Class XII: Poetry- My Mother at Sixty Six

My Mother at Sixty-six

By Kamala Das

About the poet

Kamala Das was born in Punnayurkulam, Thrissur District in Kerala, on March 31, 1934, to V. M. Nair, a former managing editor of the widely-circulated Malayalam daily Mathrubhumi, and Nalappatt Balamani Amma, a renowned Malayali poetess.

She spent her childhood between Calcutta, where her father was employed as a senior officer in the Walford Transport Company that sold Bentley and Rolls Royce.

Like her mother, Kamala Das also excelled in writing. Her love of poetry began at an early age through the influence of her great uncle, Nalappatt Narayana Menon, a prominent writer.

At the age of 15, she got married to bank officer Madhava Das, who encouraged her writing interests, and she started writing and publishing both in English and in Malayalam.

She was born in a conservative Hindu Nair (Nallappattu) family having royal ancestry, after being asked by her lover Sadiq Ali, an Islamic scholar and a Muslim League MP, she embraced Islam in 1999 at the age of 65 and assumed the name Kamala Surayya. After converting, she wrote:

“Life has changed for me since Nov. 14 when a young man named Sadiq Ali walked in to meet me. He is 38 and has a beautiful smile. Afterwards he began to woo me on the phone from Abu Dhabi and Dubai, reciting Urdu couplets and telling me of what he would do to me after our marriage. I took my nurse Mini and went to his place in my car. I stayed with him for three days. There was a sunlit river, some trees, and a lot of laughter. He asked me to become a Muslim which I did on my return home.”

Her conversion was rather controversial, among social and literary circles. Later, she felt it was not worth it to change one’s religion and said “I fell in love with a Muslim after my husband’s death. He was kind and generous in the beginning. But I now feel one shouldn’t change one’s religion. It is not worth it.”

Kamala Das had three sons – M D Nalapat, Chinnen Das and Jayasurya Das. Madhav Das Nalapat, the eldest, is married to Princess Lakshmi Bayi (daughter of M.R.Ry. Sri Chembrol Raja Raja Varma Avargal) from the Travancore Royal House. He holds the UNESCO Peace Chair and Professor of geopolitics at the Manipal Academy of Higher Education. He was formerly a resident editor of the Times of India.

On 31 May 2009, aged 75, she died at a hospital in Pune. Her body was flown to her home state of Kerala. She was buried at the Palayam Juma Masjid at Thiruvanathapuram with full state honour.

Poem: My Mother at Sixty-six

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 thought away, and looked but soon
Put that thought away, and 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
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…

Central Idea

Aging is an important phase of human life. A person enters his childhood, experiences youth when he is full of energy and dreams to have luxury of life. Finally, he approaches his old age and encounters death. Relationship between people becomes stronger at every aspect of life and they can’t bear separation due to aging.

In this poem, the poet relates a personal experience. She brings out a common paradox of human relationships and portrays a sensational separation of a mother and a daughter. She has been able to capture almost all the emotions which a daughter is filled with, on bidding farewell to her beloved mother. Sometimes we do feel deep sympathy for someone but we fail to express it in a proper manner.

Summary

One last Friday morning, the poetess was driving from her parents’ home to the Cochin airport. Her mother was sitting beside her in the car. She suddenly had a look at her mother. She found that her mother was dozing with her open mouth. Her face was as pale as that of a corpse. The poet painfully realized that her mother is not going to live long. This painful thought haunted her. But soon she tried to put it off by looking out of the car window. She saw the young trees running past them. She looked at the merry children coming out of their homes. As she saw life and vitality in the outside world, the painful thought passed away from her mind.

After reaching the airport, she went through the security check. Her mother was standing outside a few yards away. After the security check, she looked at her mother again. Her face was pale white like a late winter’s moon. She felt the old familiar ache of childhood in her heart which is usually felt by a child due to the fear of separation from his/ her mother. But she contained herself and kept on smiling in order to conceal her emotions. She spoke no word to her mother. All that she said was, “See you soon, Amma” and bade good bye to her mother with a hope to see her again.

