K Kamala Das

My Grandmother’s House by Kamala Das

The poem, ‘My Grandmother’s House’, first appeared in Kamala Das’s first anthology of verse titled Summer Time in Calcutta (1965). It is also an autobiographical poem in which the poet’s longing for her parental house in Malabar is movingly described. She is reminded of the ancestral house where she had received immense love and affection from her grandmother.

The poet’s feminine sensibility finds its clearest loveless relationships in it. A note of pessimism runs throughout the action of the poem. It reveals the poet’s painful unfulfilled desire to visit her grandmother’s house to which she is deeply and emotionally attached. The poet is shocked to learn that the house is all in ruin after the death of her grandmother. She suffers in silence due to the wear and tear it has undergone in her absence. A death-like silence reigns in her grandmother’s house.

Moreover, the intensity of her grief is suggestively conveyed by the ellipsis in the form of a few dots in this section of the poem. It was her disenchantment with her loveless marriage that reminded her of her grandmother’s pure and selfless love. Her heart is itself like a dark window where the fresh air does not blow. The image of the house has stuck to her mind. The poet has also used the similes of a brooding dog to show her inability to pay a visit to her grandmother’s house. She has also used suggestive visual imagery of ‘blind eyes of the windows’ and ‘the frozen air’ to convey the idea of death and desperation.

My Grandmother’s House by Kamala Das

 

My Grandmother’s House Analysis

Lines 1-5

There is a house now far away where once

(…)

To read, and my blood turned cold like the moon

The poem, ‘My Grandmother’s House’, which can be read in full here, shows Kamala Das’s intense love and attachment to it. She suffers from an acute sense of alienation after having left this place after her marriage.

The poet now lives in a big city after her marriage, a remote place from her grandmother’s house. She is reminded of her grandmother’s house where she spent her memorable childhood. Ironically, it is the only place where she received love from her grandmother. The death of the grandmother is even mourned by the house to which she was emotionally attached. A death-like silence reigned in the house after her exit from this world. It seems that the grandmother was the very soul of this house. Being deserted, the snakes could be seen among books in the library of the house. At that point in time, she was too young to read those books which looked quite horrible and repulsive like snakes. She was almost frozen with fear at the passing away of her grandmother and seemed cold like the moon.

The very opening lines of the poem capture alive the poet’s mood of nostalgia. She is reminded of the happiest days of her childhood which she spent in the company of her grandmother. She was deeply attached to her grandmother who was very caring and affectionate to her. She was emotionally destabilized after the death of her grandmother and felt almost heart-broken. The intensity of her grief is suggestively conveyed by the ellipse in the form of a few dots in this section of the poem. It was her disenchantment with her loveless marriage that reminded her of her grandmother’s pure and selfless love.

 

Lines 6-12

How often I think of going

(…)

Dog…

In the above lines of the poem, ‘My Grandmother’s House’, the poet defines her relationship with her grandmother in a very moving manner. Kamala Das is reminded of the happiest days of her childhood which spent with her grandmother. The poet was deeply attached to her grandmother who was very caring and affectionate to her. She was emotionally shattered after the death of her grandmother who had been the chief source of inspiration in her life.

The poet often longs to visit her grandmother’s house to which she was emotionally attached since her childhood. It has been a place of security and protection which is sadly missing in her new house in the city. She would like to peep through the dust-ridden or coloured panes of windows that were shut after the death of the grandmother. She would like to listen and feel the still atmosphere prevailing in the house. It is this longing to revisit her grandmother’s house that adds to her sense of frustration and hopelessness. The darkness of her grandmother’s house can have no terrifying impact on her. She would like to gather some darkness, some memories of the grandmother’s house and bring them to her present city residence. The very memories of her grandmother’s house will have a soothing impact on her loveless and hopeless married life.

The poet is in a mood of reminiscence and recreates the plight of the grandmother’s house after her departure from the scene of life. She gives us the very feel of the house in its state of neglect and desertion. The poet has used the simile of a brooding dog to show her inability to pay a visit to her grandmother’s house. She has employed suggestive visual imagery of ‘blind eyes of the windows’ and ‘the frozen air to convey the idea of death and desperation.

 

Lines 12-16

you cannot believe, darling,

(…)

Receive love, at least in small change?

In these lines of ‘My Grandmother’s House’, the poet says how her frustration and disenchantment in the marital life forced her to go into for an extra-marital relationship. The poet often longs to visit her grandmother’s house to which she was emotionally attached since her childhood. Unlike her miserable city life with her husband, it had been a place of security and genuine love for her.

Here the poet informs her dear husband that he can never believe the intensity of love that she received from her grandmother. He can never realize that she was extremely proud of her grandmother’s house where she was deeply loved by her grandmother. It is her separation from her grandmother’s house after marriage that has ruined her life forever. It is loveless and hopeless married life that has crippled her sense of pride and love which she used to have in her grandmother’s house. She has become a beggar for love who knocks helplessly at strangers’ doors to receive at least in a small measure. She has almost lost her way in search of genuine and selfless love.

Kamala Das exposes the futility of loveless and hopeless marital relationships in these five concluding lines of the poem. It shows the agony and humiliation of a married woman who is forced to seek extra-marital relationships to seek love for her emotional satisfaction. It is the mood of nostalgia that dominates the closing phase of the poem. The poet is reminded of her grandmother’s house where received love and safety in her childhood. She has lost all her identity and freedom in her loveless relationship.

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Dharmender Kumar
About
Dharmender is a writer by passion, and a lawyer by profession. He has has a degree in English literature from Delhi University, and Mass Communication from Bhartiya Vidhya Bhavan, Delhi, as well as holding a law degree. Dharmender is awesomely passionate about Indian and English literature.
  • Kamala Das was born in 1934, so the year regarding the first publication of the poem is wrong. Also, i would not call it an “autobiographical poem” since it is written in the memory of her grandmother.

    • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

      Thanks for pointing out the error in the date. I’m not so sure I would argue against the poem being autobiographical. I have read many autobiographies and often they contain sections about family members.

    • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

      Glad to be of service.

  • Avatar muneeb mt says:

    it is not ‘ellipse’ but ellipsis. may be a typo. pls correct

    • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

      ellipses is the correct plural I believe? But in this insatnce it is a singular so you are correct.

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