Critical Summary of An Introduction by Kamala Das

“An Introduction” is perhaps the most famous of the poems written by Kamala Das in a self-reflective and confessional tone from her maiden publication Summer in Calcutta(1965). The poem is a strong remark on Patriarchal Society prevalent today and brings to light the miseries, bondage, pain suffered by the fairer sex in such times. The poet says that she is not interested in politics but claims that she can name all the people who have been in power right from the time of Nehru.

By saying that she can repeat them as fluently as days of week, or names of the month, she indirectly states the fact that politics in the country is a game of few chosen elite who ironically rule a democracy. The fact that she remembers them so well depicts that these people have been in power for repetitive cycles. Next, she describes herself saying that she is an Indian, born in Malabar and very brown in colour. She speaks in three languages, writes in two and dreams in one, articulating the thought that Dreams have their own universal language.

Kamala Das echoes that the medium of writing is not as significant as is the comfort level that one requires. People asked her not to write in English since isn’t her mother tongue. Moreover, the fact that English was a colonial language prevalent as medium of communication during British times drew even more criticism every time she had an encounter with a critic, friends, or visiting cousins. She emphasizes that the language she speaks becomes her own, all its imperfections and queerness become her own. It is half-English, half-Hindi, which seems rather amusing but the point is that it is honest.

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Its imperfections only make it more human, rendering it close to what we call Naturality. It is the language of her expression and emotion as it voices her joys, sorrows and hopes. It is as integral to her as cawing is to the crows and roaring to the lions. Though imperfect, It is not a deaf, blind speech like that of trees in storm or the clouds of rain. Neither does it echo the “incoherent mutterings of the funeral pyre”. It possesses a coherence of its own: an emotional coherence. She moves on telling her own story.

She was a child, and later people told her that she had grown up for her body had started showing signs of puberty. But she didn’t seem to understand this interpretation because at the heart she was still but a child. When she asked for love from her soulmate not knowing what else to ask, he took the sixteen-year-old to his bedroom. The expression is a strong criticism of child marriage which pushes children into such a predicament while they are still very childish at heart. Though he didn’t beat her, she felt beaten and her body seemed crushed under her own weight.

This is a very emphatic expression of how unprepared the body of a sixteen-year-old is for the assault it gets subjected to. She shrank pitifully, ashamed of her feminity. She tries to overcome such humiliation by being tomboyish. And thereafter when she opts for male clothing to hide her femininity, the guardians enforce typical female attire, with warnings to fit into the socially determined attributes of a woman, to become a wife and a mother and get confined to the domestic routine. She is threatened to remain within the four walls of her female space lest she should make herself a psychic or a maniac.

They even ask her to hold her tears when rejected in love. She calls them categorizers since they tend to categorise every person on the basis of points that are purely whimsical. She explains her encounter with a man. She attributes him with not a proper noun, but a common noun-“every man” to reflect his universality—the fact that in such a patriarchal society, this is a nature inherent to every male by the sheer fact that he belongs to the stronger sex. He defined himself by the “I”, the supreme male ego. He is tightly compartmentalized as “the sword in its sheath”.

It portrays the power politics of the patriarchal society that we thrive in that is all about control. It is this “I” that stays long away without any restrictions, is free to laugh at his own will, succumbs to a woman only out of lust and later feels ashamed of his own weakness that lets himself lose to a woman. Towards the end of the poem, a role-reversal occurs as this “I” gradually transitions to the poetess herself. She pronounces how this “I” is also sinner and saint”, beloved and betrayed. As the role-reversal occurs, the woman too becomes the “I” reaching the pinnacle of self-assertion.

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