The Wild Bougainvillea

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 poem ‘The Wild Bougainvillea’ by Kamala Das is taken from the volume of poems Summer in Calcutta (1965). It is a poem of ‘psychic striptease’ which has a direct bearing on the life of Kamala Das. It is a serious attempt on the part of the poet to realize true love in life. It is a philosophical poem that shows the extension of life after death. It ends on a note of optimism and the affirmation of life with all its limitations.

The title of the poem ‘The Wild Bougainvillea’ is very apt and suggestive. It is the celebration of life with all its limitations. It also shows the presence of life amidst decay, destruction, and death. Time is a great destroyer, but it cannot stop the process of regeneration. This further shows that death is a part and parcel of life and it must be faced heroically. The title is also suggestive of the philosophy of the continuity of life.

The Wild Bougainvillea by Kamala Das


The Wild Bougainvillea Analysis

There was a tie when I


Another town…

‘The Wild Bougainvillea’ by Kamala Das is a philosophical poem that shows that death is finally replaced by life. The poem ends on a note of optimism.

The Poet is reminded of one of her experiences during her stay in Calcutta. It was the time of summer when she looked very sad and grief-stricken. It was also very difficult for her to pass time. She felt like mourners following the bier, sadly and moodily. Being physically and mentally exhausted, she found no rest or relief in her bed. She was tossed like a turbulent sea and failed to relax day and night in her bed. She was severely tormented by her desire to be united with a man from another town.

It is a personal poem wherein the poet dramatizes her painful experience of life in Calcutta. It was the most troublesome phase of her life in which she was all destabilized. She was romantically attached to a person from another town and eagerly awaiting for his arrival.

Then, by


Packed with distractions.

The poet is in a mood of reminiscence. She is reminded of the horrible times which she had spent in Calcutta. She was quite depressed and alienated from the mainstream of life. She was quite optimistic about meeting a person from another town.

The female persona, slowly and steadily, absorbed herself in undertaking long walks travelling new roads and observing attractive faces which she admired, but never seen before. She called it a very good world that provides a lot of distractions to people for mitigating (lessening) their sufferings.

The woman devises a new strategy of opting for the life of mobility to overcome her sadness. She begins to connect herself with others to forget her sense of loss. This will minimize her sense of alienation and frustration in life.

I walked through streets beside


At men,

The poetic persona begins to affirm her faith in life. She has started reaching out to others to forget her own sufferings. She has realized the real reality of life. Her decision to opt for the life of mobility-not inertia- has helped her in reducing her personal dejection and frustration in life.

The poet walked through the city beside the sea. She observed ships floating with rotting undersides; garbage and dead fish rot, and also smelt death and decay all around. She traversed the streets where she saw prostitutes with artificial bulging breasts moving leisurely below yellow lamps, wooing their customers with cunning smiles.

This passage in ‘The Wild Bougainvillea’ gives us the very feel of the decay and the degeneration of the city of Calcutta. It has lost all its past glory and ethical values. It has also reached its lowest level on the moral scale. Its seediness pervades in every nook and corner of the city of Calcutta.

And, on streets near old cemeteries


Even sheds a bouquet for them  or a tear

The city of Calcutta was all in a state of mess. It has lost all its traditional glory and was filled with decay and vulgarity. It had awfully gone down in moral scale and flesh trade was fast flourishing. Seediness had adversely infected the entire fabric of society.

The poet noticed the visible symbols of destruction and death caused by the ravages of time. The inscriptions on the tombstones had withered. The tombstones seemed completely discoloured and looked like a harvest of grotesque, old teeth. They were all decayed and deformed. The tombs were in a state of utter neglect as no mourners visited them to offer floral tribute or shed any tears in the memory of the dead.

This passage presents the terrifying picture of death in its different manifestations. The destructive fury of time is quite discernible everywhere in the vicinity of the graveyard. It is ironic to note that the sympathy of the people for their dead ones is all lost due to the decay and the deformation of the tombstones.

But, I did see    beside


Dreamless and woke up in the morning, free.

The poet realistically presents the terrifying picture of decay and death in the preceding passage. The destructive fury of time is vividly dramatized in it. Moreover; the dilution of human- relationship reaches its nadir (lowest) in it.

Finally, the poet came across the potential symbols of life in his fast decaying environment. She was surprised to discover some marigolds blooming, and wild red bougainvillea climbing the tombstones. It was this sudden emergence of life amidst decay and destruction that changed her vision of life.

Now as she walked, saw, and heard, the city looked quite familiar and hospitable. It was due to this newly discovered familiarity that had made her forget that particular man. It was this revelation that helped her in snapping her emotional ties with him. She sent this man some roses, enjoyed a peaceful sleep, and got up in the morning, free from all dreams and longings.

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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