The poem The Old Playhouse by Kamala Das reflects the central idea of her poetry i.e. the dominance of patriarchy and her struggle against it.
Like many of her other poems including An Introduction or The Looking Glass, The Old Playhouse is also a Confessional Poem. The poem is not divided into stanzas. The Old Playhouse is also without any rhyme scheme.
Attack on Patriarchy
The poem begins with the word You that is a direct attack on man and patriarchy. According to the poet, her husband has planned to domesticate a bird (the poet) by holding it in the fake love so that she may forget the seasons (spring, summer, autumn or in other words the joys of her life) and her home which she left behind her for him.
Not only this, but he has also made her forget her nature, her desire to fly or freedom, and to explore the opportunities were also crushed.
Her Hopes & Aspirations Affected
The poet says that it was not to gather knowledge of yet another man that I came to you but to learn. The lines mean that she did not marry him or gave him her body and soul to learn about him or in other words to serve him, but to know about herself.
However, what his husband taught her was about himself. He i.e. the male-dominance was the centre of all the education. In the next line, the poet says that you were pleased with my body’s response i.e. her husband wanted to quench her lust by exploiting her body.
He never tried to explore her soul and never loved her. Though he succeeds in penetrating every part of her body. He kisses her lips so hard that his saliva would fill her mouth. But he fails to satisfy her soul.
Her Job as a Wife
According to the poet, he called her wife or the better half. However, she was not more than a slave to him. She was forced to serve him tea, take care of his medicine.
In the next line, the poet says cowering beneath your monstrous ego I ate the magic loaf and became a dwarf meaning that after getting married to him, she was reduced to a slave to his male ego. And thus she lost her desires and thinking that made her act like a fool whenever he would ask her something.
Decaying of Her Desires
The poet says that the summer begins to pall i.e. the joy of her life is going to end because her husband has killed her desires. She can hear the rudder breezes of the fall and the smoke from the burning leaves i.e. she sees her dreams, desires, quest and her zeal dying like smoke coming from burning leaves.
In the next line, she says your room is always lit by artificial lights, your windows always shut i.e. the world which her husband has provided to her is full of fake love and there is no freedom for her. Even in the AC, she can smell the male scent of your breath i.e. the dominant patriarchy.
Thus the cut flowers in the vases have begun to smell of human sweat meaning that her desires which have been killed by her husband have rotten. There is no more singing, no more dance or in other words, there is no joy in her life.
Legal Love of Her Husband
Her mind is an old playhouse with all its lights put out. The strong man’s technique is always the same i.e. the dominance of patriarchy is always there which never goes away. Her husband serves his love in lethal doses.
Here she perhaps refers to the lustful love of her husband which is without real love and rather than giving her life gives a death-like experience. The poet compares the love between her and her husband to the Narcissus at the water’s edge.
Narcissus was a young boy who fell in love with his own reflection and suffered a fall. Like it, his love will also suffer destruction as it is self-obsessed. For that, it will have to break the mirrors and bring the night. In other words, it will also kill the poet before dying.