An Introduction

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 queernesses
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

The poem “An Introduction” by Kamala Das talks of the desires, the disappointment and the struggles that generally a traditional Indian woman had to face in her time. She says that she doesn’t know politics but can rant the names of all the politicians in the country. She introduces herself as Indian, detailing her skin tone, her place of stay and the language that she prefers to write. She talks of the people that criticize her for using English as a medium to express her thoughts. She says that she knows that her English isn’t perfect but English is able to express her thoughts better than any other language can for it gives voice to her aspirations, her troubles, joys. English is as useful to her as cawing is to crows or roaring is to lions.

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 became 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 breasts and womb crushed me.
I shrank Pitifully.

She then moves to talk about puberty and the changes that took place in her physically and later emotionally. She talks of the disappointment she faced in love when she asked for love and was violated. She talks of the pregnancy that followed it when the weight of her breasts and womb crushed her.

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 quarreller 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 …

She then proceeds to tell the consequences of her physical violation at the age of 16. She started to crossdress by wearing a shirt and her brother’s trousers. She cut her hair short and ignored her womanliness which was a rebellion against her own sex. People then started to advise her to be a woman, dress in women clothing such as sarees, cook and be a wife. She was asked to quarrel with servants and fit in with the rest of the world. She was asked to fit in with the rest of the society and not bawl when left disappointment.

I met a man, loved 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 oceans’ 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 packed 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 sinner,
I am saint. I am the beloved and the
Betrayed. I have no joys that are not yours, no
Aches which are not yours. I too call myself I.

She then proceeds to talk of a man she met and fell in love with. She then talks of how her lover was every man who sought a woman, “the hungry haste of rivers” just like she was every woman who seeks love. She talks of how her lover was impatient in love and she had all the patient in the world such as the “the oceans’ tireless waiting” She talks of the un-deluded freedom that a free woman or any soul for the matter could cherish, the various experiences that life has to offer.


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