Literary Shelf

The Old Playhouse by Kamala Das (An Annotation)

You planned to tame a swallow, to hold her
In the long summer of your love so that she would forget
Not the raw seasons alone, and the homes left behind, but
Also her nature, the urge to fly, and the endless
Pathways of the sky. It was not to gather knowledge
Of yet another man that I came to you but to learn
What I was, and by learning, to learn to grow, but every
Lesson you gave was about yourself. You were pleased
With my body’s response, its weather, its usual shallow
Convulsions. You dribbled spittle into my mouth, you poured
Yourself into every nook and cranny, you embalmed
My poor lust with your bitter-sweet juices. You called me wife,
I was taught to break saccharine into your tea and
To offer at the right moment the vitamins. Cowering
Beneath your monstrous ego I ate the magic loaf and
Became a dwarf. I lost my will and reason, to all your
Questions I mumbled incoherent replies. The summer
Begins to pall. I remember the rudder breezes
Of the fall and the smoke from the burning leaves. Your room is
Always lit by artificial lights, your windows always
Shut. Even the air-conditioner helps so little,
All pervasive is the male scent of your breath. The cut flowers
In the vases have begun to smell of human sweat. There is
No more singing, no more dance, my mind is an old
Playhouse with all its lights put out. The strong man’s technique is
Always the same, he serves his love in lethal doses,
For, love is Narcissus at the water's edge, haunted
By its own lonely face, and yet it must seek at last
An end, a pure, total freedom, it must will the mirrors
To shatter and the kind night to erase the water.

Taking the leaves out of the pages of her life, she wants to make us understand everything overtly. This is but the life of a woman with dos and don’ts for her to follow. Can she ever be free? Can she walk free? Can she lead a free life? If not, why is such a life given to here? To read her is to see the erotic images, erotic figures and figurines embossed on the temple walls reflecting, ‘Dharma-artha-kama-moksha’ motif.

The playhouse is the same, just the characters and their roles change it from time to time though the script referring to historical man-woman sculptures and figurines in love, romance and so on is almost the same. Times change, situations change and the characters change. The script may be different, but the essence is the same. However, be the metaphor of hers, but the matter relates to the man-woman relationship story ever told and repeated in age after age. Kaama and ashakti, libido and infatuation form the core content of her poetry and she can go nowhere bring these two. Just new images are made, new metaphors and similes are put forward to support her poetic argument and statement. Her poetry is the poetry of sexual desire, kaama and ashakti. Man-woman relationship is her matter. Mainly physical love is the sole thing of her poetry. She talks of liberation but clears it not. She is controversial and is a disputed genius too. We do not know if she is a drama girl, a playgirl, if she is a theatre woman. As a poetess she has got so much of fame, but has she thought about the circus artistes, bar dancers, cabaret dancers? She just thinks of herself, she just keeps saying about herself. Does she let her husband speak? Had he spoken, our standpoint would have been cleared, we would not have put vague statements.

Here ‘you’ is who? ‘You’ is her love, her lover and husband, a male who loves to possess the body of woman and she has but to yield, succumb to love and lust. As Jayanta talks of rural spaces, mud-built sheds and dingy rooms, siestas and relationships so is the case with Kamala and her summer. The summer of love, she dips in, not the winter feeling the warmth of the quilt and even it not the spring of love. Just like a mannequin put up in the glass house or placed at the entrance of a cloth shop, she does not like it to be, she is not even a doll at all. She is a woman, her heart womanly. There is something of Jayanta Mahapatra’s A Missing Person in it, an Indian rural woman spelling it not the name of her husband, just the name is written on her arm, the tattoo telling it, you just read it. So is the case with the child brides going to their in-laws’ homes in palanquins and bullock-carts and tears trickling down the cheeks or they failing to understand the joys and sorrows of life.

She is not a caged bird, nor a slave girl. Kamala warns against taking her to be a swallow. She is not a pet green parrot of the fortune-teller, a card reader. Use her not calling Lakshmi. She is but a Kunti, a Draupadi. She is a Radha, a Mira. Into the Lakshamanrekha drawn out of hers, the circle encircling her, we mean the taboos and ghettos allowing her not to trespass cannot bind her, as she is free to go, she has an entity of her own, she is but a free being.

But one must know it she is also a man, a human being, she too has a heart of her own, she has also a sense of belonging. She too had a past; she too had a home which she left it for to be with, but can memories and reminiscences be forgotten? She too is nostalgic and homesick. Her heart none has tried to know it, feel it; herself is a  tender womanly self.

You planned to tame a swallow, to hold her
In the long summer of your love so that she would forget
Not the raw seasons alone, and the homes left behind, but
Also her nature, the urge to fly, and the endless
Pathways of the sky.

It is not easy to gather knowledge about another man. It is difficult to be friends with the stranger met through matchmaking or foreigner’s love-affair. How will be the periphery of her thinking from which there is no escape? How can it be that she will remain transfixed to her? How to be glued to his instructions which just feed up his hunger, ego and hypocrisy?

It was not to gather knowledge
Of yet another man that I came to you but to learn
What I was, and by learning, to learn to grow, but every
Lesson you gave was about yourself.

Sexual mysticism, the lines evoke it in a natural way, questioning the divine set-up, the gender bias and prejudice, patriarchal hegemony and so on. How is our libido? How the inhibitions? Why is this injustice meted out to womankind? Why the body to be abused time and again? Is the feminine body for to be abused and possessed?  

What is it love? What is it marriage? Her protagonists seem to be in askance, questioning it as are the characters of D.H. Lawrence. Nissim Ezekiel’s Marriage can be related to as for annotating the lines and explaining them. Lawrence’s The Rainbow, Women in Love and Lady Chatterley’s Lover can be taken for a study to compare with.

How to remain engaged to this body for all the time? Just by calling one wife, how can she be the wife of? Why does one become it so? Whose plot is it to be sensed, whose scheme of things? How the conspiracy divine? Why to be used as a waitress? Is she a tea-maker for him?

Sometimes she gets it lost, tries to be identified with or the thoughts carry her away just as the whiffs of the wind. Why does she get emotionally swayed? Is to be a wife is to be dwarfed under?

You called me wife,
I was taught to break saccharine into your tea and
To offer at the right moment the vitamins. Cowering
Beneath your monstrous ego I ate the magic loaf and
Became a dwarf. I lost my will and reason, to all your
Questions I mumbled incoherent replies.

The flowers kept into the vase too smack of flesh and blood contact as something oozes it differently filling the room with a different odor. There is nothing to be romantic or gay as everything is but of the old theatre. Just the personae keep altering.

The cut flowers
In the vases have begun to smell of human sweat. There is
No more singing, no more dance, my mind is an old
Playhouse with all its lights put out.

The heart of a woman, how to feel it?
   

18-Dec-2022

More by :  Bijay Kant Dubey

Top | Literary Shelf

Views: 3613      Comments: 0





Name *

Email ID

Comment *
 
 Characters
Verification Code*

Can't read? Reload

Please fill the above code for verification.