Poem 1 My Mother At Sixty Six

by- Kamala Das

 

About the Author

 

Kamala Das (1934—2009) is one of the most unconventional, free-spirited, and non-conformist poets of Kerala. In India’s literary sky, she dazzles like a bright star inspiring fearlessness and defiance among young writers who venture to write on atypical ideas.
She wrote short stories and poems both in Malayalam and English. For some time she wrote as a columnist on diverse topics, but her main focus was the suffering of women, childcare woes, and the burden of orthodoxy which made her a rebel.
For her defiant, non-conformist writing, she invited derision and wrath from the feudalistic Brahmin class, but the diatribes made her more defiant. In frankness, and fearlessness, there is no Indian writer of equal stature.
This poem ‘My mother at sixty six is one of her best short poems that exudes empathy and love..

​Introduction

In the poem "My Mother at Sixty-Six," the Indian poet Kamla Das expresses her love towards her mother. She describes her love attachment for her mother who is aging day by day. She realized that her mother has turned pale and old. The realization of losing her other one day started to hurt the poet but she was not able to express her feelings to her. When she went inside the airport she greeted her goodbye and smiled at her continuously so as to hide her feeling of losing her mother one day. The smile is also a positive feeling which the poet wants to express at the end of the poem. She wants to say goodbye to her mother with a smile so that they can meet again in the future. The poet uses the imagery of a "corpse" to signify the aging of her mother. The line which denotes the aging of the mother in the poem is:

"her face ashen like that of a corpse"

The poet compared the scene inside the car with the activities going on outside in the poem "My Mother at Sixty-six." The poet analyzes her mother's aging and growing old and then when she looks outside she sees the young trees. These trees looked very happy and fresh and the moving car was leaving them behind. This highlights the issue that youth and age have to decline someday.

 

Theme

My Mother at sixty six is a poem by Kamala Das is based on the theme of universal truth of advancing age, emotions and the fear of loss and separation. The poet is feeling guilty of not being able to stay with her mother in her old age. The poet uses simile and contrast as the poetic devic to express her feeling towards her mother.

 

Summary & Explanation

My Mother at Sixty Six by Kamala Das is a moving poem. In this she laments her mother’s ageing and feels extremely sad at the time her separation from her ageing mother at the airport. In the car, she notices that her mother had grown terribly old and that the two would not probably meet again. She compares her mother with a late winter’s moon. She pretends to be happy to make her mother happy and departs with a heavy heart.

In this poem, Kamala Das presents a daughter’s anguish (pain) as she is leaving her ageing mother behind her for a while. She is going to board a flight and is not sure about her timely return in case something happened to her mother.

 

Lines 1 – 4:

Driving from my parent’s

home to Cochin last Friday

morning, I saw my mother,

beside me,

 

In these lines, the poet recalls a trip back to Cochin from her holiday in her parents’ house the previous week. It was a Friday, and that morning, she was driving with her mother next to her on the front seat.

 

Lines 5 – 10:

 

doze, open mouthed, her face

ashen like that

of a corpse and realised with pain

that she was as old as she

looked but soon

put that thought away, and

 

In these lines, the poet says that she was observing her mother who had fallen asleep on the front seat with her mouth slightly open. Her mother’s face was pale, and it reminded her of the nearly white faces of dead bodies. It is then that she comes to realize that her mother was not young any longer, and that her appearance had caught up with her age. This was very hard for the poet to accept, and so she was determined to focus her attention on something else.

 

Lines 11 – 15:

 

looked out at Young

Trees 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, pale

 

In these lines, the poet says that she turned away from her aging mother and decided to look outside the windows of the car in which she was driving. Outside, her eyes fell on the trees that the vehicle was passing by. The car was moving so fast that by way of relative motion, it seemed to the poet that all the trees she could see were also running at full speed past her. It seemed that those trees must have been quite youthful if they had the energy to move at such a fast pace. The poet’s eyes also feel on the children who were coming out of their houses, brimming over with their excitement to get outside. The poet passed all these sights and reached the airport. Till then, her mind was distracted by the sights. However, after the security check, she was standing a short distance away from her mother and again she chanced to notice the old woman. Just as before, her mother appeared very pale and insipid.

 

Lines 16 – 20:

 

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……

 

In these lines, the poet compares her mother’s face with the sight of the moon on a night towards the end of winter. This made her recall the thing she had been most afraid of during her childhood – the fear that her mother would die one day. This was a fear that had plagued her many times before, and it was plaguing her again now. However, she did not let that fear show itself on her face. Instead she put up a brave face and waved goodbye to her mother. She assured her mother that they would be seeing each other again soon, and all the while, even though she was in great agony, the smile never left her face.

 

  Question and Answer

Extract Based Questions (4 Marks)

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 ………


(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.

 

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……………


Set 1 :

(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? 

Set 2 :


(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)

 

Set 3 :


(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? 


Set 1

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.


Set 2
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.


Set 3
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.

 

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?


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.

 

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.

 

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.” 


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)

 

1. How does Kamala Das try to put away the thoughts of her ageing mother? 
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.

2. What was the poet’s childhood fear?
or
What were Kamala Das, fears as a child? Why do they surface when she is going to the airport? 

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.

3. What do the parting words of Kamala Das and her smile signify? 
or
What do the parting words of the poet and her smile signify? 

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.

4. Why has the poet’s mother been compared to the “late winter’s moon”? 
or
Why has Kamala Das compared her mother to a “late winter’s moon”? 

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.

5. Why are the young trees described as ‘sprinting’? 
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.

6. What were the poet’s feelings at the airport? How did she hide them? 
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.

7. What do the parting words of the poet Kamala Das to her mother signify? 
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. .

8. Why has the poet brought in the image of the merry children spilling out of their homes? 
Answer. The young children spilling out of their homes represent the 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.

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