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ISSN: 0974-892X


July, 2007



Shilpi Saxena

Love is My Only Religion: An interview with Kamala Das


SS. You have expressed yourself both in poetry and prose, still poetry seems to be more true and close to the real sensibility of an artist. Do you think is there any distinction between prose and poetry from the view point of expression?

KD. Yes, it’s true. I wrote prose to make money but poetry came to me naturally and there was no other purpose of writing at all. My poetry is like dancing of a child. Suddenly a child starts dancing but why he dances nobody knows. So my poetry also has no utilitarian motive. I never thought of publishing it and only in 1965 my first collection of poems was published because someone who owned a press in Delhi told my husband that I should publish a book and Summer in Calcutta came out in market.  

SS. Why poetry is more convenient?

KD. Poetry for me is like writing a diary. It is a very natural expression of my very personal emotions.

SS. Every creative artist shares some visible or invisible influences from the experiences of his/her personal life and social environment. What are the influences in your life that have made you such a great poet?

KD. I shared some dominate influences from the different cultures in which I lived. I lived in Calcutta and a little village in Kerala called Malabar. So I absorbed two cultures and that difference gave me some strength that I could survive in both the cultures. To some extent the British influenced my poetry. In my childhood I went to a British school and that was the time when the Britishers were ruling over India. Every Indian child used to imitate the British .I also did it therefore I had been able to write poetry not only in Malayalam but in English also.

SS. In My Story you have mentioned that in your girlhood days you used to compose sentimental poems like “headless dolls”. Is there any similarity between those poems and the poems you have composed after your marriage?

KD. I don’t know how it can be the same person’s writing? I am a sentimental and emotional person and I think emotions are the foundation of my poetry whether in my childhood poems or the poems representing my personal life.  

SS. Your poetry is not having rhyme or any other rigid and conventional poetic devices. Is it the result of your outburst emotions that you are not so much careful about such bondages?

KD. Sometimes there is internal rhyme but I don’t pay too much attention towards the formal rhyme scheme pattern. My poetry is like dancing because whenever I write poetry I feel as I am dancing with words.

SS. You have brought up in a very orthodox Malyali family but your poetry represents your revolt against all social and family conventions. What is the effect of your orthodox upbringing on your poetry?

KD. No doubt, it’s true that my family was very orthodox. When I was a school girl my grand mother provided me the long skirt because she thought that girls must not show their legs. But I remained untouched from my orthodox upbringing. I found everybody in society seems to be acting and none wants to reveal the reality. People say we don’t quarrel but they quarrel such hypocrisy really hurts me .I decided that I would choose the life in which I must be a real person. It is therefore through my poetry I have expressed boldly and honestly. 

SS. How far your poetic sensibility shares the poetic creed and vision of your mother’s poetry?

KD. My mother is certainly a great poet. She is still alive. But she never inspired me. There was a great distance between us. It was the circumstances that made me a poet. 

SS. Many of your poem and your autobiography reveal that your married life was not happy and you tried to unload your frustration through your poetry? How far your frustrated married life is co related with the birth of a poet with in you?

KD. Actually most of the marriages are unhappy but people don’t talk about them. People don’t want to reveal their unhappy relationships but I did it. My marriage is better than my parent’s marriage because my parents used to quarrel at night. As a child I got disturb to see it. My husband and I didn’t quarrel because I did not believe in shouting. So I decided to express myself through my writings. Whenever I felt unhappy, I used to write, that’s why I am grateful to my husband for hurting me.

SS. In your poems longing for love and man and woman relationship so far emerged as the major themes. There are several other issues and problems in society that need poetic representation but why only this subject appears as the most favorite subject to you?

KD. It is because of my experience. I have no experience of commerce and other worldly affairs. I am obsessed with the thought that I must achieve love before I die. I wish to achieve the real love that we must have heard about Radha and Krishna. This theme always echo in my heart to such an extent that sometimes I feel perhaps I am Radha waiting for my ideal and eternal lover Krishna. 

SS. You are known particularly as a love poet. What is love according to you?

KD. Love is life. Love is God. I can’t think more beautiful than it. Every act of mine has been influenced by it. Every thing is inspired by it. All the blunders of my life have been done due to love. But I think they are not my mistakes because finally they turned out to be the best things. So I don’t regret falling in love with many men. I feel if I can make someone happy, I cannot call it a bad deal at all and to get love is like entering in paradise. I can live without food but I cannot live without love. I cannot live without someone telling me I love you. Love is my strength. 

SS. In your love poetry there is a fine synthesis of physical, emotional, sensual and spiritual love. Which aspect of love can be called true love according to you?

