Kamala Das captures the picture of her mother in a significant moment of comprehension. The speaker in a fast-forward life, pauses for a moment to regard her mother, with with reference to time and space.
Driving from my parent’s
home to Cochin last Friday
morning, I saw my mother,
Words are indicated to signify time, space and position (‘beside me’). The act of ‘seeing’ poses as a stationary moment as against the kinetic act of ‘driving’. The drive from home to Cochin also serves to illustrate the metaphor of journey as experience. The poem is indeed born, out of love as one observes the possessive pronoun ‘my’ when the word ‘Mother’ would have sufficed. The speaker’s understanding of her mother at the age of sixty-six, would be indeed one of enriched experience; as it would be coloured with the speaker’s individual maternal experience as with her own children. It would be a different one, with indication to the past when she was single. She could probably judge her better as a wife, and mother now.
doze, open mouthed, her face
ashen like that
of a corpse and realised with
that she was as old as she
looked but soon
put that thought away, and
Words like ‘doze’ point to the torpidity that old age has imposed upon her. The phrase ‘open–mouthed’ connotes the lack/ignorance of etiquette and circumstances, echoing that the end is just about the corner. This is affirmed with the word ‘ashen’ coupled with her countenance. She realises in a poignant moment that her mother now looked as old as she was. The hollowness of Life and inevitability of Death is sounded here as echoed in Philip Larkin’s “Ambulances”. Kamala Das is a receptive writer who captures the fears and fantasies embedded deep in the feminine psyche. What pains her more than the idea of Death, is the fear of Death.The irony is that though she was ‘beside’ her, she seems to be already haunted with the thought of her being distant to her in terms of age “sixty-six”. That “that she was as old as she/looked” was obvious; but to the speaker it sinks that Age was catching up with her.
Tress sprinting, the merry children spilling
out of their homes, but after the airport’s
security check, standing a few yards
away, I looked again at her, wan,
as a late winter’s moon and felt that
familiar ache, my childhood’s fear,
Kamala Das realizes with great reluctance the agonising truth writ large on her mother’s face. Her “ashen face” reminded her of a corpse both metaphorically and literally. Ageing is usually considered the penultimate stage of a person’s life. It is a pointer to the nearness of the one feared for. The thought kindles fear in the poet’s heart, not for just one reason but two. The realization that her mother is moving towards the final truth of life worries her as her childhood fears, ” a familiar ache”. Any child is vulnerable and associated with insecurity, as soon as the child is in a situation/place divorced from the mother. The speaker senses the similar anxiety here, as though she is going to lose her mother. Kamala Das brushes off these wild thoughts and turns her view towards images filled with greenery and energy. The image of the children and the ‘sprinting trees are juxtaposed against the idea of predestined Death.
Yet the idea continues to preoccupy her .After the airport security-check, the poetess turns her gaze again towards her palid Mother. Note that the act of seeing her off at the airport comes across as a metaphor of seeing her off to Death. The comparison is evoked by the speaker’s fears as she continues to liken her mother to a “late winter’s moon.”
but all I said was, see you soon,
all I did was smile and smile and
The fact that the poet is on her way to her next phase forces her for a moment to contemplate. With great stoicism, she accepts the menacing milestones of life and all she did was “smile and smile and smile” She tells her mother positively “see you soon”, because separation always precedes reconciliation.