empty cistern, waiting
Through long hours, fills itself
With coiling snakes of silence. .....
I am a freak. It's only
To save my face, I flaunt, at
Times, a grand, flamboyant lust.

Words p.9

All round me are words, and words and words,
They grow on me like leaves, they never
Seem to stop their slow growing
From within... But I tell my self, words
Are a nuisance, beware of them, they
Can be so many things, a
Chasm where running feet must pause, to
Look, a sea with paralyzing waves,
A blast of burning air or,
A knife most willing to cut your best
Friend's throat... Words are a nuisance, but.
They grow on me like leaves ona tree,
They never seem to stop their coming,
From a silence, somewhere deep within...

In Love: Kamala Das : p. 12

Of what does the burning mouth
Of sun, burning in today's
Sky remind me... oh, yes, his
Mouth, and... his limbs like pale and
Carnivorous plants reaching
Out for me, and the sad lie
Of my unending lust.  Where
Is room, excuse or even
Need for love, for, isn't each
Embrace a complete thing, a
Finished jigsaw, when mouth on
Mouth, I lie, ignoring my poor
Moody mind, while pleasure
With deliberate gaiety
Trumpets harshly into the
Silence of the room... At noon
I watch the sleek crows flying
Like poison on wings -- and at
Night, from behind the Burdwan
Road, the corpse-bearer's cry '_Bol
Hari Bol_', a strange lacing
For moonless nights, while I walk
The verandah sleepless, a
Million questions awake in
Me, and all about him, and
This skin-communicated
Thing that I dare not yet in
His presence call our love.

My grandmother's house p.13

There is a house now far away where once
I received love....... That woman died,
The house withdrew into silence, snakes moved
Among books, I was then too young
To read, and my blood turned cold like the moon
How often I think of going
There, to peer through blind eyes of windows or
Just listen to the frozen air,
Or in wild despair, pick an armful of
Darkness to bring it here to lie
Behind my bedroom door like a brooding cannot believe, darling,
Can you, that I lived in such a house and
Was proud, and loved.... I who have lost
My way and beg now at strangers’ doors to
Receive love, at least in small change?
We will now divide the poem into three parts and read the first part once again.

Winter p.16

It smelt of new rains and of tender
Shoots of plants- and its warmth was the warmth
Of earth groping for roots... even my
Soul, I thought, must send its roots somewhere
And, I loved his body without shame,
On winter evenings as cold winds
Chuckled against the white window-panes.

A Relationship 17

This love older than I by myriad
Saddened centuries was once a prayer
In his bones that made them grow in years of
Adolescence to this favored height; yes,
It was my desire that made him male
And beautiful, so that when at last we
Met, to believe that once I knew not his
Form, his quiet touch, or the blind kindness
Of his lips was hard indeed. Betray me?
Yes, he can, but never physically
Only with words that curl their limbs at
Touch of air and die with metallic sighs.
Why care I for their quick sterile sting, while
My body's wisdom tells and tells again
That I shall find my rest, my sleep, my peace
And even death nowhere else but here in
My betrayer's arms...

Love p.30

Until I found you,
I wrote verse, drew pictures,
And, went out with friends
For walks...
Now that I love you,
Curled like an old mongrel
My life lies, content,
In you....

Punishment in Kindergarten 45

Today the world is a little more my own.
No need to remember the pain
A blue-frocked woman caused, throwing
Words at me like pots and pans, to drain
That honey-coloured day of peace.
‘Why don’t you join the others, what
A peculiar child you are!’
On the lawn, in clusters, sat my
schoolmates sipping
Sugarcane, they turned and laughed;
Children are funny things, they laugh
In mirth at others’ tears, I buried
My face in the sun-warmed hedge
And smelt the flowers and the pain.
The words are muffled now, the laughing
Faces only a blur. The years have
Sped along, stopping briefly
At beloved halts and moving
Sadly on. My mind has found
An adult peace. No need to remember
That picnic day when I lay hidden
By a hedge, watching the steel-white sun
Standing lonely in the sky.