KD. Every aspect of love is pure and sublime. Nothing is obsolete because love is a fine synthesis of body, heart and soul. Emotions are the foundation of love and desire develops love. Without desire love is incomplete. Desire to be closed to the person whom you love. If there is no desire, youth faints. I cannot think Radha even the old Radha waiting for Krishna without desire. Some people ask me what makes you still beautiful and young and I say it’s my desire to love and to be loved that gives a glow on my face. 

SS. Your love poetry covers a wide range of love that is from typical physical union to the moments of supreme spiritual elevation. How have you filled the gulf of these two extremes?

KD. I didn’t make any plan to organize my poetry but it happened very naturally.

SS. In the poem “In Love” you have defined love by using phrase “A skin Communicated thing”. Is love only a “skin communicated thing”?

KD. It’s much more. Love is communicated by skin. If you touch the man whom you love, suddenly it gives you like an electric shock. Something happens to you and immediately you realize that he is the special person whom you want. If you don’t have skin how will you know that he is the right person? 

SS. In many of your poems you have talked about sex without love. It means sexual relationship can be without love. What is the relevance of sexual relationship without love?

KD.  Unluckily it happens that most of the sexual relationships are without love. That’s why I criticize society. Society sanctions sex only in the form of marriage. After marriage a man can rape a girl and nobody questions. I am very unhappy to see it. For me to produce a child out of sexual relationship is only carnality. Husband and wife hate each other still they utilize each other. They get the child who does not know love and who cannot love. Such a child becomes devil who has only hate and that hate can also produce a kind of lust. If the child is brought out of real love he can never wrong. That’s why I am fighting against arrange marriages because in arrange marriages there is no love but only sex and without love sexual relationship is only a mechanical act of bodily union. 

SS. Can without sex there be love?

KD. Of course it can be a longing but it remains little immature and not fully developed.Sex develops love and the combination of love and sex is the only perfect union.

SS. In your love poems you have never made efforts to idealize the concept of love and presented it as a complement of sexual urges. What is the relative importance of love and sex?

KD. I think there must be closeness in love. Closeness realizes intimacy to lovers. One should go as close to one’s lover as one can. Where there is no physical distance, the mental distance will definitely come to an end.

SS. Your emphasis on the relevance of sex in love has come close to the ideals of Osho’s Do you believe in Osho’s concept from sex to super conscious?

KD. No, because Osho has given too much freedom to people. Freedom to change the partners and it can be the cause of Aids. I don’t think so because for me to get the man whom you love is enough. If we get true love, we don’t need  to go to others and even we cannot think about it. 

SS. What role do emotions and sentiments play in realizing the warmth of true love?

KD. Emotion is the foundation of love. Love cannot manifest itself without emotions. The birth of emotions in the heart of lover is the first step of love. 

SS. Is the marriage ultimate destination of true love or love can be realized outside the domain of marriage?

KD. Marriage is just only to satisfy the people of society. Giving them feast, giving them chance to wear good clothes and spending a lot of money on gold and so many nonsense things are the part of marriage. My marriage had all these things. I was just a child at the time of my marriage. I didn’t know anything about sex.But my marriage was solemnized against my wish. Now I think every girl must find her own man. She must know him, see him whether he is the right person to marry or not. 

SS. In some of your poems you have glorified the image of Radha and Krishna as a symbol of true love. It means true love is beyond the barriers of marriage. What do you think about it?

KD. Who cares marriage? Marriage is a trifle and love is great. Marriage is as small as Mangalsutra but love does not need any Mangalsutra.The highest form of dedication is found only in love. 

SS. In our society caste and religion are the dominating factors. Do you think that love is beyond the barriers of caste, religion and age?

KD. There is no doubt about it. Love doesn’t know any distinction of caste and creed. I have fallen in love with Muslim. I have given up my religion and everything for getting love because love means supreme sacrifice. I am happy to throw away everything because for me love is more precious than anything. 

SS. You have described that your extra marital relationships are the result of your frustrated married life. Is it true?

KD.  I loved my husband like my uncle and my relatives because we had such  a relationship that was imposed on us. I didn’t choose him as my husband. My relationship with other men was the result of my longing to get real love.

SS. Can extra –marital relationships be justified on the grounds of social justice or it can be the right substitute for fulfillment of love?

KD. If a girl does not get real love in conjugal relationship, she can try for it outside marriage. To love and to be loved is the dream of every girl. 

SS. In the poem “The Looking Glass” you have mentioned a controversial phrase “Endless Female Hungers”. What does it suggest?

KD. It suggests that she is not getting the love that she wants. It shows her endless craving for true love.    

