POEM: Punishment In Kindergarten By Kamala Das
About The Poet:
Kamala Das was born in Kerala - India in 1934. She was educated mainly at home. Her short stories and poems are written in Malayalam and in English. She has published a number of books of poems and an autobiography. In many of her poems Kamala Das recalls experiences from her childhood. She was very devoted to the home and the surroundings which she grew up in. However, in this poem she remembers an incident which caused her not joy but pain. Now, in adulthood, she can look back on that day of punishment, detaching herself from the pain-she is not part of it any more. She has found an adult peace with which she can speak about the incident, without becoming upset. When she is describing the time spent at the kindergarten, the past tense is used, but when the poet is speaking about herself as an adult, she uses the present tense.
"Punishment in Kindergarten" is a little autobiographical poem by the famous Indo-Anglian poet Kamala Das. She recalls one of her childhood experiences. When she was in the kindergarten, one day the children were taken for a picnic. All the children except her were playing and making merry. But she alone kept away from the company of the children. Their teacher, a blue-frocked woman, scolded her saying.
"Why don't you join the others, what
A peculiar child you are!"
This heard, all the other children who were sipping sugar cane turned and laughed. The child felt it very much. She became sad at the words of the teacher. But the laughter by the children made her sadder. She thought that they should have consoled her rather than laughing and insulting her. Filled with sorrow and shame she did her face in a hedge and wept. This was indeed a painful experience to a little child in the nursery school.
The poem is written in three stanzas, each having different number of lines – the first with seven lines, the second with six and the third with nine. The poem does not follow any regular rhyme scheme. The subject matter of the poem has two parts, the first of which being the description of the painful experience of the kindergarten days and the second, the adult's attitude to the incident at present when she is no more a child.
The poet seems to be nostalgic about her childhood days. There are certain expressions in the poem that are worth remembering. The poet says that the child buried its face in the hedge and "smelt the flowers and the pain". "Smelt the flowers can be taken as an ordinary expression, but "smelt the pain" is something very evocative and expressive. In the first stanza of the poem, the poet describes the pain caused to the child, "throwing words like pots and pans". This again is beautiful. The phrase used by the poet to describe the child's teacher, namely, "blue-frocked woman" can be justified from the child's point of view. But to the poet who is an adult the use of the phrase looks a little too awkward. On the whole, the poem can be taken as the poet's interest in remembering her childhood days.
I. Answer with reference to context:
1. Today the world is a little more my own.
No need to remember the pain
A blue-frocked woman caused, throwing
Words at me like pots and pans, to drain
That honey-coloured day of peace.
‘Why don't you join the others, what
A peculiar child you are! '
(a) Identify the poem and the poet
(b) Who was the blue frocked woman? What did she want the poet to do?
(c) What pain had she caused?
2. On the lawn, in clusters, sat my
Sugarcane, they turned and laughed;
Children are funny things, they laugh
In mirth at others' tears, I buried
My face in the sun-warmed hedge
And smelt the flowers and the pain.
(a) Who were the children?
(b) Why were they laughing?
(c) Explain the phrase 'sun-warmed hedge'
3. The words are muffled now, the laughing
Faces only a blur. The years have
Sped along, stopping briefly
At beloved halts and moving
Sadly on. My mind has found
An adult peace. No need to remember
That picnic day when I lay hidden
By a hedge, watching the steel-white sun
Standing lonely in the sky.
(a) Why are the faces a blur now?
(b) What 'adult peace' has the poet found?
(c) The final image of the poem, 'the steel-white sun standing lonely in the sky' - what does this signify?
II. Answer the following questions briefly:
1. To what is the teacher's scolding words compared?
2. Why is the day described as 'honey coloured'?
3. What added to the hurt inflicted by the teacher?
Ques.3 Choose the correct answer from the options given below:
1. A blue frocked woman refers to
(a) her teacher in Kindergarten who was wearing a blue frock
(b) her mother who loved to wear a blue frock
(c) a lady she just happened to meet
2. 'Throwing words' means
(a) scolding loudly and harshly
(b) screaming with pain
(c) speaking loudly about happy events
3. 'Like pots and pans' is a