Main points

1. Poetess travelling to Cochin airport with her mother in a car.

2. Looks at the wan, pale face of her dozing mother.

3. Old fear of loosing her mother returns.

4. Sprinting trees and merry children provide the contrast and relief.

5. After the security check the old familiar ache returns.

6. Tries to hide her emotions by smiling.

7. Bids good bye to her mother with a hope to see her again.

Questions for Comprehension
 
Q1. Where was the poet driving to? Who was sitting beside her?
 
Ans. The poet was driving to Cochin. The poet’s mother was sitting beside her.

Q2.  What did the poet notice about the mother?
 
Ans. She noticed that her mother was weak, pale and unconscious like a dead body.

Q3. How does the poet describe her mother in the poem?
 
Ans. The poet describes her mother as an old lady who has become pale, weak and worn out. She often dozes and remains unconscious about herself like a dead body.

Q4. Why does the poet look outside? What activities does the poet see outside the car window?
 
Ans. The poet feels very sad thinking that her mother is nearing death. This painfum thought makes her worried and anxious. So in order to divert her attention from her mother, she looks outside.The poet sees young trees running past them. She also sees little children coming out of their homes in a merry mood. She sees life and vitality in the outside world.

Q5. Why are the young trees described as ‘sprinting’?
 
Ans. The young trees are described as sprinting’ as the movement of the racing car makes the trees appear as if they are running along.

Q6. Why is the mother compared to the late winter’s moon?
 
Ans. The mother is compared to the late winter’s moon because like the moon of winter season, the poet’s mother also looks pale, dull and grayish.

Q6. What childhood fears do you think, the poet is referring to in the poem?
 
Ans. The poet feels uneasy and unprotected with the thought of losing her mother. She does not expect to see her mother again on her return. So she shows a childish unwillingness to leave her mother.

Q7. Why has the poet brought in the image of the merry children ‘spilling out of their homes’?
 
Ans. The poet, Kamala Das, has used the image of merry children spilling out of their homes to bring a contrast between the old age and childhood. Her mother’s pale, colourless face stands for old and fading age. Merry children symbolise the spring of life, vigour and happiness. They also symbolize spontaneity of life in contrast to the passive and inactive life of her aged mother.

Q8. What does Kamala Das do after the security check up? What does she notice?
 
Ans. After the security check up, the poet stands a few yards away from her mother and gazes at her mother. She notices the declining age and finds her pale and worn out than ever before.

Q9. The poet compares her mother to many things. Pick out two similes which reinforce this comparison.
 
Ans. The two similes are: “Her face ashen like that of a corpse.”
“I looked again at her wan, pale as a late winter’s moon”

Q10. What image does the poet use to describe death in the poem?

Ans. The poet uses the image “corpse” to describe death in the poem.

Q11. Cite an example of one device of contrast that the poet uses in the poem.

Ans. The device of contrast that the poet uses in the poem is old age of her mother and the young trees and children playing merrily. The poet compares youth, energy, vitality and jubilance of childhood.

Q12. What do the parting words of the poet and her smile signify?
 
Ans. The poets parting words, ‘see you soon, Amma’ are expressive of the dilemma and confusion in her mind. They not only hide her anxiety and fear about her mother’s rather frail health but reflect also a faint hope that the old woman would survive long enough for the two to meet again.

Q13. Why did the poet say “see you soon Amma”? What does the poet actually mean by „smile and smile and smile….‟? What kind of smile is it?
 
Ans. The poet said, “See you soon Amma” in order to give her mother moral support and encouragement. She said so to give her mother hope that she would see her again. By “smile and smile and smile…” she means to make herself and her mother hopeful to see each other again. It is actually a painful smile. The poet tries to conceal the swelling emotions by smiling. By using this poetic device of repetition, the poet has made the poetic language rich by depicting many hidden emotions through “smile”.