A Hot Noon in Malabar 49

This is a noon for beggars with whining
Voices, a noon for men who come from hills
With parrots in a cage and fortune-cards,
All stained with time, for brown Kurava girls
With old eyes, who read palm in light singsong
Voices, for bangle-sellers who spread
On the cool black floor those red and green and blue
Bangles, all covered with the dust of roads,
Miles, grow cracks on the heels, so that when they
Clambered up our porch, the noise was grating,
Strange.........  This is a noon for strangers who part
The window-drapes and peer in, their hot eyes
Brimming with the sun, not seeing a thing in
Shadowy rooms and turn away and look
So yearningly at the brick-ledged well.  This
Is a noon for strangers with mistrust in
Their eyes, dark, silent ones who rarely speak
At all, so that when they speak, their voices
Run wild, like jungle-voices. Yes, this is
A noon for wild men, wild thoughts, wild love. To
Be here, far away, is torture.  Wild feet
Stirring up the dust, this hot noon, at my
Home in Malabar, and I so far away

Summer in Calcutta 50

What is this drink but
The April sun, squeezed
Like an orange in
My glass? I sip the
Fire, I drink and drink
Again, I am drunk
Yes, but on the gold
of suns, What noble
venom now flows through
my veins and fills my
mind with unhurried
laughter? My worries
doze. Wee bubbles ring
my glass, like a brides
nervous smile, and meet
my lips. Dear, forgive
this moments lull in
wanting you, the blur
in memory. How
brief the term of my
devotion, how brief
your reign when i with
glass in hand, drink, drink,
and drink again this
Juice of April suns.

The Sunshine Cat 51

	They did this to her, the men who know her, the man
	She loved, who loved her not enough, being selfish
	And a coward, the husband who neither loved nor
	Used her, but was a ruthless watcher, and the band
	Of cynics she turned to, clinging to their chests where
	New hair sprouted like great-winged moths, burrowing her
	Face into their smells and their young lusts to forget
	To forget, oh, to forget, and, they said, each of
	Them, I do not love, I cannot love, it is not
	In my nature to love, but I can be kind to you.
	They let her slide from pegs of sanity into
	A bed made soft with tears, and she lay there weeping,
	For sleep had lost its use. I shall build walls with tears,
	She said, walls to shut me in. Her husband shut her
	In, every morning, locked her in a room of books
	With a streak of sunshine lying near the door like
	A yellow cat to keep her company, but soon
	Winter came, and one day while locking her in, he
	Noticed that the cat of sunshine was only a
	Line, a half-thin line, and in the evening when
	He returned to take her out, she was a cold and
	Half dead woman, now of no use at all to men

Forest fire 53

	Of late I have begun to feel a hunger
	To take in with greed, like a forest fire that
	Consumes and with each killing gains a wilder,
	Brighter charm, all that comes my way.	Bald child in
	Open pram, you think I only look, and you
	Too, slim lovers behind the tree and you, old
	Man with paper in your hand and sunlight in
	Your hair... My eyes lick at you like flames, my nerves
	Consume ; and, when I finish with you, in the
	Pram, near the tree and, on the park bench, I spit
	Out small heaps of ash, nothing else.  But in me
	The sights and smells and sounds shall thrive and go on
	And on and on. In me shall sleep the baby
	That sat in prams and sleep and wake and smile its
	Toothless smile. In me shall walk the lovers hand
	In hand and in me, where else, the old shall sit
	And feel the touch of sun.  In me, the street-lamps
	Shall glimmer, the cabaret girls cavort, the
	Wedding drums resound, the eunuchs swirl coloured
	Skirts and sing sad songs of love, the wounded moan,
	And in me the dying mother with hopeful
	Eyes shall gaze around, seeking her child, now grown
	And gone away to other towns, other arms."

