K Kamala Das

An Introduction by Kamala Das

You hear it all the time now, “Down with the patriarchy!” But, what does it really mean and who does it apply to? Well, in Kamala Das’ poem, you may be able to find some answers.

In ‘An Introduction,’ Das explores her complex emotions regarding the system controlling her life and the lives of countless suffering women. She also has the experience to back up her assertions about freedom and oppression as she played a critical role in the establishment of the Indian feminist movement.

This particular piece is one of her most well-known. It was published in her first collection, Summary in Calcutta in 1965. The collection focuses on love and the pain that follows betrayal.

An Introduction by Kamala Das


Summary

‘An Introduction’ by Kamala Das describes the poet’s own mental and emotional state as she aged and pushed back against patriarchal society.

‘An Introduction’ begins with the speaker, Das, stating that she knows all the male leaders of India. Their names are a part of her, a tribute to their overwhelming power. This contrasts significantly with the lack of power she felt growing up and getting married at sixteen. She struggles with her identity and is finally able to step away from the traditional role of wife. 

Das describes the way that men are able to move through the world with a solid identity. They are allowed their choices and emotions. In the last lines, she pushes back against this way of life by stating that she feels things that do not belong to the man she loves. She too can be “I.” 

You can read the full poem here.

Themes

Das explores powerful themes of feminism/equal rights, freedom, and marriage in ‘An Introduction’. This poem is a very clear feminist statement that advocates for free choice for all women. This is in regards to every aspect of life, but the poet puts a special emphasis on marriage. She compares and contrasts the roles of men and women in society and explains for the reader how her life, the rules she’s forced to obey, infringe on her freedom. Readers should be able to ask themselves while moving through the poem how, if at all, the things Das is talking about apply to their own life. If nothing matches up, they might ask themselves why and if some kind of unaddressed or unacknowledged privilege is making their lives better.

Structure and Form 

‘An Introduction’ is a sixty-line poem that is contained within a single stanza. The lines range from three words up to eleven and do not follow a specific metrical pattern. Das also chose not to use a rhyme scheme. The lines also vary greatly in length and syllable number. This means that the poem is written in free verse. This style of writing allows the poet to explore various structures and make use of more sporadic rhymes. There are several examples of half-rhyme and internal rhyme in ‘An Introduction’. 

Literary Devices 

Kamala Das uses techniques such as enjambment, repetition, and anaphora in ‘An Introduction’. Repetition and anaphora are seen at the beginning of a number of lines, such as four and five. In this instance, the speaker is giving two conviction-filled statements about who she is. This is conveyed through the repetition of the pronoun “I”.  Later on, repetition is used again to define her language as both “English” and “human”. She is a human being, as equal and valuable as any other.

There are also several examples of allusion. She references specific a specific place and the name of a politician that requires some research in order to understand. Enjambment is another important technique. it can be seen throughout this poem, but one good example is the transition between lines fifty-eight and fifty-nine.

Analysis of An Introduction

Lines 1-13

I don’t know politics but I know the names
Of those in power, and can repeat them like
(…)
Becomes mine, its distortions, its queernesses
All mine, mine alone.

In the first section of ‘An Introduction,’ the speaker begins by comparing her knowledge of politicians to the days of the week and months of the year. Although she does not have a firm grasp on politics itself, those in power have remained in her mind. This shows their power to be much greater than their role should allow. The first of these she is able to recall is “Nehru,” who served as India’s first prime minister after the withdrawal of the British. 

After these opening lines that set the scene, the speaker moves on to describe her own being. She is “Indian” and she is “very brown.” Lastly, she is from Malabar in southwest India. These are the basics of her life, but of course not everything. She adds that she is able to, 

[…]speak three languages, write in 

Two, dream in one. 

She continues to describe language and the role it plays in her life by saying that she is judged for writing in English.  It is not her “mother-tongue.” Whenever she is criticized for how she speaks and writes she feels as if she is alone. There is no one, not her friends or cousins, who back her up. They are critics “Every one.” 

She directs the next line at this group, asking them why they care what she speaks. She feels a deep connection to the words she uses and how, through “distortions,” her language can only be defined as her own. 

Lines 13-25

It is half English, halfIndian, funny perhaps, but it is honest,
It is as human as I am human, don’t
(…)
Funeral pyre. I was child, and later they
Told me I grew, for I became tall, my limbs

In the next twelve lines of ‘An Introduction,’ the speaker goes on to describe herself as “half English, half Indian.” She sees the humor in this combination and acknowledges that fact as it is “honest.” This seems to be one of the most important parts of her, a desire for authenticity and honesty. Her identity, as seen through her voice, is “human” just as she is human. It should be held under that single defining category and no other. 

Das describes the control she has over her voice, whether through speech or text. It can display all of her emotions and her, 

[…] mind that sees and hears and 

Is aware. 

Human speech is to humans as roaring is to lions. It is intelligible, unlike the roaring of a storm or the “mutterings of the blazing fire.” The speaker defines her freedom through the use of her voice. In the next lines, she explains to the reader that there are other circumstances in her life that infringe on that freedom. They are out of her control. 

She introduces this section by stating that she only felt older as she grew because she was told of her own physical changes. 

