Friday, September 10, 2010

From ‘My Story’ by Kamala Das

I cannot think of any other Indian autobiography that so honestly captures a woman’s inner life in all is sad solitude, its desperate longing for real love and its desire for transcendence, its tumult of colours and its turbulent poetry
- K Satchidanandan

….My mother did not fall in love with my father. They were dissimilar and horribly mismatched. But my mother’s timidity helped to create an illusion of domestic harmony which satisfied the relatives and friends. Out of such an arid union were born the first two children, my brother and I, bearing the burden of a swarthy skin and ordinary features.

We must have disappointed our parents a great deal. They did not tell us so, but in every gesture and in every word it was evident……..…………Gradually our instincts told us to keep away from the limelight, to hide in the vicinity of the kitchen where we could hold together the tatters of our self-respect and talk to the scavenger or the gardener……

There was a time when our lusts were
Like multicoloured flags of no
Particular country. We lay
On bed, glassy-eyed, fatigued, just
The toys dead children leave behind
And, we asked each other, what is
The use, what is the bloody use?
That was the only kind of love,
This hacking at each other’s parts
Like convicts hacking, breaking clods
At noon. We were earth under hot
Sun. There was a burning in our
Veins and the cool mountain nights did
Nothing to lessen heat. When he
And I were one, we were neither
Male nor female. There were no more
Words left, all words lay imprisoned
In the ageing arms of night. In
Darkness we grew, as in silence
We sang, each note rising out of
Sea, out of wind, out of earth and
Out of each sad night like an ache…

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 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
Dog. You 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?

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
Desires… Can this man with
Nimble fingers 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.

I shall some day leave, leave the cocoon
You built around me with morning tea,
Love words flung from doorways and of course
Your tired lust. I shall some day take
Wings, fly around, as often petals
Do, when free in air, and you dear one,
Just the sad remnant of a root, must
Lie behind, sans pride, on double beds
And grieve. But I shall some day return, losing
Nearly all hurt by wind, sun and rain,
Too hurt by fierce happiness to want
A further jaunt or a further spell
Of freedom, and I shall some day see
My world, de-fleshed, de-veined, de-blooded,
Just a skeletal thing, then shut my
Eyes and take refuge, if nowhere else,
Here in your nest of familiar scorn…

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

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 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 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 ruder breezes
Of the fall and the smoke from burning leaves. Your room is
Always lit by artificial lights, your windows always
Shut. Even the airconditioner 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 a 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 and total freedom, it must will the mirrors
To shatter, and the kind night to erase the water…

On sedatives
I am more lovable
Says my husband
My speech becomes a mist-laden terrain,
The words emerge tinctured with sleep,
They rise from still coves of dreams
In unhurried flight like herons,
And my ragdoll-limbs adjust better
To his versatile lust. He would if he could
Sing lullabies to his wife’s sleeping soul,
Sweet lullabies to thicken its swoon
On sedatives
I grow more lovable
Says my husband…

From the debris of house-wrecks
Pick up my broken face,
Your bride’s face,
Changed a little with the years.
I shall not remember
The betrayed honeymoon;
We are both such cynics,
You and I.
If loving me was hard then
It’s harder now
But love me one day
For a lark
Love the sixty-seven
Kilogrammes of ageing flesh
Love the damaged liver,
The heart and its ischaemia,
Yes, love me one day
Just for a lark,
Show me what our life would have been
If only you had loved…

The cicadas in brambled foliage
Naturally concave. So also these
Men who climb up the cogged scaffoldings
Building houses for the alien rich.
On some days the hot sky flings at us scraps
Of Telugu songs and we intently
Listen, but we wait in vain for the harsh
Message of the lowly. In merry tunes
Their voices break, but just a little, as
Though the hero’s happiness is too big
A burden on their breath, too big a lie
For their throats to swallow, but past sunset
Their jests sound ribald, their lust seems robust.
Puny these toy-men of dust, fathers of light
Dust-children, but their hands like the withered boughs
Of some mythic hoodoo tree cast only
Cool shadows, and with native grace bestow
Even on unbelievers vast shelters…

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