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My Mother at Sixty Six |Stanza-wise Explanation | CBQs | Board Exam 2024

Updated: Oct 2, 2023


Lesson Highlights


YouTube Concept Video


NCERT Official Discussion on My Mother at Sixty Six by Kamala Das



Introduction:

  • The poem drives home the fact that aging is a natural process and we have no sway (i.e control) over it.

  • Like aging, death is also inevitable (i.e a must) in the lives of people.

  • We should come to terms with this hard core fact of life. If we fail to negotiate with this universal process of aging and mortality, we shall end up being in despair.

  • The writer in this poem is so obsessed with her mother that she has become totally blind to the fact of inevitability of aging and death.

  • Due to her possessiveness for her mother since her childhood, she developed subdued fear and consequent pain in her mind that one day she would have to part with her mother.

  • Like the woman in the poem ‘Mirror’, the poet is unable to digest the fact of aging and death. Therefore, she is in conflict with herself.

  • From a personal pain and agony the poem transcends into universal problem of pain at separation from our beloved ones.

  • This inevitable pain at separation is fairly universal in nature. Hence justified at all layers of human relationship.


Stanza-Wise Explanations


Lines 1 to 6

​Driving from my parent’s home to Cochin last Friday morning, I saw my mother, beside me, doze, open mouthed, her face ashen like that of a corpse and realised with pain that she was as old as she looked but soon put that thought away,…

Glossary:

  • Doze: A light sleep

  • Her face ashen like that of a corpse: The face of her mother is pale and dull like that of a corpse.

Paraphrase:

The poet was driving with her mother to the Cochin Airport. Her mother was sitting next to her. The running of the car made her doze off open mouthed. When the poet looked at her, she realised that her mother’s face was pale like a dead body. This painful thought made her realize that she looked as old as she was - a sixty-six year old woman. But this realisation hurt the poetess so much that she put that thought away for a while.



Lines 6 to 12

​… and looked out at Young Trees sprinting, the merry children spilling out of their homes, but after the airport’s security check, standing a few yards away, I looked again at her, wan, pale as a late winter’s moon…

Glossary:


  • Young trees sprinting: When the vehicle is moving, the young trees appear to be racing behind.

  • Merry Children spilling out of their homes : Cheerful children rushing out of their homes.

  • As a late winter’s moon: Here the poet means that her mother’s colourless face appeared like that of a late winter’s moon.

Paraphrase: In order to divert her attention from her ailing mother, the poetess looked out of the vehicle at the young trees and happy children coming out of their houses. When they reached the airport, the poet went to the airport’s security check. After the physical separation from her mother after the security check at the airport, she looked back at her mother and again saw her pale and colourless face, which she compared to a late winter's moon.


Lines 12 to 15

​… and felt that old familiar ache, my childhood’s fear, but all I said was, see you soon, Amma, all I did was smile and smile and smile......

Glossary:

  • familiar ache : the pain was which was known to her.

  • That old familiar ache: The old familiar ache refers to the poet’s childhood fear that her mother would die one day.

Paraphrase: After looking at her mother’s face from the other side of the security check, the poet felt an old familiar pain again. But these emotional thought were so overpowering in nature that she had to mask her obsessive thought in front of her mother and said to her Amma that she would see her soon and smiled away all her underlying thoughts.




Literary Devices/ Figures of Speech

​Alliteration

​A figure of speech in which consonants at the beginning of words or stressed syllables are repeated.

familiar ache, my childhood’s fear

Assonance

​A repetition of similar vowel sounds usually close together to achieve the effect of being pleasing to the ear is called assonance.

Driving from my parent’s home to Cochin last Friday • morning, I saw my mother, beside me, • doze, open mouthed, her face ashen like that

​Personification

The attribution of human qualities to inanimate objects is called personification

Young Trees sprinting

Repetition

A repetition of sounds, words, phrases or stanzas that create a certain effect.

all I did was smile, smile and smile.

Simile

A figure of speech in which one thing is likened to another to clarify and enhance an image. It is an explicit comparison using works ‘like’ and ‘as’.

I looked again at her, wan, pale as a late winter’s moon

Symbol

A symbol is an object, animate or inanimate, which represents or stands for something else

(a) ‘a late winter’s moon’ is a symbol of death (b) ‘merry children’ are a symbol of youth and life



Recapitulation:

  • The writer in this poem is so obsessed with her mother that she has become totally blind to the fact of inevitability of aging and death.

  • While driving to the Cochin airport, the poet noticed that her mother was sleeping with her mouth open. Her face looked like that of a corpse. She at once realised that her mother had gone very old.

  • The poet put away the thought of the distressing reality of her mother getting old and her impending death.

  • The contrast between the old mother inside the car and the young and lively tress outside the car has been brought out in the poem.

  • The ‘merry children’ epitomises exuberance and vigour of youth. In contrast to this image, the mother is old and pale. Therefore, the image of cheerful children rushing out their homes brings out the contrast between the old age and the youth.

