The poem A Hot Noon in Malabar by Kamala Das is in the memory of her childhood with her parents in Malabar. The poet remembers the daily activities of the passersby including beggars, fortune-tellers, Kurava girls, the bangle sellers etc.
Being married off in her young age, she feels lonely in her new home and hence the memories of her childhood keep flashing in her mind. She seems to be more interested in Romanticism of rural life rather than the modern world where we are alienated from each other.
The poem has been written in a single long stanza having 23 lines. However, have divided the poem into three main parts for making it easier to understand. The first part (Lines 1-11) is about the types of people who used to pass by the house of the poet (Malabar) in hot noon.
In the second part (lines 11-21), the poet describes some strangers who used to enter her house looking around for water. Thus the noon in Malabar was full of men, thoughts as well as love.
In the third part (21-23), the poet describes her condition in present. She misses her home, that crowd, that time and that love. She is now alienated from the world in modern times.
A Hot Noon in Malabar Poem Summary
Part 1 (Lines 1-11)
The poet is thinking about her childhood in Malabar. She specifically memorises a hot noon in her home. That day there were beggars with their pleading voice who used to passby. They kept begging and crying over their miser condition.
Then there are men who come from hill with parrots in a cage and fortune-cards i.e. those who use to till the future of a person with the help of a parrot (in the cage and fortune-cards. However, these tricks have stained with time i.e. became useless because people have stopped believing in all these things.
In this line, one can find the shift from idealism to realism as the concept of fortune telling was quite popular in old times but with the advent of modern science and technology, people believe less in these things.
Next there used to come brown Kurava girls with their old eyes who read the palm of people in light singsong voices. The eyes of the girls are described as old either because of their experience in seeing the palms of people or because of their poverty or because of their brown colour.
The poet uses the word “Light singsong voices” for the way they talk to people. It is either because they try to be as sweet as possible while reading the lines of palm or because of their perfection (as they are doing since long) or because of the natural beauty in their voice.
Next there visited bangle-sellers who spread their red and green and blue (i.e. colourful) bangles on cool black floor (might be a black carpet) all covered with the dust of road. Here the poet is trying to show poverty as well as beauty in one place. The bangle-sellers are poor but their bangles are all colourful to attract the customers.
Finally she tells that these people used to travel long by foot which resulted in cracks on the heels and thus while climbing the hill their feet made strange noises (because of the cracks) when they reach Kamala’s house.
Part 2 (Lines 11-21)
Having discussed all these regular passersby, the poet now talks about the strangers who also climbed the hill. These people unlike those mentioned above were unaware of the way. Hence they often peeped through the glass of the window and then enter her house.
Their eyes could not see anything because they would comes from bright sun to a little bit darker house of Kamala. Next they would look here and there searching for the brick-ledged well to drink water.
The poet says that that was the noon in which strangers who had mistrust in their dark eyes and kept silent probably because they didn’t know the family of Kamala. Hence they didn’t even speak and when they spoke it was strange and wild like the jungle voices.
The poet has tried Romanticising the their behaviour because in those days it was quite common for the people to enter the houses of those whom they didn’t know for drinking water.
The noon was thus a noon for wild men, wild thoughts, wild love i.e. in the hot noon of Malabar, there was everything which would bring people close to each other i.e. people, thoughts and love.
Part 3 (Lines 21-23)
Now that she is married and living in a city (I guess), life has become torture for her. She thinks that at this time the same wild feet would have been stirring up the dust i.e. the people would be travelling in her home in Malabar but she herself is so far away.
The poet is regretting because of double torture – first of her in-laws which she describes in An Introduction and the other of modern life which she hates. Check out this document for a detailed study on Kamala Das.