"Punishment in Kindergarten" is a little autobiographical poem by the famous Indo-Anglian poet Kamala Das. She recalls one of her childhood experiences. When she was in the kindergarten, one day the children were taken for a picnic. All the children except her were playing and making merry. But she alone kept away from the company of the children. Their teacher, a blue-frocked woman, scolded her saying.
"Why don't you join the others, what
A peculiar child you are!"
This heard, all the other children who were sipping sugar cane turned and laughed. The child felt it very much. She became sad at the words of the teacher. But the laughter by the children made her sadder. She thought that they should have consoled her rather than laughing and insulting her. Filled with sorrow and shame she did her face in a hedge and wept. This was indeed a painful experience to a little child in the nursery school.
Now after many years she has grown into an adult. She has only a faint memory of the blue-frocked woman and the laughing faces of the children. Now she has learned to have an 'adult peace' and happiness in her present state as a grown-up person. Now there is no need for her to be perturbed about that bitter kindergarten experience. With her long experience in life she has learned that life is a mixture of joy and sorrow. She remembers how she has experienced both the joy and sorrow of life. The long passage of time has taught her many things. She is no more a lonely individual as she used to feel when she was a child. The poet comes to a conclusion that there is no need for her to remember that picnic day, when she hid her face in the hedge, watching the steel-white sun, that was standing lonely in the sky.
The poem is written in three stanzas, each having different number of lines – the first with seven lines, the second with six and the third with nine. The poem does not follow any regular rhyme scheme. The subject matter of the poem has two parts, the first of which being the description of the painful experience of the kindergarten days and the second, the adult's attitude to the incident at present when she is no more a child.
The poet seems to be nostalgic about her childhood days. There are certain expressions in the poem that are worth remembering. The poet says that the child buried its face in the hedge and "smelt the flowers and the pain". "Smelt the flowers can be taken as an ordinary expression, but "smelt the pain" is something very evocative and expressive. In the first stanza of the poem, the poet describes the pain caused to the child, "throwing words like pots and pans". This again is beautiful. The phrase used by the poet to describe the child's teacher, namely, "blue-frocked woman" can be justified from the child's point of view. But to the poet who is an adult the use of the phrase looks a little too awkward. On the whole, the poem can be taken as the poet's interest in remembering her childhood days.