My mother at 66
The poet is on her way to the airport to cochin with her old mother sitting beside her,as she looks at her mother’s pale and pallid face, she is struck with the horror and pain of losing her. The mother with the dozing face and open mouth is compared to a corpse. The poet is pained and shifts her attention outside the car in order to drive out the negative feelings. The scene outside the window is of growing life and energy. The rapidly sprinting trees alongside the merrily playing children symbolize youth and vitality. The poet here is reminded of her own childhood when her mother had been young whereas now she is encircled with the fear of losing her and that has made her insecure. As she bids goodbye to her mother at the airport, the image of the old, wan, worn out mother in the twilight of years strikes her again but keeping a brave front she hides her tears and smile.
The poem revolves around the theme of advancing age and the fear that adheres to its loss and separation. It is a sentimental account of the mother’s approaching end through the eyes of the daughter. The seemingly short poem touches upon the theme of the filial bond between the mother and daughter smeared in the backdrop of nostalgia and fear. Nostalgia of the past(the time spent with the mother) and fear of the future without her.
It is a short poem, without a full stop, the poem is like a long sentence, over flowing thought process. The poet uses the device of comparison and contrast, simile and repetition. Although there is no rhyming scheme in the poem yet its lyrical quality cannot be missed.
Following are the clues to the various probable questions from the text.
In case of discrepancies with the answers kindly bring it to my notice.
(Q.) Why does the poet smile and what does she say while bidding goodbye to her mother?
(Ans) The poet smiles in order to put up a brave front so that her mother may not observe her pained and frightened look. She smiles in order to reassure her mother and says that she would soon see her again.
(Q.) What is the kind of pain and ache that the poet feels?
(Ans) The emotional pain and ache that the poet feels is due to the realization that her mother has gone old and has become frail and pale like a corpse. She is dependent on her children. The ache also refers to the old familiar ache of the childhood that revisits the poet due to the mother’s old age and her approaching end.
(Q.) Why are the young trees described as sprinting?
(Ans) The young trees are personified in the poem. They seem to be running in the opposite direction when seen through the window of the moving car. The movement is juxtaposed with the expression on the mother’s face i.e. ashen like a corpse. The movement of the children and the trees is in stark contrast with the stillness associated with the mother.
(Q.) Why has the poet bought in the image of the merry children ‘spilling out of their homes’?
(Ans) The poet highlights the helplessness and frailty of old age with the help of contrasts. The mother dozes off mouth open, whereas the children spilling out of their homes signify movement and energy, enthusiasm and vivacity, which the old people are bereft off.
(Q.) Why has the mother been compared to ‘late winter’s moon’?
(Ans) The mother has been compared to the late winter’s moon which is dull and shrouded. It symbolizes the ebbing of life. The moon brings to the poets mind night or the approaching end of life. The mother like the late winter’s moon is dull, dim and dismal.
(Q.) What do the parting words of the poet and her smile signify?
(Ans) The parting words ‘see you soon Amma’ are used by the poet to reassure the mother and to infuse optimism in the poet herself. The poet accepts the reality yet keeps up the façade of smiling in order to put up a brave front. It requires a lot of effort and hence the poet has used the poetic device of repetition.
(Q.) What does the poet mean by ‘all I did was smile and smile and smile…’?
(Ans) The poet realizes the pain and ache she would get at separating from her mother. It was her childhood fear that she experienced again. She was trying to hide her true emotions by smiling and smiling. The smile here is the forced smile and not the natural one.
(Q.) What childhood fears do you think the poet is referring to in the poem ‘My Mother at Sixty Six’?
(Ans) The poet refers to the fears of a child has of losing a parent or getting lost somewhere and thus getting separated from them. The poet felt this kind of fear while looking at her mother’s aged and pale face. She was afraid that she might never see her again. However the fear is also symbolic of the strong filial bond that the poet has not yet overgrown.
(Q.) What does the poet mean by ‘she looked?’
(Ans) The poet felt that perhaps her mother too would be feeling insecure about her future. She saw these expressions on her mother’s face as well.
(Q.) What does the poet’s mother look like? What kind of images has the poet used to signify her ageing decay?