  • The late winter’s moon looks very hazy and lacks brightness and lustre. Similarly, the mother who is now sixty-six is pale and has a shrunken and ashen face which is like a corpse.

  • The poet’s parting words and smile are a facade to suppress her feelings of insecurity. The poet feels the pangs of separation, yet she sees her mother off with a smile to reassure her that they would meet again. They signify the fact that such separations in life are inescapable and inevitable.




NCERT Solution


1. What is the kind of pain and ache that the poet feels?


Ans: `The poet feels excruciating pain at the very thought of being separated from her mother. Her childhood fear that her mother would die one day starts surfacing in her mind at the time of departure from her mother at the airport.


2. Why are the young trees described as ‘sprinting’?


Ans: Here the contrast between the old mother and the young and lively tress has been brought out in the poem. The poet in the company with her mother is travelling by a car. Therefore, the roadside trees seem to be speeding past the vehicle.

3. Why has the poet brought in the image of the merry children ‘spilling out of their homes’?


Ans: The ‘merry children’ epitomises exuberance and vigour of youth. In contrast to this image, the mother is old and pale. Therefore, the image of cheerful children rushing out their homes brings out the contrast between the old age and the youth.



4. Why has the mother been compared to ‘late winter’s moon’?

The late winter’s moon looks very hazy and lacks brightness and lustre. Similarly, the mother who is now sixty-six is pale and has a shrunken and ashen face which is like a corpse. She is devoid of the effervescence and exhilaration of youth.

5. What do the parting words of the poet and her smile signify?

The poet’s parting words and smile are a facade to suppress her feelings of insecurity. The poet feels the pangs of separation, yet she sees her mother off with a smile to reassure her that they would meet again. They signify the fact that such separations in life are inescapable and inevitable.

6. Why did the poetess smile and smile?


The poetess smiled and smiled only because she wanted to suppress her fears from her mother. She is reassuring herself and also her mother that they will meet again.

7. Which thought did the poet put away?


Ans: The poet put away the thought of the distressing reality of her mother getting old and her impending death.


8. Why does her mother’s face look like that of a corpse?


Ans: Her mother’s face has lost all its glow and colour owing to old age. As she has lost the lustre of her face, so her face looks like that of a corpse.

9. What were the poet’s fears as a child? Why do they surface when she is going to the airport?

Ans: As a child the poet was insecure about losing her mother. The same feelings are evoked inside her while she is on the way to the airport by seeing her mother’s pale face, which is a sign of her old age and impending death.



10. What did the poet notice about her mother when she was driving for the airport?


Ans: The poet noticed that her mother was sleeping with her mouth open. Her face looked like that of a corpse. She at once realised that her mother had gone very old.


Recommended Reading: 

CBE-Based Questions

Q1. Read the following extract and answer the questions that follow.


Driving from my parent’s

home to Cochin last Friday

morning, I saw my mother,

beside me,

doze, open mouthed, her face

ashen like that of a corpse and realized with pain

that she was as old as she

looked but soon

put that thought away…


1.1 Choose the option that best applies to the given extract.

1) a conversation

2) an argument

3) a piece of advice

4) a strategy

5) a recollection

6) a suggestion

a) 1, 3 & 6

b) 2, 4 & 5

c) Only 5

d) Only 1



1.2 Choose the option that applies correctly to the two statements given below

Assertion: The poet wards off the thought of her mother getting old quickly.

Reason: The poet didn’t want to confront the inevitability of fate that was to dawn upon her mother.

a) Assertion can be inferred but the Reason cannot be inferred.

b) Assertion cannot be inferred but the Reason can be inferred.

c) Both Assertion and Reason can be inferred.

d) Both Assertion and Reason cannot be inferred.





1.3 Choose the option that displays the same literary device as in the given lines of the extract.


her face ashen like that of a corpse…

a) Just as I had I had this thought, she appeared and…

b) My thoughts were as heavy as lead that evening when …

c) I think like everyone else who…

d) I like to think aloud when …





Q2. …I looked again at her, wan, pale

as a late winter’s moon

and felt that old familiar ache,

my childhood’s fear, but all I said was,

see you soon, Amma,

all I did was smile

and smile and smile......


2.1 What is the speaker's emotional state when looking at her mother?


A. Confused and disoriented

B. Nostalgic and longing

C. Empathetic and understanding

D. Fearful and apprehensive






2.2 What does the use of the word "but" at the beginning of the line, ‘ but all I said..’, suggest ?





2.3 Select the word that WILL NOT complete the sentence appropriately. The description of the mother as "wan, pale / as a late winter's moon" creates a vivid image of ________ .


A. vulnerability

B. sensitivity

C. frailty

D. mortality




2.4 State whether the given statement is TRUE or FALSE.


The poetic device used in the line, ‘pale as a winter’s moon’ is the same as the one used in the line, ‘the winter wind wistfully wailed at night’.







2.5 What message do these lines highlight, in the context of familial relationships, and the speaker’s sense of anxiety and fear at the prospect of losing her mother?