An Introduction_: p.62

	I don’t know politics but I know the names
	Of those in power, and can repeat them like
	Days of week, or names of months, beginning with
	Nehru. I am Indian, very brown, born in
	Malabar, I speak three languages, write in
	Two, dream in one. Don’t write in English, they said,
	English is not your mother-tongue. Why not leave
	Me alone, critics, friends, visiting cousins,
	Every one of you?  Why not let me speak in
	Any language I like? The language I speak
	Becomes mine, its distortions, its queernessess
	All mine, mine alone. It is half English, half
	Indian, funny perhaps, but it is honest,
	It is as human as I am human, don’t
	You see? It voices my joys, my longings, my
	Hopes, and it is useful to me as cawing
	Is to crows or roaring to the lions, it
	Is human speech, the speech of the mind that is
	Here and not there, a mind that sees and hears and
	Is aware. Not the deaf, blind speech
	Of trees in storm or of monsoon clouds or of rain or the
	Incoherent mutterings of the blazing
	Funeral pyre. I was child, and later they
	Told me I grew, for I become tall, my limbs
	Swelled and one or two places sprouted hair. 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 breast and womb crushed. I shrank
	Pitifully. Then . . . I wore a shirt and my
	Brother's trousers, cut my hair short and ignored
	My womanliness. Dress in sarees, be girl,
	Be wife, they said. Be embroiderer, be cook,
	Be a quarreler with servants. Fit in. oh,
	Belong, cried the categorizers. Don’t sit
	On walls or peep in through our lace-draped windows.
	Be Amy, or be Kamala. Or better
	Still, be Madhavikutty. It is time to
	Choose a name, a role. Don’t play pretending games.
	Don’t play at schizophrenia or be a
	Nympho. Don’t cry embarrassingly loud when
	Jilted in love . . . . I met a man, love him. Call
	Him not by any name, he is every man
	Who wants a woman, just as I am every
	Woman who seeks love. In him . . . the hungry haste
	Of rivers, in me . . . the ocean's tireless
	Waiting. Who are you, I ask each and everyone,
	The answer is, it is i. anywhere and
	Everywhere, I see the one who calls himself
	I ; in this world, he is tightly pack like the
	Sword in its sheath. It is I who drink lonely
	Drinks at twelve, midnight, in hotels of strange towns,
	It is I who laugh, it is I who make love
	And then feel shame, it is I who lie dying
	With a rattle in my throat. I am a sinner,
	I am saint. I am beloved and the
	Betrayed. I have no joys which are not yours, no
	Aches which are not yours. I too call myself I.

The Testing of the Sirens p.66

The night, dark-cloaked like a procuress, brought
him to me, willing, light as a shadow,
speaking words of love
in some tender language I do not know ...
With the crows came the morning, and my limbs
warm of love, were once again so lonely...
At my doorstep I saw a pock-marked face,
a friendly smile and
a rolleiflex.  We will go for a drive,
he said.  Or go see the lakes.  I have
washed my face with soap and water, brushed
my hair a dozen
times, draped myself in six yards of printed
voile.   Ah... does it still show, my night of love?
You look pale, he said.  Not pale, not really
pale.  It's the lipstick's
anemia. Out in the street, we heard
The sirens go, and I paused in talk to
weave their wail with the sound of his mirthless
laughter. He said,
they are testing the sirens today. I am
happy. He really was lavish with words.
I am happy, just being with you.
But you . . . you love another,
I know, he said, perhaps a handsome man,
a young and handsome man. Not young,
not handsome, I thought, just a filthy snob.
It's a one-sided love,
I said.  What can I do for yoou? I smiled
A smile is such a detached thing, I wear
it like a flower. Near the lake, a pregnant
girl bared her dusky
breasts and washed them sullenly.  On the old
cannon-stand, crows bickered over a piece
of lizard-meat and the white sun was there
and everywhere . . .
I want your photo, lying-down,
nineteen-thirty-four guns, he said,
against those rusty nineteen-thirty-four guns,
will you ? Sure. Just arrange my limbs and tell
Me when to smile. I
shut my eyes, but inside eye-lids, there was
no more night, no more love, or peace, only
the white, white sun burning, burning, burning...
Ah, why does love come to me like pain
again and again and again?


The Dance of the Eunuchs             7
The Freaks                           8
Words                                9
Pigeons                             10
The Fear of the Year                11
In Love                             12
My Grandmother's House              13
The Wild Bougainvillea              14
Winter                              16
A Relationship                      17
An Apology to Goutama               18
The End of Spring                   18
The Flag                            20
Loud Posters                        22
Sepia                               23
Too Early the Autumn Sights         25
Visitors to the City                26
Spoiling the Name                   27
The Child in the Factory            28
Love                                30
Someone Else's Song                 31
With its Quiet Tongue               32
The Music Party                     33
The Bangles                         34
The Snobs                           36
The Corridors                       37
Radha Krishna                       39
A New City                          40
Farewell to Bombay                  41
The Sea Shore                       42
To a Big Brother                    43
The Killing of chameleons           44
Punishment in Kindergarten          45
The Stranger and I                  46
My Morning Tree                     47
The Bats                            48
A Hot Noon in Malabar               49
Summer in Calcutta                  50
The Sunshine Cat                    51
Without a Pause                     52
Forest Fire                         53
I Shall Some Day                    54
Accident in the Night               55
The Siesta                          56
Afterwards                          57
A Phone Call in the Morning         61
An Introduction                     62
Death Brings No Loss                64
Drama                               65
The Testing of the Sirens           66

amitabha mukerjee (mukerjee [at-symbol] gmail) 2013 Aug 28