Kamala Das’s My Grandmother’s House summary- An easy explanation

My Grandmother’s House poem in 1 sentence

Kamala Das’s My Grandmother’s House is one of Das’s poignant poems in which Das recalls her childhood memories of her grandmother’s house.

My Grandmother’s House poem |Summary | Analysis

          The poem “My Grandmother’s House” begins with the poet reminiscing about her grandmother’s house; the poet becomes nostalgic about the good old days at her grandmother’s house which drifted her away from her present state of gloomy state to her happy days.

In confessional poems, the poet and the speaker are the same and interchangeable, so the “I” in “My Grandmother’s House” is directly referred to Kamala Das. The autobiographical note is mentioned in the very beginning of the poem. She was brought up in Kerala, amidst the affection of matrilineal society. She was deracinated when she moved to Kolkata with her salesman father. The feeling of uprooted can be felt throughout the poem.

          The use of ellipsis in My Grandmother’s House after the word ‘love’ and ‘loved’ in the poem. “There is a house now far away where once/ I received love……. That woman died” and “Can you, that I lived in such a house and/ Was proud, and loved….” shows her tireless pursuit of love in her life. Unfortunately, she experienced that unconditional love only with her grandmother.

My Grandmother’s House
My Grandmother’s House – Kamala Das

Her grandmother’s house is now away from her present living house. Her grandmother’s house is in Malabar. The house in “My Grandmother’s House” represents the security and abundance of love. Her grandmother was so sweet woman that the poet received immense love and caring.

          After her marriage, she laments that she lives far away from her grandmother’s house. Though she is physically disconnected from her grandmother’s house, she is emotionally always connected with that house. Now, most of the time she is reminded by her sweet memories of her grandmother.

          The poet Kamala Das mourns the death of her grandmother. After the death of grandmother the house “withdrew into silence”. Time stopped in the grandmother’s house since she was the life of the house.

Grandmother’s households only the ashes of memories and there reigns only pin-drop silence. Snakes moved among books in the house. This image of “snakes moving among books” conveys the atmosphere of the house as something quite disgusting.

          In her grandmother’s house, there were books which the poet could not read as she was then young to read them. But now by reminiscing about her grandmother’s house turned her blood cold “like the moon”.

          Moreover, the poet says

How often I think of going
There, to peer through blind eyes of windows or
Just listen to the frozen air,
Or in wild despair, pick an armful of
Darkness to bring it here to lie
Behind my bedroom door like a brooding
Dog…

My Grandmother’s House

The sense of longing is suggested by the line “How Often I think of going/there”. The poet often desperately thinks of visiting her grandmother’s house and wants to peer through the “blind eyes of windows” or listen to the “the frozen air”.

The imagery of “blind eyes of windows” could imply that the windows have not been cleaned for long since no one is living in the grandmother’s house and “the frozen air” could mean blocked air caused by the immobility in the airtight room. Both these images suggest the sense of death in the house caused by the demise of her grandmother.

          She also says that in wild desperation she wants to pick an armful of darkness from her grandmother’s house to her house and lie behind her bedroom door like a brooding dog.

Here she uses the figure of speech, that is, simile. Just like a brooding dog can see in darkness with ease, she understands and feels ease with the darkness of her grandmother’s house. She can easily get lost in the fond memories that she shared with her grandmother. This shows her solace and peace that she found in her grandmother’s house now lack in her present house.

          Towards the end of the poem, she addresses possibly to her husband as “darling” and asks him if he could believe that she had lived in such a house where she received immense love and happiness. Though it sounds fantasy nevertheless she is proud of her past, unlike her present.

Sadly the poet says, “I who have lost/ My way and beg now at strangers’ doors to/ Receive love, at least in small change?” The woman from whom she received love died and she lost her source of love. Therefore in her pursuit of love, she knocks at various doors and compels her to pursue a clandestine relationship at least in small change.

          The poet compares her present life with her childhood days. We can employ psychology here to understand the poem. Whenever human feels depressed and the mind of that person tries to divert the attention from the present scenario to happy things. It could be beautiful days of past or beautiful things happening at the present.

At a young age, Kamala Das was married and unfortunately, her marriage turned into a horrible nightmare. In her autobiography My Story Kamala Das reveals that the anguished persona of her poetry is evidently derived from a traumatic frustration in love, and marriage, finally urges her to “run from one/ Gossamer love to another,’ sadly realizing that “Love became a swivel-door/When one went out, another came in.’” (Naik 219)

          Therefore in her case, it is old beautiful days of past which she wants to keep remembering to conceal her harsh reality. This manifests that she is not happy with her present and that’s why she becomes nostalgic about old memories of her grandmother.  

Structure of the poem

The poem “My Grandmother’s House” has 16 lines, and follows no definite pattern of rhyme. The tone of the poem is melancholic. The moods of melancholy and nostalgia dominate the overall atmosphere of the poem.

Have you read- Kamala Das’s An Introduction

Conclusion

          The poem “My Grandmother’s House” ends with a note of autobiographical element as she frankly confesses her extra-marital relationship. Love becomes an avenue of escape for her. The hopelessness and dryness in her relationship made her a beggar of love who engages in a relationship with strangers’ to get the vitality of her life back. This is a clear suggestion that she was not content with her marriage.

          Das’s autobiographical poems are a new trend in Indian poetry in English. As an autobiographical poet, she writes about her life; her childhood in Kerela, her joys and sorrows, an honest expression of her experience is charged with intense emotions. “My Grandmother’s House” is an example of the above statement.

FAQ | My Grandmother’s House Poem

About Kamala Das.

Kamala Das hails from Kerala, India. Kamala Das is primarily known for her autobiographical and confessional poetry. Confessional poetry is a type of poetry in which the poet deals with the facts and intimate mental and physical experiences of life. Kamala Das has published three books of verse in English Summer in Calcutta (1965), The Descendants (1967), and The Old Playhouse and Other Poems (1973). The poem “My Grandmother’s House” first appeared in an anthology of verse titled Summer in Calcutta, a breakthrough in Indian poetry.

Why is My Grandmother’s House a confessional poem?

The instances of confession make it a confession poem. The poet’s confession of her extra-marital relationship makes the My Grandmother’s House a confessional poem. We have already discussed about it above.

What is the theme of My Grandmother’s House?

The theme of the poem My Grandmother’s House is an longing for the past, poet’s happy days. My Grandmother’s House is an expression of the poetess’ longing for the grandmother’s house where she used to find bliss. The central idea of the poem my grandmother’s house is longing for love and failure to achieve love runs throughout the poem.

Works cited

  1. Brozak, Jennifer, “Characteristics of Confessional Poetry.” Pen and the Pad, 25 April, 2020, https://penandthepad.com/characteristics-confessional-poetry-20492.html.
  2. Das, Kamala. “My Grandmother’s House”. https://www.poemhunter.com/poem/my-grandmother-s-house/
  3. Mahanta, Pona, et al., editors. Poems Old and New. Macmillan, 2011.
  4. Naik, M.K. A History of Indian English Liteature. Sahitya Akademi, 2012.
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2 Comments

  1. i don’t think the poem is a confession of her extra marital affairs. that would be too literal an interpretation. it feels more like she is craving love, in the most general of senses, love as in affectionate attention and appreciation from unknown strangers because those who unconditionally loved her, especially her grandmother, are no more. love is used in a more general sense, rather than a sexual or even a romantic one. that also makes it a confessional poem, because she confesses to her yearning for love.

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