The Old Playhouse

Kamala Das


Kamala Das

Nationality: Indian

Kamala Das, born Kamala Surayya, was an Indian poet and novelist. She went by the pen name Madhavikutty.

She wrote openly about politics and equal rights for women.

The title of the poem, ‘The Old Playhouse’, constitutes its central image, and the speaker finally discovers that love-making has made her mind an Old Playhouse with all its lights put out’. It is like a deserted old playhouse having no life of its own. It has almost become non-functional and inert due to the disastrous physical-cum-mental strains. She has lost all her value as a woman in this life of confinement and suffocation.



Kamala Das has used very suggestive imagery to show the disastrous effects of the mismatched marital relationships in ‘The Old Playhouse’. The word ‘sparrow’ stands for the poetess who is captured by her cruel and heartless captor (husband) who denies her any identity or freedom. The images of ‘summer’ and ‘autumn’ show the bright and dark phases of her life. The comparison between the poet’s mind and the ‘old playhouse with lights put of’ is equally very appropriate and suggestive.

Both are in a state of neglect and have lost their functional value. The poet’s mind is in a state of inertial and filled with impenetrable darkness like the darkness prevailing in the deserted old playhouse. The image of Narcissus shows that Kamala Das’s love for her husband is all shattered by her egotistical husband and she is haunted by her own face which is reflective of her loneliness and desolation.

The image of the mirror is very relevant because it faithfully mirrors the loneliness and anxieties of her face. The images of the ‘kind night’ and ‘to erase the water’ suggest that only death can help her in overpowering her mood of depression and loneliness.


The Old Playhouse Analysis

Lines 1-5

You planned to tame a swallow, to hold her


Pathways of the sky.

In the poem, ‘The Old Playhouse’, which can be read in full hereKamala Das shows her total disenchantment with her married life and its disastrous consequences on her life. It is an open protest against her egotistical husband who does not think beyond the gratification of his sensual desires. The female persona accuses her husband for domesticating her like a swallow after marriage in a well-planned manner.

She also blames him for depriving her of the thrills of romantic love and the desired woman’s freedom. He has intentionally done it so that she cannot only forget the fury of the winter and autumn seasons but also snap all her ties with life before marriage. He has spared no efforts to make her forget her colourful past in which she enjoyed perfect freedom and distinct identity. He wants to make her forget her true nature as well as the very desire to move about freely in the infinite spaces of the sky.

This first section of the poem points to the disastrous fate of the mismatched marriage. Marriage is not an institution limited to the gratification of sensual desires only. It is not unilateral but a bilateral relationship based on mutual trust and mutual understanding. There is no place for the exploitation and dehumanization of any partner in love.


Lines 5-14

It was not to gather knowledge


To offer at the right moment the vitamins.

In this second section, the woman is critical of her feeling less husband for shattering her romantic dreams of the married life. She has realized that she is merely an object of physical entertainment meant for satisfying the lustful desires of her husband only. She has lost all her identity as a woman and is systematically alienated from her happy and contented past life.

The woman, in ‘The Old Playhouse’, then explains the reason for marrying the man and the intention behind forming this relationship. She had come to him not to be enlightened about him but to learn about her true self. She thought that marriage would give her an opportunity for self-growth and self-discovery. But all her hopes were belied because of the egotistical nature of her husband. She found himself highly selfish and self-centered who could not think beyond himself.


Lines 14-23



In the vases have begun to smell of human sweat.

In this third section of the poem, the woman had a very horrifying experience of marital life. It marked the sudden end of the life of romantic aspirations and dreams. She was almost overpowered by the monstrous ego of her husband. She lost the very will to live in this hostile environment. She had also lost the chance of self-growth and self-discovery. She was treated like an object of sexual gratification only.

Kamala Das always felt terrified by the dreadful ego of her husband. She was meant to please her self-conceited husband against her wishes to preserve this relationship. It is in this process of unnatural appeasement she had lost her all individuality and self-respect. She was almost reduced to a dwarf and lost all her will to think and act in an independent manner. Being mentally disturbed, her responses and reactions were always illogical and inconsistent. She had lost all her identity as a dignified woman and felt totally dehumanized in this caged existence.

Kamala Das’s marital life is disturbed due to the overpowering and egotistical nature of her husband. She is all alienated and frustrated in life because of the indifferent attitude of her husband. She is denied all the needs of a woman for self-growth and self-discovery. She is neglected by her husband who treats her as an object for the satisfaction of his lust only.


Lines 23-30

There is


To shatter and the kind night to erase the water.

In this fourth section, the female persona has suffered both physically and mentally at the hands of her self-centered and selfish husband. She has lost all her freedom, self –respect, and identity as a woman and is reduced to the level of a dwarf. She has to work as a caretaker to satisfy his daily needs. She is almost crushed under his unchallenged monstrous ego.

It was a period of winter in her life. For Kamala Das, life has come to a stand-still. All her romantic dreams of the marital life are shattered and she faces a complete vacuum in her life. There is no space for singing or dancing in her colourless and meaningless life. Her life is like an old playhouse filled with impenetrable darkness. She is all fed up with the stereotyped and mechanical technique of the love-making of her husband. He offers love in fatal dozes which will ultimately kill his wife.

Dharmender Kumar Poetry Expert
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.

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