Q14. Discuss mother- daughter relationship as described in the poem.
 
Ans. Mother- daughter relationship as described in the poem is very sensitive and full of love, care and emotions. Mother has a deep emotional link to her children and does not want them to be away. In particular, when the mother reaches her old age, she becomes more concerned and worried about her children. Daughter also tends to bear a specific kind of emotional link to her mother. She tries to remain close to her mother and feels very bad and worried when separated from her. In this poem, the mother does not want her daughter to leave her; similarly the daughter gives a mysterious and indefinable smile which is to show unwillingness and anxiety of leaving her mother.

Q15. “My Mother at sixty six” is an emotional account of the poet about her old mother. Discuss.
 
Ans. “My Mother at sixty six” is an emotional account of the poet about her old mother. She feels very sad and depressed on seeing her pale, weak and worn out. She tries her best to divert her thought but remains unsuccessful and this thought haunts her mind every now and then. Till the end of the poem, she feels very sad and disappointed about the declining age of her mother. She is unable to express her fears and emotions to her mother with the thought of disheartening her. She bids goodbye to her mother by just smiling in order to hide her hurt feelings and encourage her mother.

Important Extracts

Read the following extracts 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 …….

Questions:
 
Q1. Who looked wan and pale? Why?
Ans. The poet’s mother looked wan and pale due to her old age.

Q2. What is the comparison in the stanza?
Ans. The mother’s wan and pale face has been compared to the late winter’s moon.

Q3. What is her childhood’s fear?
Ans. It is the fear of ageing and approaching death of her mother.

Q4. Which figure of speech is used in the second line?
Ans. Simile – as a late winter’s moon.

Q5. How does she comfort/ console her mother? 
Ans. She smiled and promised to see her mother soon.

Q6. What is the significance of the parting words?
Ans. These words signify hope and expectation to see her again.

Q7. What kind of pain/ ache does the poetess feel?
Ans. She feels pain on seeing wan and pale face of her mother. It appears she will not live long.

Read the following extracts and answer the questions that follow:

………..I saw my mother, beside me,
Doze, open mouthed, her face ashen like that
Of a corpse and realised with pain
That she thought away, and looked but soon
Put that thought away, and looked out at young
Trees sprinting, the merry children spilling
Out of their homes, ………………

Q1. Where was the poet driving to? Who was sitting beside her?
 
Ans. The poet was driving from her parent’s home to the Cochin airport. Her mother was sitting beside her.

Q2. What did the mother look like?
 
Ans. Her old mother look sick, drowsy and lifeless like a dead body.

Q3. What thought did she put away?
 
Ans. She put away her fear that she would not live long.

Q4. What do the sprinting trees signify?
 
Ans. The “sprinting tress” signify the vitality of youth.

Q5. What are “the merry children spilling out of their homes” symbolic of?
 
Ans. The “merry children spilling out of their homes” are symbolic of carefree childhood when all time is playtime.

6 thoughts on “Class XII: Poetry- My Mother at Sixty Six

  • November 23, 2016 at 9:00 pm
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    This was very helpful for my exam preparations! Thank you so much!! 🙂

    Reply
  • December 5, 2016 at 4:01 pm
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    THIS POEM IS VERY EMOTIONAL AND HEART TOUCHING. NOW I AM GRADUATED WHEN I AM FREE, I MUST READ POEM AGAIN.

    Reply
  • December 18, 2016 at 1:24 pm
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    I have avoided reading this poem because of it’s massive emotional impact on me. Can’t control my emotions.

    Reply
  • April 10, 2017 at 11:50 am
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    thankyou so much it works!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! for my unit test!!

    Reply
  • April 16, 2017 at 2:52 pm
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    Nice notes and very helpful

    Reply
  • April 16, 2017 at 4:56 pm
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    Beyond emotions it express the unbreakable relationship between mother and daughter.

    Reply

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