Kamala Das’s poem ‘An Introduction’ is included in her first collection of poems, ‘Summer in Calcutta’. In the poem, she speaks in the voice of a girl, rebelling against the norms and dictates of a patriarchal society which ask her to ‘fit in’ and ‘belong’ against her own wishes. ‘Malabar’; a south Indian location, covering a large part of Kerala which also extends to parts of Karnataka.
Her rebellion against patriarchy is to secure an identity for herself in a male-dominated world. The poem begins with the assertion, ‘I don’t know politics, but I know the names of those in power’ which shows her distaste for politics in a country where politics is considered a domain for men. Next comes her defiant assertion of her right to write in any language she likes, in response to suggestions that she should not ‘write in English’. Her reply to her critics is a reiteration of the (language of) appropriation of a colonial language to serve native needs. ‘Categorizers’; an allusion to those who see and group other people in different structures or brackets: the term suggests the tendency to stereo-type people.
From the issue of the politics of language, the poem moves on the subject of sexual politics. The poet is in utter bewilderment during her pubescent years, her sudden marriage and her first sexual encounter all leave her traumatized. On an impulse, she defies the gender code and dresses up as a man by wearing a shirt and a trouser and ‘sits on the wall’. The guardians of morality force a respectable woman’s attire on with instructions that she should fit into the socially accepted role of a woman as a ‘wife’ and a ‘mother’. “Madhavikutti’; the pseudonym Kamala Das used while writing in Malayalam.
‘Schizophrenia’; a disorder that results in the misinterpretation of reality: the perception change is now seen as being a health condition as well as the case of social insufficiency: following thinkers like Michel Foucault, now schizophrenia is understood to be a reflection of a society’s inflexibility as much as it is associated with an individual’s mental state. Identifying herself with other suffering women of the world, Kamala Das universalizes suffering and seeks freedom and love. The poem becomes a statement on gender differences and a move to transcend the restrictions imposed on a woman by seeking individual freedom, love that allows the body to come to terms with its own needs and a self that is allowed to celebrate love’s true glory.