(Ans) The poet’s mother at sixty-six, is sitting beside the poet and is dozing off with her mouth open. This is a sign of old age. Her face was pale like a corpse’s. Imagery of death has been created by the poet in this comparison.
(Q.) What were the activities that the poet saw outside the car window?
(Ans) The poet saw young trees speeding past and it seemed as if they were sprinting or running fast. Happy, enthusiastic and energetic children could be seen running out of their homes. They represent an image of life, youth and energy in comparison to the poet’s mother who is described as a corpse, devoid of any energy and is an antithesis of children who are in the full swing of life.
(Q.) Why does the poet look outside? What does she perceive?
(Ans) The very thought of separation from her mother upsets and depresses the poet. She experiences the fear that she may never meet her mother again. In order to drive away such negative thoughts, she looks out of the window and her mind gets diverted when she sees trees moving rapidly and children playing merrily.
(Q.) What is the poet’s familiar ache and why does it return?
(Ans) The poet is pained to see her mother old and suffering. The sight of her mother’s pale and weak face looks like that of a corpse, which arouses her childhood’s ‘familiar ache’ in her heart. The old familiar ache refers to the childhood premonition of losing or being separated from the parents (mother), the fear returns due the old age of the mother signifying her approaching end.
(Q.) What does Kamala Das do after the security check-up? What does she notice?
(Ans) Immediately after the security check-up at the airport, and standing a few yards away from her mother, the poet observes her mother once again and compares her to the pale, colourless winter’s moon, marking the last phase of her life i.e. her old age. She is pained to see her and the fear of separation returns in her, once again.
(Q.) What poetic devices has the poet used in ‘My Mother at Sixty-six’?
(Ans) The poem is rich in imagery. Devices of comparisons and contrasts are also used by the poet to draw out the differences in young age and old age. She describes her mother’s age as ‘ashen like a corpse’, using simile and compares her to late winter’s moon, using a simile again. The merry children playing happily are contrasted with the old, weak, frail, feeble and pale mother of the poet.
(Q.) Driving from my parent’shome to Cochin last Friday
morning, I saw my mother,
doze, open mouthed, her face
ashen like that
of a corpse and realized with pain
that she was as old as she looked and
a) Where was the poet driving to? Who was sitting beside her?
b) What did the poet notice about her mother?
c) Why did her mother’s face look like that of a corpse?
d) Find words from the passage which mean
i) Sleep lightly
ii) Dead body
(Ans) (a) The poet was driving to the airport in Cochin. Her mother was sitting beside her.
(b) The poet noticed that her mother was looking old, pale and weak. She had dozed off.
(c) She was old, pale and ashen. Since she had dozed off, with mouth open the poet felt she looked like a corpse in that condition.
(d) i) Dozed; ii) Corpse
(Q.) ….andlooked but soon
put that thought away, and
looked out at young
trees sprinting, the merry children spilling
out of their homes
a) What did the poet realize? How did she feel?
b) What did she do then?
c) What did she see outside?
d) Find words from the passage which mean
i) Running fast
(Ans) (a) The poet realized that her mother too, was lost in some distant thoughts. It pained her to see in that condition resembling a corpse.
(b) She started looking out in order to divert her own attention to something else as she wanted to dispel the sad and gloomy thoughts of her mother
(c) She saw young trees moving fast as if they were sprinting and also saw young children happily running out of their homes to play.
(d) i) Sprinting; ii) Merry
(Q.) but all I said was, see you soon, Amma,all I did was smile and smile and smile…’
a) Why did the poet say ‘see you soon, Amma’?
b) Why did the poet smile and smile?
c) ‘Smile and smile and smile’ is a poetic device. Identify it.d) Amma is the fond way of addressing someone. Who is being addressed here?
(Ans) (a) The poet says this to reassure her mother that she would see her soon. After the pain, there is a mood of acceptance of reality.
(b) The poet tries to put up a brave front in order to hide her true feelings of pain at seeing the old and weak mother.
(c) It is repetition and is used to emphasize the tone of acceptance of the poet and the brave front she puts up.
(d) The poet’s mother. She addresses her as ‘Amma’ and reassures her that she would meet her again.