SS. You have presented male or female physique in a very frank manner in your poems and there is an excessive frankness in using the words also? What gave you power to speak such a naked truth?

KD. I don’t care for people’s reaction. I write what I think and what I feel. I think truth must be let out. We must free the truth with in us. People always tell me don’t speak like that even if it is truth. Don’t let truth come out if you want to live in society.  But I cannot do it. For me to hide the truth is just like preventing the birth of a child. If you go in a labor room and tell the woman not to deliver the child, let it go again in to the womb. It’s not possible. The womb will displace the child. In the same way I cannot stop myself to speak the truth. I think the truth must emerge so I am like a midwife helping the birth of truth.  

SS. You have applied very negative phrases in describing male physique like “A sun stained cheek” and” Uneven teeth gleam”. Do these phrases indicate your disliking attitude towards entire male kind?

KD. No, if some people really had uneven teeth, I mentioned it. I had found handsome men too. I think beauty is an essential factor and it attracts a female. The male peacock is beautiful and  because of  it’s beauty it manages to attract female peacock. I have mentioned only reality and it does not show my disliking attitude towards them because  for  me love is  more  important  than  beauty. 

SS. In most of  your  pomes  you  have  described  male  as  emotionless  creatures ‘.For example in the poem  “The Sunshine Cat” all the lovers  have said to you “I do not love you. I cannot love. It is not in my nature”. Do you think that all men are like that?

KD. I feel that ninety nine percent males are like that. They attract only towards female physique. They do not love her in a real sense. The expectation of real love from them is an illusion.  

SS. But you have glorified the image of Krishna. In your opinion was Krishna an ideal lover?

KD. No doubt Krishna is a lover of every Hindu girl. Which Hindu girl can escape falling in love with him? But He is also a male and He deserted Radha and never came back to see her. 

SS. What is your concept of an ideal man and what is the ideal relationship of man and woman according to you?

KD. I do not crave for ideal situations because I know that it is not possible. I know that everything is temporary and change is inevitable. I know that things end, we end and I am sure that even the world will be ended. So I don’t think anything eternal and ideal.  

SS. It is said that the male writer is conscious that he is a writer, whereas a female writer is fully conscious that she is essentially a woman Do such statements apply on your creative writings?

KD. Yes , Of course I don’t think of myself as a writer . I think myself as a woman who expresses herself   to the curious readers and sometimes to the curious visitors.

SS. In your poems you have talked about female liberty and female equality and it is very much the foundation of feminism. What do you think about present day feminism?

KD. Some of them really do not have a liberty so they want it. I didn’t join any movement because I am very feminine. I have to be very submissive woman to my man. I enjoy that. I don’t want to overpower him and command him. I like the lower road. I am his slave but I wish to be his darling too. Whenever I am in love, I am totally feminine and at that time there is no feminism in me.  

SS. In your writing you have adopted confessional mode. Is it only a mode of writing or real confession of your experience?

KD. While I write I write only truth and in this way I confess through my writings. I don’t have any need to confess like the Roman Catholics who confess before the altar. I don’t believe in middle man. I listen my inner voice that is the voice of God. If we have faith and secret communication with our Creator, we don’t need to be frightened from neighbors, society and even law. 

SS. Your confessional poetry resembles the poetry of Sylvia Plath. Were you at any stage influenced by her?

KD. Many researches are running on that comparison. Consciously I have not imitated any writer because I don’t want to speak other people’s line.There are many similarities in her and in my life because we both were unhappy women. So it might be the same expression of feelings of two women poets.  

SS. You are a devotee of Krishana and on the other hand you have firm belief in the mercy of Allah. How do you feel having faith in  both of the religions?

KD. Love is my only religion. Love is a nameless religion but it is the strongest religion. I have fallen in love with Muslim and for the sake of my love I have converted into Islam. Religion is a myth and love is truth. I cannot surrender the truth before myth. In spite of being a Muslim, I see Krishna in my after noon dreams and I don’t feel it as sin to dream of Krishana as a Muslim. Krishana is my lover and my lover is Krishna.I feel that love has power to remove all religious differences. 

SS. All men are the children of one God still people fight with one another in the name of caste and religion. What would you like to say about Hindu, Muslim unity in India?

KD. I don’t know why people remain busy in such foolish work like fighting. God never says to kill anyone in the name of caste and religion. People can maintain Hindu-Muslim unity in India by adopting simple methods. If a Hindu girl marry with a Muslim boy and a Muslim girl marry a Hindu boy, all the problems will come to an end itself. 

SS. What message would you like to give the people?

KD. Always follow the path of love.  Love animals, love trees, love the poor, love old people; love children, love everything because love is the only way that leads to God.