Kamala Das is an Indian poet in English well known author in Malayalam from Kerala. She is one of the most prominent feminist voices in the postcolonial era. On account of her extensive contribution to the poetry in our country, she earned the label ‘The Mother of Modern Indian English Poetry’. Some of her notable works in English are the novel Alphabet of Lust (1977), the collection of short stories Padmavati the Harlot and other stories (1992) and a compilation of her poetry Summer in Calcutta (1973).
Ammu, a small girl who talks of a village, which she visits during her summer vacation, is the narrator of the story ‘Summer Vacation’. It is her grandmother’s place. Ammu lost her mother. She is worried if her grandmother, Muthassi who is sixty-eight years old also would die and leave her. The story interweaves the bonding, affinity and affection between Ammu and Muthassi who belong to an upper class and the other mothers and their children who belong to the lower classes.
The various themes in the story are childhood, nostalgia, motherhood, fear of separation from loved ones and caste discrimination. The story opens with a description of a Nyaval tree. The narrator uses adjectives like “emaciated”, “bent” and “shrivelled up branches” to describe the tree, which work as foregrounding devices to show that Muthassi is growing old. The motherless Ammu looks at her ageing grandmother as a figure of her mother. She is worried if her grandmother would also die like her mother. Das thus brings out the fears, anxieties and insecurities in Ammu that come as filters between their close bonding. On the other hand, we see acceptance and matured outlook towards life and death in Muthassi.
Kamala Das draws out the theme of motherhood in different ways. She depicts the pride of the mother of simply owning a child through the words and actions of Bharati. The unruly, insensitive nature of the illiterate women is evident when a woman with greying hair takes pity on Ammu and says, ‘Poor Child! How can she know? Just think of her fate. So very sad” in response to Bharati when she says, “No one loves a child more than its own mother does.” In their house, Muthassi asks Ammu to have her snacks in the kitchen itself. When Ammu asks if she can have her milk with others in the ‘Tekkini’, she bluntly replies, “No, That’s the way I want it done. That’s all”. Thus, Muthassi turns out to be a protective mother who does not want the child to be hurt in anyway.
Another interesting woman character through whom we can see a different way of raising up a child is Nani Amma, a maid who belongs to the lower strata of the society. Das compares the various attitudes of women towards motherhood and gives a detailed account of their mother-daughter relationships. Nani Amma is a woman who pounds rice at homes for her living. She has a five-year old daughter Amini. Class discrimination is seen when Muthassi says that she can’t allow her to come and grind whenever she wants money. Ammu who is of the same age as Amini just observes how Nani Amma caresses her daughter, which she feels she lacks in her own life.
Social hierarchy in terms of economy is evident when Nani Amma says, “We are poor people child and you are rich” in a shaky voice when Ammu accuses her of stealing the tamarind.
When it is time for Ammu to leave the place, she feels even more distanced from her grandmother. Death is a recurring theme in the story. Ammu is worried about death and the fear lingers in her heart about Muthassi. Despite the differences in caste and status, the love of the mother for her child is undying. The theme of motherhood and fear of death of our loved ones are evident from these characters in the story.
Little Girls Wiser Than Men
Leo Tolstoy is a Russian author, a master of realistic fiction and one of the world’s greatest novelists. He is best known for his two longest works, War and Peace and Anna Karenina. Tolstoy is the embodiment of nature and pure vitality, others saw him as the incarnation of the world’s conscience, but for almost all who knew him or read his works, he was not just one of the greatest writers who ever lived but a living symbol of the search for life’s meaning.
In Little Girls Wiser Than Men by Leo Tolstoy we have the theme of connection, friendship, fear, conflict, shame and control. Narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator the reader realises from the beginning of the story that Tolstoy may be exploring the theme of connection. Both Akoulya and Malasha share a connection with each other something that Tolstoy may be highlighting through not only the fact that the girls are playing in the puddle together but also through how both girls are dressed. They are both wearing frocks that they do not wish to get dirty as they know that their mothers will scold them. It is also interesting that Malasha is afraid of how deep the puddle will be. Symbolically this may be important as the unknown depth of the puddle mirrors the unknown depths that Akoulya and Malasha’s parents will go to in order to resolve the dispute that occurs. Despite the incident of Malasha accidentally splashing Akoulya’s frock it would seem that the whole village is in uproar over something that seems to be very minor. This may be important as Tolstoy may be suggesting that at times people can get heated and hostile with others over minor or silly things. Which is very much the case in the story.
It may also be important that Tolstoy never names any of the parents as he could be suggesting that all parents have the ability to react as those in the story do. Regardless of what village, town, city or country they may live in. Parents will protect their own child and react negatively at times. Something that happens when Akoulya’s mother strikes Malasha on the neck. It is Akoulya’s mother’s reaction which escalates the situation and when the matter is not resolved by Akoulya and Malasha’s mothers their fathers intervene. While those in the village look on in amazement. If anything both sets of parents are acting more childish than Akoulya and Malasha. Yet at the time they do not recognise this due to the fact that they are angry over what has happened. Which again the reader must remember has been a minor incident that does not deserve the hostility the issue is being given. The fact that Akoulya’s mother strikes Malasha might also suggest that Akoulya’s mother has gone too far. She is basing her decision to hit Malasha on the fact that Akoulya has told her mother that what Malasha has done was done on purpose. When the reality is it was an accident.
The fact that tempers are heated throughout the story and the fact that the truth of what has happened is lost on everyone might also be important. As Tolstoy may be suggesting that people when angry can forget about the root cause of an argument. Rather than asking Malasha did she deliberately splash Akoulya’s frock everybody beings to argue and fight with one another. Believing one side of the story (Akoulya’s). It is also interesting that the only two people who seems to be practical in the story are Akoulya who cleans her frock and Akoulya’s grandmother by being the voice of reason. Everybody else is lost in an argument that does not need to happen. Nobody has been injured or hurt. All that has happened is that Akoulya’s frock has accidentally being dirtied by the water from the puddle. Throughout the story most of the characters are in conflict with one another and because they have lost control do not understand how minor the incident of the water on Akoulya’s frock is.
The end of the story is also interesting as both Akoulya and Malasha continue to play with each other despite the fact that everyone else is fighting with one another. Not only does this further suggest that both girls have a common bond or connection but it may also serve to highlight that the girls will not let the incident of the splashed water on Akoulya’s frock end their friendship. Despite everything they still remain friends. However the same can not necessarily be said for Akoulya and Malasha’s parents. It is only when Akoulya’s grandmother intervenes that both girls’ parents realise they are in the wrong. A petty argument between two friends has long been forgotten by the girls yet the men in the village very nearly came to blows over the incident. Tolstoy highlighting how quickly a minor incident can escalate into something more serious. It is also through the grandmother’s character that those who were about to physically fight each other realise that there is shame in what they are doing. Not only are they not setting a good example for their children but they are prepared to fight their neighbour. When the reality is that nobody has been hurt and there is no need to fight one another. Both sets of parents would do well to learn from Akoulya and Malasha. Just as they continue to remain as friends despite what has happened. So too should the parents. Rather than being quick to judge as Akoulya’s mother does Tolstoy might be suggesting it would be better for people to step back before they react.