Kamala Das (1934-2009) was born in Malabar, Kerala. She is recognised as one of India’s foremost poets. Her works are known for their originality, versatility and the indigenous flavour of the soil. She has published many novels and short stories. She wrote under the pen name “Madhavi Kutty”.
Summary of the poem
The poet, in this poem describes her mother. She says that she is sixty six years old and looks very weak and old. When the poet was returning from her parent’s home and was on the way to the airport, her mother was accompanying her. She noticed her mother who was sitting with her at the back seat of the car. She was sleeping with her mouth wide open, her face was the colour of ash. It looked lifeless. This very thought disturbed her so much that she diverted her mind and looked outside the car. She saw the trees by the roadside which seemed to be running. There were young children running into the playground. All this symbolised life, energy and happiness in contrast to her mother’s appearance. When she reached the airport, she again looked at her ailing mother who looked old and dull like the weak moon in the winter season. The poet was surrounded by the same fear that she had during her childhood - the fear of losing her mother. She thought that may be this was the last time that she saw her mother alive. Her mother was about to die. But then she tried to come out of the sadness and smiled at her mother. She said that soon she would see her again. The poet wanted to be with her mother again and did not want to lose her.
Question and Answers
Q1. What is the kind of pain and ache that the poet feels?
A1 When the poet sees her ageing mother who is about to die, she felt the pain of losing her. This is similar to the pain which she use to feel if her mother was not near her. She feels that as her mother is growing old and pale, she will die soon and they will get separated. Time and death never spare anyone. Not even the poet’s mother and so, she has to lose her.
Q2. Why are the young trees described as sprinting?
A2. While the poet was on her way to the airport. She saw the trees beside the road which seemed to be running fast as she was travelling in a car. It seemed as if they were sprinting. Here the poet tries to show the difference between her pale and weak mother who looked like a corpse and the trees that were running and were full of life.
Q3. Why has the poet brought in the image of the merry children ‘spilling out of their homes’?
A3. The poet brings in the image of the merry children to show the deep contrast between the joy and happiness of the life which can be seen in the merry children and the passivity of life which can be felt by looking at the ashen face of the old mother who is old and decaying.
Q4. Why has the mother been compared to the ‘late winter’s moon’?
A4. The mother has been compared to the ‘late winter’s moon’ because the moon in the winter season is dim and appears lifeless, it doesn’t look shiny. Similarly, the poet’s mother, due to ageing, has become dull, her colour is similar to that of ash. It looks dull and has lost its youth. She looks like a corpse.
Q5. What do the parting words of the poet and her smile signify?
A5. The poet’s parting words “see you soon, Amma” show the pain and fear of losing her mother. But she smiles and looks at her mother to give her ailing mother assurance that she will meet her soon. Here one can easily see that she is trying to hide her real feelings of pain and fear from her mother and tries to console herself and her mother that they both will be able to see each other again.
Question.1. Read the extract given below and answer the questions that follow. I looked again at her, wan, pale as a late winter’s moon and felt that old familiar ache, my childhood’s fear, but all I said was see you soon, Amma, all I did was smile and smile and smile ……… (Foreign 2014; Modified) (a) What was the poet’s childhood fear? (b) What were the poet’s parting words? (c) What is the poetic device used in these lines? (d) Why did the poet smile and smile? Answer. (a) In her childhood, the poet was insecure about losing her mother, just as all young children often are. (b) The poet’s parting words were, “See you soon, Amma”, which are suggestive of the hope that they will meet again. (c) The poetic device used in these lines is simile, where the mother’s dull and lifeless face is compared to a late winter’s moon. (d) The poet smiled and smiled (meaning that she smiled continuously) because she was trying to hide her real feelings. She feared the fact that she might not see her mother again, which left her almost in tears.
Question.2. Read the extracts given below and answer the questions that follow. ……….but soon put that thought away and looked out at young trees sprinting, the merry children spilling out of their homes…………… (a) What thought did the poet drive away from her mind? (b) What did she see when she looked out of the car? (c) How do you know that the joyful scene didn’t help her drive away the painful thought from her mind? (d) What are the merry children symbolic of? (Compartment 2014; Modified) or (a) Which thought did the poet put away? (b) What do the ‘sprinting trees’ signify? (c) What are “the merry children spilling out of their homes”, symbolic of? (d) Why does the poet make use of the images of ‘young trees sprinting’ and ‘merry children spilling’? (Delhi 2014; Modified) or (a) Who looked out at the young trees? (b) Which thought did she put away? (c) What do young sprinting trees signify? (d) Why are the trees described as sprinting? (Delhi 2008) Answer. (a) The poet drove away the painful thought of the distressing reality that her mother was getting old and she might die anytime. (b) When she looked out of the car, she saw young trees on the roadside, which appeared to be moving. She also saw a group of children, merrily rushing out of their homes to play. (c) As the poet passed through security check at the airport and happened to look at her mother, she was again haunted by the same fear of losing her to death. This shows that the joyful scene earlier didn’t help drive away the painful thought from her mind. (d) The merry children are symbolic of the exuberance of youth. The energetic and lively children present a contrast to the poet’s mother who has grown old and pale. or Answer. (a) The poet put away the thought of the-distressing reality of her mother getting old and of her impending death. (b) The ‘sprinting trees’ signify time that has passed at a fast pace. (c) The merry children epitomise bubbly youth. They represent the exuberance and liveliness of young age. (d) The poet makes use of these images to emphasise the contrast between old age and youth. or Answer. (a) The poet Kamala Das looked out at young trees. (b) Seeing her aged mother, she felt insecure about the fact that she might be separated from her mother. The poet was also feeling guilty for neglecting her. She wondered if she would see her mother alive next time. However, she soon put these thoughts away. (c) The young sprinting trees symbolise happiness, strength and vigour which are the characteristics of youth in contrast to the dullness of old age. (d) As the poet looked outside the window of her moving car, the trees appeared to be moving fast in the opposite direction. So, they are described as sprinting.
