The poem The Dance of Eunuchs by Kamala Das is quite symbolic and confusing. The poet who is a victim of patriarchal society talks about the dance of transgenders. The transgenders are too a victim of the social norms which alienate them from being treated as normal humans.
The transgenders, being socially excluded either dance, sing or beg to earn their living. However their dance and songs have no joy or rythm or sweetness. They try their best to look beautiful yet the society looks down them.
Now as mentioned above, the poem has profound meaning. The poet compares her own condition with that of eunuchs or transgenders. Like the transgenders, she (as a woman) is also looked down by the patriarchal society. She may seem to be enjoying the life by her appearance but internally, she is joyless, lonely and struggling.
The poem has no stanzas.
Table of Contents
The Dance of the Eunuchs Summary & Analysis
The poet says that It was hot, so hot when the eunuchs came to dance. The line means that the eunuchs came to dance in a hot day to dance though it was quite hot (poet repeats the word hot in order to show its intensity). They came because they need money to exist in the world.
They were dancing, their wide skirts (they were wearing skirts and thus had female appearance) was also going round and round. Some of them had cymbals which they were striking against each other to produce a sound effect for dancing.
As they were dancing, their anklets were jingling, jingling, jingling (Kamala Das’s words are producing a similar sound to that of anklets. They were dancing under a Reddish Gulmohur tree (it is quite a beautiful tree). Their long braids were flying in the air and their dark eyes were flashing (perhaps with tears).
They were continuously dancing until they could. The poet uses the phrase
The eunuchs tried their best to do makeup in order to look a little human-like (as they are treated like aliens). They had green tattoos (they used green colour perhaps in order to show joy) on their cheeks and jasmine flowers in their hairs.
Some of them were black while others fair. However for society there is no difference between the two. Both are ugly in our eyes.
Note that the poet has shown too signs of harshness so far – first the very hot weather and second the eunuchs’ compulsion to dance until they give up because of bleeding.
In the second part comes the harsh reality i.e. their inabilities, disabilities and the things which alienate them. According to the poet, their voices were harsh (as they had both males’ as well as females’ characteristics) and not sweet and their songs quite sad.
They were singing about the dying lovers and the children which did not born. The line is quite interesting and confusing. The transgenders are sterile and are still narrating the stories of those having proper males and female traits.
This can have two meaning – first, they are perhaps talking about themselves who cannot do love-making and also cannot produce children. Thus their love dies and their children are not born and the second meaning could be that they are talking about the dark realities of the world. Whatever the meaning may be, their song is quite sad.
Some of them are beating their drums while others their breasts which the poet calls “sorry breasts” because they are of no use to them. Neither a man is interested in giving them the sexual pleasure nor they can produce milk. Thus they lack both these blessings. Thirdly they might be disordered.
They were wailing and writhing in vacant ecstasy i.e. they were making cries and irregular movements (i.e. singing and dancing but badly) without any joy. Their limbs were thin and looked like half-burnt logs (wood) from the funeral pyre. Their body looked dry and rotten.
These symbols depict their miserable condition. Transgenders are poor, live in unhygienic conditions and without proper food or other basic things like house, pure water etc. hence they seem to be dead-like.
While they were dancing, the crows was silent on their condition while the children were watching them with amazement. In India, crow is a symbol of doom. But here even the doomed creature is silent because they are treated worse than the crow. On the other hand, the children have not seen them and hence seem to be alien to them.
While the people were watching their irregular dance (poet calls them poor creatures because of their miserable condition), the sky was covered with thundering clouds and soon it started lightning which was followed by rain.
The rain was meagre i.e. very less or of short duration. Though it brought sweet smell of dust in the attics, the bad smell of urine of lizards and mice was also there. The lines have deeper meaning.
The poet tells two different aspects of the rain. First, it was blessing because it was very hot and people wanted relief. However on the other hand, it was bane for the eunuchs because they were dancing for earning their livelihood and because of this rain the people might have ran away.
Thus something which is blessing for the normal humans can be curse for those poor transgenders. The poem ends.
We have discussed the meaning of these lines. However the poet intention is deeper. One needs to have a basic knowledge of other works of Kamala Das and her works. She is victim of the society. Like the eunuchs, the women are also treated as sub-humans.
Like them, a woman has to please her husband and his family. She has to smile without joy, she has to work without stopping, she has to quench the sexual desire of her husband without enjoying herself. Thus according to Kamala Das, the condition of woman in society is no better than that of transgenders.