This poem is written by Kamala Das, a renowned Malayalam author. In this poem, she talks about old things, systems and traditions perishing to make way for new.
When we were children
My brother and I
And always playing on the sands
Drawing birds and animals
Our great-grandmother said one day
You see this house of ours
Now three hundred years old
It’s falling to little bits
Before our very eyes
When the poet was a child, she and her borther always played on the sand. They made drawings of birds and animals on sand. One day, their great-grandmother said that their three hundred years old house was falling to little bits before their eyes.
If a house is not maintained properly, it is bound to fall into pieces. Here, the poet is talking about a house which is three hundred years old. Such an old house is definitely going to turn into heap sooner rather than later. It is said that is a great leveler. Old things eventually vacate the space so that new things can grow.
The walls are cracked and torn
And moistened by the rains
The tiles have fallen here and there
The windows whine and groan
And every night
The rats come out of the holes
And scamper past our doors.
The walls have developed cracks and are torn. The walls are moistened by rains. Tiles of the house have fallen everywhere. Windows sound like whining and groaning when they creak. Every night, the rats come out of their holes and run all around in the house.
Such a scene can be witnessed anywhere. Old houses crumble down when they outlive their utility. People build new houses in order to meet the changing norms and needs of the society and the family.
The snake-shrine is dark with weeds
And all the snake-gods in the shrine
Have lichen on their hoods
The snake-shrine (probably some sacred spot in the house) has become dark because weeds have proliferated on it. Lichens have grown on the hoods of all the snake gods. It speaks about lack of maintenance of even the sacred corner of the house. The sacred corner in a house generally gets the most attention. It appears that people of this house have even stopped to pray at the snake-shrine.
O it hurts me she cried
Wiping a reddened eye
For I love this house, it hurts me much
To watch it die.
The great-grandmother is sad to see the house turning into rubble, because she loves the house. She cries in agony and wipes here eyes which have become red due to tears flowing out of them.
When I grow old, I said,
And very very rich
I shall rebuild the fallen walls
And make new this ancient house.
Touched my cheeks and smiled.
The poet said that she would renovate the house once she would grow to become very rich. Her great-grandmother smiles and touches her cheeks, as if blessing her to get all the success in life.
She was really simple.
Fed on God for years
All her feasts were monotonous
For the only dish was always God
And the rest mere condiments.
The great-grandmother was very simple. She was a religious lady whose only muse was the God. Her feasts were monotonous because the only dish she enjoyed at such occasions was God. Whatever dishes she made during a feast served as condiments only. The poet means to say that the great-grandmother was so engrossed in the God that festivities and festive foods were meaningless for her. This exemplifies the austere and simple life which the lady of the house often led during old days.
She told us how she rode her elephant
When she was ten or eleven
Every Monday without fail
To the Shiva shrine
And back to home again
And, told us of the jewel box
And the brocade from the north
And the perfumes and the oils
And the sandal for her breasts
And her marriage to a prince
Who loved her deeply for a lovely short year
And died of fever, in her arms
The great-grandmother told the poet about the luxurious life she lived once upon a time. When the great-grandmother was about ten years old, she rode her elephant. Riding an elephant signifies that she belonged to a rich family which was rich enough to keep an elephant. She went to the Shiva shrine every Monday, which means she was religious since the days she could remember. The great-grandmother also told about the jewel box, brocade from the north, perfumes, oils and sandals which she used for ornamentation. All these items indicate that she came from a rich family. The great-grandmother also told about her marriage to a prince. Here, prince does not necessarily mean a real prince rather this word is also used to address a young man from a rich family. Her husband loved her deeply but their love lasted for a very short duration as he died quite young.
She told us
That we had the oldest blood
My brother and she and I
The oldest blood in the world
A blood thin and clear and fine
While in the veins of the always poor
And in the veins
Of the new-rich men
Flowed a blood thick as gruel
And muddy as ditch
The great-grandmother boasted about the purity of her lineage. She claimed that pure and thin blood ran through the veins of her and her family members. She was of the opinion that the blood of the poor and newly-rich people could never be pure. This stanza highlights the class divide which we often see around us. People from the privileged background generally think that they belong to a superior race and look down upon people from underprivileged background.