Andrew has a keen interest in all aspects of poetry and writes extensively on the subject. His poems are published online and in print.
Kamala Das and a Summary of 'A Hot Noon in Malabar'
'A Hot Noon in Malabar' focuses on the speaker's reflections, memories and alienation, the emphasis being on the imagery and impressions of the past detailed in the first-person narrative.
It is a kind of confessional poem, because it presents a heartfelt look back to a time when the speaker's situation was very different compared to the present. There is an atmosphere of longing—she is so very far away from the place she had as a home, presumably far away in distance.
- Is she looking back in order to escape from the present? It could be. The detailed images of the children and the men evoke pleasure and a certain nostalgia for what has been.
- These poor folk turning up at her door hold some kind of irreplaceable magic—the irony being that the Kurava girls read palms, looking into the fate and future of those willing to pay.
A single stanza of 23 lines, in free verse (without rhymes and regular metre), the poem is split in half at the 11th line when the important word Strange . . . followed by dots (an ellipsis) suggesting a lingering memory or image, something which interrupts the flow of words and thoughts.
Kamala Das is seen as one of the breakthrough poets primarily because she inspired so many younger (female) poets when she published her first book, Summer in Calcutta, in 1965, which shook the world of Indian-English poetry.
In the book, she explored the passions of love and relationships and also focused on the identity of women in particular. Her language shocked the establishment but helped to usher in a new found freedom for poets who had been shackled somewhat by the colonial restrictions of the old rhyming verse.
Her legacy is impressive and she is considered to be one of the pioneers in post-independent Indian poetry. In some ways, her simple language, spontaneous descriptions and taboo subject matter, tied to unorthodox syntax, opened people's eyes and gave fresh impetus to those seeking equal rights and sexual expression.
'A Hot Noon in Malabar' by Kamala Das
This is a noon for beggars with whining
Voices, a noon for men who come from hills
With parrots in a cage and fortune-cards,
All stained with time, for brown Kurava girls
With old eyes, who read palm in light singsong
Voices, for bangle-sellers who spread
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On the cool black floor those red and green and blue
Bangles, all covered with the dust of roads,
Miles, grow cracks on the heels, so that when they
Clambered up our porch, the noise was grating,
Strange……… This is a noon for strangers who part
The window-drapes and peer in, their hot eyes
Brimming with the sun, not seeing a thing in
Shadowy rooms and turn away and look
So yearningly at the brick-ledged well. This
Is a noon for strangers with mistrust in
Their eyes, dark, silent ones who rarely speak
At all, so that when they speak, their voices
Run wild, like jungle-voices. Yes, this is
A noon for wild men, wild thoughts, wild love. To
Be here, far away, is torture. Wild feet
Stirring up the dust, this hot noon, at my
Home in Malabar, and I so far away ……..
Line-by-Line Analysis of 'A Hot Noon in Malabar'
The simple opening line sets the poem in the present, at least in the mind of the speaker. It is noon, first beggars appear, men from the hills with parrots in cages and well-worn fortune cards.
Then Kurava girls arrive with their old eyes. They read palms, telling a person's fate and future fortune from the lines on the skin. To be a Kurava is to be a member of an ethnic Tamil community, native to the Kurinji mountain region of Kerala, India. Historically treated as slaves, their lands and people bought and sold.
Bangle sellers are next with dusty, coloured bangles for sale. They've walked for miles and have cracked heel skin, so they make a rough sound on the wooden porch.
The speaker narrates in detail, initially giving the reader the impression that this is the here and now, but the scenario is playing in the mind and the images are from the past. Present and past mingle, as if her mind is drifting . . .
This is first-person perspective, as seen in the 10th line:
Clambered up our porch
The opening few words of the 12th line repeat the first. In fact, just look at the repetition of noon/This noon—in the first, second, eleventh, sixteenth, twentieth and twenty-second lines. This reinforces the memory and the emotional attachment.
At noon come strangers looking in, men with hot eyes who are thirsty (looking at the well). They have mistrust in their eyes and are mostly silent, but when they speak they are wild. There are wild men, thoughts and love.
For the reader there is some obscurity here. Are these wild men part of the initial group of people, the men with parrots and cards, the Kurava girls? Are they men from this past?
Or are they men from the speaker's present, immediate and intense, well known to the speaker despite them being strangers. What can we read into these lines that mention wild thoughts and wild love?
Are these men seeking something? They're stirring up the dust. The speaker finds her situation painful . . . note the word torture. Being here in this present hot noon, at home, is hard to bear. She's far away from where she wants to be.
- Feminism in India
- The Guardian
- Das, Kamala. My Story. New Delhi: Harper Collins Publisher, 2004. Print. “Das, Kamala. Poems.”
© 2021 Andrew Spacey
Andrew Spacey (author) from Sheffield, UK on January 29, 2021:
Audrey thank you for your insightful comment.
Audrey Hunt from Pahrump NV on January 28, 2021:
I wonder if A Hot Noon in Malabar has anything to do with trafficking. This poem took me from the present, pulling me into the details of each line. It calls to me to return again and again.
Your analysis is helpful and clear.
Thank you, Andrew.