Saturday, 31 October 2015

Four poems. Obituary by A.K. Ramanujan; The Fancy Dress Show-Kamala Das; Daddy by Sylvia Plath

Four poems: Obituary, The Fancy Dress Show, Daddy and Telephone Conversation.

In the poem “Obituary” Ramanujan tells us of the death of his poor father. Attipat Krishnaswami Ramanujan is a great Indian poet writing in English. His unsentimental approach to the death of his father is very interesting. In addition we can the sparkling of wit and humour in this poem. In the opening lines of the poem, the poet gives us a list of the legacy left behind by hid dead father. His table is full of papers covered with dust; he also left behind some debts and daughters. The dead man’s grandson was named after him and the boy had a bad habit of urinating in his bed while sleeping.  The dead man had a very old house which was leaning on a coconut tree.  In short, father’s legacy was poverty and burden for his sons.

Since the dead man was a Hindu, his body was ‘dry’ and fit to be burnt. It is because of his old age and many years’ of sufferings. His eyes left unburnt at the funeral pyre. They looked like coins, because he had nothing else to give to his children as legacy.  Some half burnt spinal discs (backbone) were also left behind for the sons to take them to the Thriveni Sangamam of the three rivers where the bones to be immersed according to Hindu rites. 

No tombstone was set up for the dead man with a long details of date of birth and death. The poet says that pure lies are written on the tombstone and his father is saved from this shame.  Many people even wrote such lies that their father had a caesarian birth and died of heart failure in the fruit market.

The poet heard that two lines of obituary about his father were put up in a newspaper in Chennai. The paper was sold to a hawker who in turn sold it to the grocer of the poet. The poet was in the habit of reading the bits of papers brought home as wrappers of grocery items. So he started scanning every piece of paper in the hope of seeing his father’s obituary.
Annotate the following:-
1)      Father, when he pass on
Left dust
On a table full of papers…….and daughters. 1st paragraph of the essay.
2.      Being the burning type
……….and at both ends                                  2nd paragraph of the essay
3.      But someone told me
He got two lines……to street hawkers            last paragraph of the essay.
4.      Why does the poet use the expression “passed on” in the opening line of “Obituary” ? – A.K.Ramanujan uses the expression “passed on” to avoid the word “die”. English people usually  avoid the term “die” and use the term “has gone”; “passed away” etc.
5.      What was the father’s legacy in “Obituary”  - 1st paragraph of the essay.
6.      What did the children do with the bones of the father? – The children picked the bones of their father from the cremation ground and immersed them in the Thriveni sangamam (the confluence of the Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswathi as instructed by the priest, facing the east.
7.      How did the poet come across his father’s obituary? – The poet saw his father’s obituary in a newspaper from Chennai. He got it as a wrapper of grocery he bought from the shop.

The Fancy-Dress Show                           Kamala Das

The poem “The Fancy-Dress Show” is a beautiful social satire. Kamala Das, better known as Kamala Suraiya is a great Indian poet writing in both English and Malayalam. Most people, like the famous character Iago in Othello, appear to be different from what they really are. Iago says: “ I am not what I am”.
As Thomas Gray said “ all that glitters is not gold”. People are often deceived by outward shows. Kamala Das calls it “The Fancy-Dress Show”. She laughs at the masked people of society.

Kamala Das says that now a days every virtue in society demands a fancy dress. The priest is forced to wear a cassock which is known as a holy-dress. It is priest’s “uniform” without which he is not acceptable and respectable in society.  The cassock is a beautiful mask for him and he can cover all his vices under it.
Here the poet laughs at the human tendency to judge a man by his external appearance only.

Kamala Das says that politicians appear to be poor, simple and honest in their dress which is suitable for a saint. But most of them are highly corrupted and amass wealth and power by any means. But as long as people judge them by their outward appearance, politicians and holy men continue to cheat people. Similarly a holyman is judged by his outward appearance of ash on his forehead and a begging bowl in his hand.
Kamala Das refers to the fasting of patriots and poor children. Patriots and politicians undertake fasting to achieve their political game and they become famous and powerful. But poor children live in poverty and they are forced to undertake fasting because they have nothing to eat. After some time, their health declined, caught illness and finally died.

In concluding the poem, Kamala Das quots Robert Browning who said: “God is in heaven and all’s right with the world”. She says that God is in heaven and does not notice human sufferings. In “King Lear”, Shakespeare says: “As flies to wanton boys/ Are we to Gods/ They kill us for their sports”.  Kamala Das adds that modern world is worse than Browning’s period.
Annotate the following:
1)      Every virtue requires today
A fancy-dress, the cassock is
…….Politician dons a saint’s mean apparel           - 1st & 2nd paragraphs of the essay.
2.      The patriots have survived their
Long fasts;………we hear                                      -  1st & 3rd paragraphs of the essay.
3.      God is in heaven and all
4.      Is right with this sinking world                               -  1st & last paragraphs of the essay.
5.      Theme of Kamala Das’s poem “The Fancy-Dress Show  - 1st & 2nd together in a paragraph
6.      Summarise Kamala Das’s comments on priests and politicians 1st & 2,3rd together in a paragraph

