My Grandmother’s House – Commonwealth Literature

My Grandmother’s House

There is a house now far away where once
I received love……. That woman died,
The house withdrew into silence, snakes moved
Among books, I was then too young
To read, and my blood turned cold like the moon
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…you cannot believe, darling,
Can you, that I lived in such a house and
Was proud, and loved…. I who have lost
My way and beg now at strangers’ doors to
Receive love, at least in small change?

Author Kamala Dass

Summary & Analysis

“My Grandmother‟s House” is a constituent poem of Kamala Das‟s maiden publication Summer
in Calcutta. Though short, the poem wraps within itself an intriguing sense of nostalgia and
up rootedness. In her eternal quest for love in such a „loveless‟ world, the poet remembers her
grandmother which surfaces some emotions long forgotten and buried within her– an ironical
expression of her past which is a tragic contrast to her present situation. It is a forcefully moving
poem fraught with nostalgia and anguish.

The poet says that there is a house, her grandmother‟s home, far away from where she currently
resides, where she “received love”. Her grandmother‟s home was a place she felt secure and was
loved by all. After the death of her grandmother, the poet says that even the House was filled
with grief, and accepted the seclusion with resignation. Only dead silence haunted over the
House, feeling of desolation wandering throughout. She recollects though she couldn‟t read
books at that time, yet she had a feeling of snakes moving among them– a feeling of deadness,
horror and repulsion, and this feeling made her blood go cold and turn her face pale like the
moon. She often thinks of going back to that Old House, just to peek through the “blind eyes of
the windows” which have been dead-shut for years, or just to listen to the “frozen” air.

The poet also shows the ironical contrast between her past and present and says that her present
has been so tormenting that even the Darkness of the House that is bathed in Death does not
horrify her anymore and it is a rather comforting companion for her in the present state of trials.
The poets says that she would gladly (“in wild despair”) pick up a handful of Darkness from the
House and bring it back to her home to “lie behind my bedroom door” so that the memories of
the Old House and its comforting darkness, a rather ironical expression, might fill assurance and
happiness in her present life.

She wraps up the poem saying that it is hard for one to believe that she once lived in such a
house and was so loved by all and lived her life with pride. That her world was once filled with
happiness is a sharp contrast to her present situation where she is completely devoid of love and
pride. She says that in her desperate quest for love, she has lost her way; since she didn‟t receive
any feelings of love from the people whom she called her own, she now has to knock “at
strangers’ doors” and beg them for love, if not in substantial amounts, then atleast in small
change i.e. in little measure atleast.

The poet has intensified the emotions of nostalgia and anguish by presenting a contrast between
her childhood and her grown-up stages. The fullness of the distant and absence and the emptiness
of the near and the present give the poem its poignancy. The images of “snakes moving among
books”, blood turning “cold like the moon”, “blind eyes of window”, “frozen air”‟ evoke a sense
of death and despair. The house itself becomes a symbol – an Ednic world, a cradle of love and
joy. The escape, the poetic retreat, is in fact, the poet‟s own manner of suggesting the
hopelessness of her present situation. Her yearning for the house is a symbolic retreat to a world
of innocence, purity and simplicity

My Grandmother’s House” – Kamala Das – Critical Summary

Kamala Das is one of the three most significant Indian poets writing in English today, the other
two being Nissim Ezekiel and Ramanujan. Her poetry is all about herself, about her intensely felt
desire for love, for emotional involvement, and her failure to achieve such a relationship. In this
poem, “My Grandmother‟s House” Kamala Das, recalls her ancestral home and her dead
grandmother. This poem takes the form of a confession comparing her present broken state with
that of being unconditionally loved by her grandmother.

Themes in the Poetry of Kamala Das:

The poetry of Kamala Das is a search for the essential woman, and hence the woman persona of
her poems plays the various roles of unhappy woman, unhappy wife, mistress to lusty men,
reluctant nymphomaniac, silent Devdasi and love-lorn Radha. Kamala Das has also been called a
poet in the confessional mode. The confessional poets deal with emotional experiences which are
generally taboo. There is a ruthless self-analysis and a tone of utter sincerity. As
E.V.Ramakrishnan rightly says, “In her poetry, Kamala has always dealt with private
humiliations and sufferings which are the stock themes of confessional poetry.”