Lines 26-38

Swelled and one or two places sprouted hair.
WhenI asked for love, not knowing what else to ask
(…)
Be a quarreller with servants. Fit in. Oh,
Belong, cried the categorizers. Don’t sit

Her unhappiness is defined in the next section of lines of ‘An Introduction’ and is directly related to a need for freedom. When she was young she “asked for love,” because she didn’t know what else to want. This ended with her marriage at sixteen and the closing of a bedroom door. Although her husband did not beat her, her, 

[…] sad woman-body felt so beaten. 

This line of An Introduction is interesting as she is placing her own body in one of the categories she rebelled against in the first stanza. It is due to this simplification of a woman as nothing more than a body that led her to marriage at sixteen. She also places blame on her own body for leading her to this place. Her distinctly female parts, “breasts and womb” are a crushing weight on her life. The pressure placed on her by her husband and by her family led to an emotional and mental shrinking. It was a “Pitiful” process. But it ended. 

She goes on to state that a change came over her. She decided to put on her “Brother’s trousers” and cut off her hair. The speaker is ridding herself of the female image that has harmed her. Now that she is remaking her identity she is able to say no to the traditions of womanhood. These include fitting in and dressing in “saris.” The “categorizers” might tell her not to, 

[…] peep in through our lace-draped windows 

But she is not going to listen. She chose to move her life beyond the traditional and therefore expand her presence in the world. 

Lines 39-50

On walls or peep in through our lace-draped windows.
Be Amy, or be Kamala. Or, better
(…)
Of rivers, in me . . . the oceans’ tireless
Waiting. Who are you, I ask each and everyone,

In the first two lines of the next section of ‘An Introduction,’ it becomes clear that the speaker is truly meant to be the poet herself. She wonders at her own identity and marvels over the fact that she can now be, 

Amy, or be Kamala. Or, better

Still, be Madhavikutty.

It is by this final name that the poet, Kamala Das, came to be known and is still called.  Das added another few reminders on behalf of the “categorizers.” She shouldn’t “play pretending games” or “cry embarrassingly loud.” Her role as a woman is supposed to be meek, quiet, and contained.

She goes on to describe a time in which she met and loved a man. This person is referred to as “man,” he is not named. This strips him of some of the agency he is so in control of in the next lines. Additionally, the name is of little importance as he is meant to represent every man in the world who uses women as he pleases.

At one point, at the height of her emotions, she asks the “man” who he is. He replies “it is I.” The “I” represents the agency he has in the world. Men make their own decisions and have the ability to use the pronoun in order to get what they want. 

Lines 51-61

The answer is, it is I. Anywhere and,
Everywhere, I see the one who calls himself I
(…)
Betrayed. I have no joys that are not yours, no
Aches which are not yours. I too call myself I.

‘An Introduction’ begins its conclusion with the speaker acknowledging the constant presence of “I” around her. In the world, she’s a part of there are “I” men everywhere she looks. A person of this nature is able to go and “Drink… at twelve” and stay in “hotels of strange towns.” As the lines continue the division between the speaker and the “I” is blurred. Eventually, a reader comes to understand that she is trying to come to terms with her own independence and identity as both “saint” and “sinner.” 

She is trapped between her own need for free life and the world which tries to keep her contained. The final statement is one of protest and resistance. Das states that she has “Aches” which belong to no one but herself. She too can be “I.” 

FAQs

How does Kamala Das introduce herself and her poetry in ‘An Introduction?’

She introduces herself as “Indian,” “born in Malabar,” “very brown,” and as a speaker of three languages. Two, she says, she writes in, and one she dreams in. She also notes that the languages she speaks are “mine,” tinted by her history and ideas.

What is Kamala Das poetry known for?

Her poetry is for its open exploration of women’s lives, sexuality, oppression, and contemporary Indian life and politics.

What did Kamala Das want to say in ‘An Introduction?’

Kamala Das wanted to promote equal rights for women. She was concerned with the confines of marriage, societal restrictions and how they differ for men and women.

Why is ‘An Introduction’ a confessional poem?

‘An Introduction’ addresses personal emotions and experiences, trademarks of confessional poetry. Often, this type of poetry also engages with “taboo” feelings, or those that society normally doesn’t engage with.

How does Kamala Das speak for women in ‘An Introduction?’

She promotes independence for women and a respect for their individual lives. She spends parts of the poem talking about herself but does so in a way that advocates for equal rights between the sexes.

Similar Poetry

Numerous poets have written on the struggle for equal rights in their own lives or in a wider community like Das has. The confessional nature of this poem is one of the many elements that make it relatable. Readers might also be interested in ‘Awaking in New York’ by Maya Angelou, Mushrooms‘ by Sylvia Plath‘I cannot live with You’ by Emily Dickinson, and ‘A Married State’ by Katherine Philips.

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About
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.
  • Her biography says that her husband was the biggest supporter in her life. But in the poem she speaks as if her marriage life wasn’t a very happy one. if she was happy, why would she fall in love with another man?

    • Lee-James Bovey says:

      I do not know enough about the poet to comment accurately. But it is worth pointing out that not all poems are about or written from the perspective of the poet.

  • What is the existential dilemma in kamala das’s An Introduction

    • Lee-James Bovey says:

      I think the narrator struggles with being labelled and the battles with the expectations of her peers.

    • The assertion of her true self against the various social roles,identities and communal demands in Indian socio-cultural context

      • Lee-James Bovey says:

        This is a wonderful answer. Thank you.

  • >

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