2.6 Complete the sentence appropriately. The repetition of the word, ‘smile’ suggests that _______________.



Q3. And looked out at Young

Trees sprinting, the merry children spilling

out of their homes, but after the airport’s security check,

standing a few yards away,

I looked again at her, wan, pale

as a late winter’s moon

and felt that old familiar ache…


3.1 What is the most likely reason the poet capitalised ‘Young Trees’? This was to

a) convey a clearer meaning.

b) highlight the adj.-noun combination.

c) enhance the contrast.

d) draw a connection with the title.




3.2 Choose the option that appropriately describes the relationship between the two statements given below.

Statement 1: The poet knows her mother has aged.

Statement 2: The poet feels the pain of separation.


a) Beginning – Ending

b) Cause – Effect

c) Question – Answer

d) Introduction – Conclusion



3.3 Choose the option that completes the sentence given below. Just as the brightness of the winter’s moon is veiled behind the haze and mist, similarly, __________________.

a) the pain of separation has shaded mother’s expression.

b) age has fogged mother’s youthful appearance.

c) growing up has developed a seasoned maturity in the poet.

d) memories warm the heart like the pale moon in winter.




Short Questions ( 2 Marks)


Q1. The pain of separation is expressed both literally and metaphorically in this poem. Elucidate.


Ans: The pain of separation is expressed both literally and metaphorically. Literally, the speaker observes her aging mother's frailty during a car journey, realizing the stark reality of her mother's old age. This is evident when she describes her mother's ashen face, resembling that of a corpse. Metaphorically, the poem delves into the emotional separation as the speaker witnesses the generational gap between her aging mother and the vibrant world outside, symbolized by young trees and joyful children.

The ache of realizing her mother's mortality triggers childhood fears and emotions, emphasizing the universal experience of coming to terms with the aging of loved ones. The poem ends with the speaker masking her emotions with a smile, highlighting the complexity of emotions surrounding separation and aging.


Q2. Comment on the tone of the poem with references to “My Mother at Sixty Six”.


Ans: The tone of Kamala Das' "My Mother at Sixty-Six" is one of poignant reflection and bittersweet nostalgia. The poem's sensitivity is evident as the speaker observes her mother's vulnerability and aging. It carries an underlying sense of melancholy, acceptance, and nostalgia, reflecting a deep reverence for the mother. The poem beautifully captures the complex emotions tied to aging and separation, creating a heartfelt and moving atmosphere.


Q3. Imagery was an effective literary device to bring out the contrast between the “merry children” and mother. Comment.


Ans: In "My Mother at Sixty-Six" by Kamala Das, imagery is a powerful literary device that vividly highlights the contrast between the "merry children" and the speaker's mother. The poet uses visual imagery to paint contrasting pictures:


1. Merry Children : The poem portrays the image of joyful, energetic children spilling out of their homes. This imagery is bright, lively, and filled with youthful exuberance. It represents the vitality and enthusiasm of youth, symbolizing the ongoing cycle of life.


2. Mother's Fragility : In contrast, the imagery surrounding the mother is starkly different. She is described as "wan" and "pale as a late winter’s moon." This imagery conveys her frailty and vulnerability, emphasizing her advanced age and the physical toll it has taken on her.


The stark contrast between the vibrant, spirited children and the elderly, frail mother underscores the theme of aging and the passing of time. Through imagery, the poet effectively conveys the emotional impact of this contrast, creating a poignant and thought-provoking atmosphere in the poem.


Q4. The poet does not directly mention the fear of her mother’s death and yet she is successfully able to convey the same through different poetic techniques. Discuss


Ans: The fear of the mother's death is not explicitly mentioned, but it is skillfully conveyed through various poetic techniques: (Mention any two of the following poetic devices).


1. Imagery: The poet employs vivid and evocative imagery to describe her mother's appearance as "ashen like that / of a corpse" and "wan, pale / as a late winter’s moon." These descriptions evoke a sense of mortality and impending death without explicitly stating it.


2. Symbolism : The mother's frailty and her face resembling that of a corpse serve as symbols of mortality. The poem's journey, the young trees, and the merry children symbolize the passage of time and the cyclical nature of life.


3. Tone : The melancholic and reflective tone of the poem conveys an underlying sense of fear and anxiety about the mother's aging and eventual demise. The sensitivity with which the speaker observes her mother's vulnerability hints at the unspoken fear.


4. Contrast : By contrasting the vibrant, youthful world outside the car with the mother's frailty within, the poet indirectly emphasizes the inevitable contrast between life and death.


5. Irony : The poet's decision to smile and mask her emotions at the end of the poem can be seen as a form of irony. It suggests a coping mechanism to deal with the fear of losing her mother, as she is unable to express her true emotions directly.


Through these poetic techniques, Kamala Das effectively conveys the fear of her mother's death without explicitly mentioning it, allowing readers to infer and engage with the deeper emotional layers of the poem.


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