Reminiscent of the Poet’s Ancestral Home:

The poem is a reminiscence of the poetess‟ grandmother and their ancestral home at Malabar in
Kerala. Her memory of love she received from her grandmother is associated with the image of
her ancestral home, where she had passed some of the happiest days of her life, and where her
old grandmother had showered her love and affection. With the death of her grandmother the
house withdrew into silence. When her grandmother died, even the house seemed to share her
grief, which is poignantly expressed in the phrase “the House withdrew”. The house soon
became desolate and snakes crawled among books. Her blood became cold like the moon
because there was none to love her the way she wanted.

Yearning for the Past: Choked with Grief:

The poet now lives in another city, a long distance away from her grandmother‟s house. But the
memories of her ancestral house make her sad. She is almost heart-broken. The intensity of her
emotions is shown by the ellipses in the form of a few dots. Now, in another city, living another
life, she longs to go back. She understands that she cannot reclaim the past but she wants to go
back home, look once again through its windows and bring back a handful of darkness – sad and
painful memories, which she would have made her constant companion, to keep as a reminder of
her past happiness. The poet is unable to proceed with her thoughts for sometime as is indicated
by the ellipses (dots).

The poet is now choked with the intensity of grief. She yearns for love like a beggar going from
one door to another asking for love in small change. Her need for love and approval is not
satisfied in marriage and she goes after strangers for love at least in small quantity. But she does
not get it even in small change or coins. Her love-hunger remains unsatisfied, and there is a big
void, a blank within her, she seeks to fill up with love but to no avail. The image of the window
is a link between the past and the present. It signifies the desire of the poet for a nostalgic peep
into her past and resurrect her dreams and desires.

The poem springs from her own disillusionment with her expectation of unconditional love from
the one she loves. In the poem, the image of the ancestral home stands for the strong support and
unconditional love she received from her grandmother. The imagery is personal and beautifully
articulates her plight in a loveless marriage. Thus, the old house was for her a place of symbolic
retreat to a world of innocence, purity and simplicity, an Edenic world where love and happiness
are still possible.”

Kamala Das recalls her ancestral house that was filled with the all-pervading presence of her
grandmother And this is why her grandmother‟s house is singular: Kamala Das received „love‟
there. When the poetess speaks of „love‟ in particular she ascertains that it is unconditional and
selfless. With the death of the Grandmother, the house ceased being inhabited. It now became an
isolated and remote entity, echoed by the phrase „far away.‟ The poetess asserts that with the
death of her grandmother silence began to sink in the house. Kamala Das, at that juncture, was
too small to read books, but emotional enough to comprehend the true feeling of love.

With the death of the Grandmother, her life that was hitherto filled only with emotions becomes
numb. Her veins thus become cold rather than warm. It is as cold as the moon, the moon being
an emblem of love. The worms on the books seem like snakes at that moment, in comparison to
the size of the little girl; and in keeping with the eeriness of the situation.

The poetess also implies that the deserted house is like a desert with reptiles crawling over. The poetess now longs to „peer‟ at a house that was once her own. She has to peek through the „blind eyes‟ of the
windows as the windows are permanently closed. The air is frozen now, as contrasted to when
the grandmother was alive-the surroundings were filled with the warmth of empathy. Kamala
Das pleads with us to “listen” to the “frozen” air; that is an impossibility. Neither is the air a
visual medium, nor can air cause any displacement because it is “frozen”. It is an example of

In wild despair, she longs to bring in an “armful of darkness.” Note firstly, that it is not a
„handful‟ but an armful. Secondly, „darkness‟ that generally has negative shades to it, has
positive connotations here of a protective shadow. It also reflects the „coziness‟ inside the
house.This armful of darkness is her essence of nostalgia. With this piece of darkness, she can lie
down for hours, like a brooding dog behind the door, lost in contemplation.

The speaker claims that in her quest for love she had now become wayward. The poetess speaks
to her husband that she who is now thirsty for genuine love, received at one point in her life,
absolute love in the form of her grandmother. Ironically, she addresses her husband as “Darling”,
and talks of the lack of love in her life in the same breath and tone.

Her pursuit of love has driven her to the doors of strangers to receive love at least in the form of
„a tip.‟ Previously she was „proud‟, as she did not have to compromise on her self-respect. Now
she has to move in the maze of male monopolistic chauvinism, and beg for love in the form of