Question.3. Read the extract given below and answer the questions that follow. Driving from my parent’s home to Cochin last Friday morning, I saw my mother, beside me doze, open mouthed, her face ashen like that ‘ of a corpse and realised with pain . that she was as old as she looked … (a) Where was the poet driving to? (b) Why was her mother’s face looking like that of a corpse? (c) What did the poet notice about her mother? (d) Why was the realisation painful? (All India 2013; Modified) Answer. (a) The poet was driving to Cochin airport from her parent’s home.
(b) Her mother’s face had lost all its glow and colour. It was nearly lifeless. That is why it was looking like a corpse’s face. (c) The poet noticed that her mother was sleeping with her mouth open. Her face looked like that of a corpse. She suddenly realised that her mother had become very old. (d) The realisation that her mother had grown very old was painful because it brought with it the distressing thought that she was also nearing her death, whose cruel hands would separate the poet from her mother.
Question.4. Read the extract given below and answer the questions that follow. …….and looked but soon put that thought away and looked out at young trees sprinting, the merry children spilling out of their homes,……….. (a) Name the poem and the poet. (b) What did the poet realise? How did she feel? (c) What did she do then? (d) What did she notice in the world outside? Answer. (a) The name of the poem is ‘My Mother at Sixty-Six’ and the poet is Kamala Das. (b) The poet realised that her mother was getting old and was nearing her impending death. She felt afraid of losing her mother, the same fear which she used to face in her childhood. (c) The poet at once turned her face away from the harsh reality and looked out of the window to divert her mind. (d) The poet.saw green trees sprinting by. She also saw a group of children who were exuberant, enthusiastic and were merrily coming out of their houses.
Question.5. Read the extract given below and answer the questions that follow. …………….and felt that old familiar ache, my childhood’s fear, but all I said was, see you soon, Amma, all I did was smile and smile and smile (a) What was the childhood fear that now troubled the poet? (b) What do the poet’s parting words suggest? (c) Why did the poet smile and smile? (d) Explain, “that old familiar ache.” (Delhi 2009; Modified) Answer. (a) As a child the poet was insecure about losing her mother and the same fear has come again now when her mother has grown old. (b) The poet, while parting, smiled and said to her mother that she would see her soon. This expression of her suggests that though she was aware that her mother was quite old and weak, yet she could not do anything about it. She could not even communicate her true feelings to her mother. (c) The poet smiled and smiled only because she wanted to hide her fears from her mother. She was reassuring herself and also her mother that they would meet again. (d) “That old familiar ache” refers to the agony and pain of separation from her mother that the poet felt in her childhood, as she feared that she might iose her mother.
Short Answer Type Questions (3 Marks, 30-40 Words)
Question.1. How does Kamala Das try to put away the thoughts of her ageing mother? (Delhi 2014; Modified) Answer. Kamala Das finds the thoughts of her ageing mother very painful and disturbing. It is hard for her to accept the fact of her mother growing old, as it brings back to her mind her childhood fear of losing her mother. She makes a deliberate effort to drive or put away such thoughts by looking out of the moving car, at the trees ‘sprinting’ and the joyful young children rushing out of their homes.
Question.2. What was the poet’s childhood fear? (All India 2014) or What were Kamala Das, fears as a child? Why do they surface when she is going to the airport? (All India 2011) Answer. As a child Kamala Das was insecure about losing her mother just as all young children often are. The same feelings are evoked inside her while she is on the way to the airport, as she sees her mother’s pale face, which is a sign of her old age and impending death.
Question.3. What do the parting words of Kamala Das and her smile signify? (Compartment 2014) or What do the parting words of the poet and her smile signify? (All India 2010) Answer. The poet’s parting words and her smile are a facade to hide her feelings of insecurity. The pale and senile appearance of her mother brings back her childhood fear of losing her mother. She can definitely experience the pangs of separation, yet she bids her farewell in a pleasant manner. She reassures her mother that all will be well and they would meet again.
Question.4. Why has the poet’s mother been compared to the “late winter’s moon”? (Delhi 2013) or Why has Kamala Das compared her mother to a “late winter’s moon”? (Foreign 2011) Answer. The poet has used this simile as ‘the late winter’s moon’ looks too hazy and lacks brightness and lustre. Similarly, the mother, who is now sixty-six, is pale and has a shrunken and ashen face. She is devoid of the effervescence and exhilaration of youth.
Question.5. Why are the young trees described as ‘sprinting’? (Delhi 2012,2010) Answer. The poet is travelling in a speeding car and the roadside trees seem speeding past or sprinting in the opposite direction. The poet has contrasted the ‘young trees’ which are moving fast to her mother, who is old and slow.
Question.6. What were the poet’s feelings at the airport? How did she hide them? (All India 2012) Answer. The poet was torn apart by the feeling whether she would see her mother alive the next time or not. She hid her feelings by smiling reassuringly at her mother.
Question.7. What do the parting words of the poet Kamala Das to her mother signify? (All India 2012,2009,2008) Answer. The parting words of Kamala Das to her mother signify her anxiety and fear about her mother’s frail health. They also express the hope that her mother would survive till they meet again. .
Question.8. Why has the poet brought in the image of the merry children spilling out of their homes? (Foreign 2008) Answer. The young children spilling out of their homes represent the exuberance and vigour of youth. They are in complete contrast to the poet’s mother. Perhaps the poet has used the image to bring out the pangs of old age.