DADDY                                     Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath is a great American poet. She is a confessional poet just as Kamala Das is. Her husband Ted Hughes is a great British poet. When Sylvia was hardly eight years old, her father committed suicide, which cast a shadow over her childhood. Sylvia Plath’s “DADDY” was written in 1962.  It is a dramatic monologue in which a daughter simultaneously loves and hates her father. “Daddy” is a fantasy based on her obsession that her father might have become a Nazi.  The speaker of the poem is Sylvia Plath herself. When she was a child she thought her father a GOD. Then her case is complicated when she knew that he was a Nazi and her mother a Jew. So mother might be sent to concentration camp and killed.  The conflicting emotions suppress her terribly and she wants to escape from this ghastly experience by killing him. First she wants to join him through suicide and finally marrying a man who resembles many qualities of her father. The poem is based on the Electra complex of Freudian psychology, a daughter being in love with her father.
2. The poem “DADDY” begins with a reference to black shoe, which is the allegory of Nazis. The speaker says that she had been trodden under her father’s heavy black boot for thirty years. She complains that she is “poor and white” because she was denied light.  She confesses that she had to kill her daddy though she adored him like a god. He appeared to her as a ghastly statue with a grey toe as big as the seal of San Francisco.
3.  She says that her father had come to America from Poland, but she does not remember the town from where he had come to the states. She saw her father in every German and the German language appears bad and ugly to her. She hates Nazi language. The speaker imagines herself travelling with Jewish prisoners on the train to a concentration camp. Since her mother is a Jew, she thinks that she is also a Jew and she is afraid of her Nazi father.  The German airforce Luftwaffe, the German language, her father’s moustache, his bright blue eyes all frighten her to death. She knows that the Nazis worship Swastika, an emblem which resembles a cruel face and a cruel heart. She remembers her father had a cleft in his chin. The devil has the cleft in the feet. So her father was a devil himself.

4.   She is angry with her father because he cut her innocent heart into two. At that time she was only eight years old when her father died. At twenty she tried to commit suicide in order to join her dead father. At that time she was doing college education and she took an overdose of sleeping pills. But she was saved at hospital. Finally she got married to a man who resembled some qualities of her father.

5. The speaker concludes the poem “DADDY” with the description of a ritual killing performed on her father. She stabbed him in his heart and thus she got rid of him.  Her father was like a vampire sucking her blood for a long time, but now she has got rid of him.
Paragraph questions
1) What is the theme of Sylvia Plath’s “Daddy”?     - 1st paragraph
2) What is the basis of the phantasy in “Daddy”?     -  1st paragraph
3) How did Sylvia Plath try to join her father?         -  4th paragraph
4) State the ambivalent attitude of Sylvia Plath to her father? What is the image used by her to bring it out?-2nd paragraph of the essay.
5)How did Sylvia Plath get rid of her father’s influence over her ? – 5th paragraph of the essay.
Essay: Discuss the psychological problem portrayed in Sylvia Plath’s “Daddy”?

Telephone Conversation                             Wole Soyinka

Wole Soyinka is a great Nigerian poet. His poem “Telephone Conversation” is a great social satire. He laughs at the colour prejudices of the Western people in this poem. Although people are educated, they still cling on to racial discrimination in all walks of life. The poem is based on the bitter personal experience of the poet who did his higher education in London. The poem is sprinkled with bits of humour, wit and irony which adds to the glory of the poet.

The telephone conversation between the back poet and the white lady is really amusing and thought-provoking.. The speaker of the poem wanted an apartment on rent in London. So he rang up the landlady from far away Nigeria. She was a white British woman. The rent was fixed and the locality was not bad. The landlady did not stay in the building. The landlady was very happy to welcome the new tenant. But the African poet knew well that if she knew his skin was black, she would not give him accommodation. Therefore he decided to make a self-confession. He did not want to go to London and meet the landlady before she accepted the reality of the situation. It would save his money and time. Black colour is a crime in the Western society even now.

The speaker confessed that he was an African. She was shocked. Still polishing her words, she asked him sympathetically, how dark he was. But the poor African did not understand what she meant by that. She repeated the question if he was dark or very light. The speaker then humorously asked her if she wanted to know whether he was like plain chocolate or milk chocolate. Then he explained that he was “West African Sepia” in his passport. She wanted to know what is the term “Sepia” meant. He said that his face was brunette, but his palms and soles of his feet were looked light coloured. But his bottom is deep black because of sitting down. Now the white lady smelt that she was insulted and she hung up the telephone.


1)      Why did the poet decide to make a self-confession? What do you think was his crime? – 2nd paragraph.
2)      Wole Soyinka calls the phone box a “public hide and speak” How is this a play on words and why is it appropriate? – Wole Soyinka uses the term “public hide and speak” which is the subverted form of the children’s play “hide and seek”. Every telephonic conversation is like a hide and seek game. They don’t see each other, so that they can talk their emotions well. Here the black poet does not see the white landlady and she also cannot see her new tenant.
Essay: Consider “Telephone Conversation” as a satire on racial prejudice

These notes are drafted, printed and circulated by K.J.Thomas among the students of Prathibha College, Karuvarakundu dated 5-2-2007

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