Do you carry the memory of a ‘home’ to which your heart retreats in times of anguish? Do you feel nostalgic at the thought of happy moments in the past?
Kamala Das, the Indian poetess recalls her ancestral home and her dead grandmother in the poem “My Grandmother’s House”. Kamala Das’ poems as well her imagery is extremely personal and drawn from life. This poem takes the form of a confession comparing her present broken state with that of being unconditionally loved by her grandmother.
Published in 1965 in Summer in Calcutta the poem is a reminiscence of the poetess’ grandmother and their ancestral home in Punnayurkulam in Kerala. Her memory of love she received from her grandmother is associated with the image of her ancestral home. With the death of her grandmother the house withdrew into silence. It became desolate and snakes crawled among books. Her blood became cold like the moon because there was none to love her the way she wanted.
Now, in another city, living another life, she longs to go back. She understands that she cannot reclaim the past but she wants to go back home and bring a handful of darkness to keep as a reminder of her past happiness. Now she is like a beggar going from one door to another asking for love in small change. Her need for love and approval is not satisfied in marriage and she goes after strangers for love at least in small quantity.
The poem springs from her own disillusionment with her expectation of unconditional love from the one she loves. In the poem, the image of the ancestral home stands for the strong support and unconditional love she received from her grandmother. The imagery is personal and beautifully articulates her plight in a loveless marriage.