Somewhere at the top of The Universal List of Things that Happen Only to Others is Domestic Violence and Abuse. It doesn’t matter if the signs are staring at your face, glaring in fiery red, framed within neon borders. It is not domestic violence or abuse. It couldn’t be. These are things that happen to others, as most women come to believe. At most, it may be a temporary loss of control, a misguided love. Never domestic violence. Never abuse. Never.
It doesn’t even matter what one may choose to name it. What truly matters is that whatever it may be, it is personal. It is meant to be confined within the four walls of the relationship. No outsider must be able to as much as breathe its awful stench or they may draw conclusions.
This, here, is where the problem takes root, and the first step to identifying it is to recognize and acknowledge the signs.
In her novel – When I Hit You: Or, A Portrait of the Writer as a Young Wife – writes one such hard-hitting account in an effort to lift the veil on the silence that surrounds domestic violence and marital rape in modern India.
It begins with the narrator telling her story through her mother’s eyes. The story of what she experienced in her broken marriage being simply reduced by her mother to her physical parameters. Her dry and dirty feet with dark soles and cracked heels because she was made to work all the time. Or her hair which was infested with lice due to stress, such that the teeming hundreds became thousands, their population forming lice settlements in her hair, then townships, cities and even nations.
With every telling, the mother’s exaggeration multiplies and becomes more engaging. But not once does it recognize the daughter’s marriage for what it is: that of domestic abuse and marital rape. Until the narrator, from the fear of her story being reduced to her mother’s words, decides to write it in her own words.
Seduced by politics, poetry and an enduring dream of building a better world together, the unnamed narrator fell in love with a university professor. Moving with him to a rain-washed coastal town, she swiftly learnt that what for her was a bond of love was for him a contract of ownership. As he set about reducing her to his idealized version of an obedient wife, bullying her and devouring her ambition of being a writer in the process, she attempted to push back – a resistance he resolved to break with violence and rape.
At no point in the book is the narrator, or her abuser, identified by name. The author has acknowledged that the story draws from her personal experience but she has also fictionalized it. By not giving the protagonist a name, it is no more the story of one person. Instead, it becomes a universal story – one that women anywhere in the world can relate to.
While the book is written in first person, the narrator often uses a third person setting as a way to detach herself from the emotional experience. She chronicles her abuser’s control on her life and career by limiting her access to social media and email. She describes how he has robbed her identity by answering her emails without her knowledge.
Her husband, on the other hand justifies his actions under the pretense of communism. Her parents teach her to be patient and to adjust. She resorts to committing thought-crimes – writing letters to a fictional lover that she types out on her laptop and erases before the husband returns home from work.
She talks about life after this marriage ends. Of being questioned by friends and relatives. Of being judged by the police. Of being repeatedly told that this is a personal matter. She is subjected to the eternal question, ‘Why did you stay?’ ‘How could an educated woman like you tolerate this?’
At the end of it all, despite all that she has been through, she claims she is a woman who still believes, broken heartedly, in love.
Kandasamy’s writing is lyrical and poetic. It is seething with rage. It is painful and devastating. It is also powerful, courageous and inspiring. It is a lesson. Of the signs that should be identified. Of hope. Of strength. Of being the woman not the world wants you to be, but what you want to become.
About the author:
Meena Kandasamy is a poet, fiction writer, translator and activist. She has published two collections of poetry, Touch and Ms Militancy, and the critically acclaimed novel ‘the Gypsy Goddess’.
Author(s): Meena Kandasamy
Release: May 2017
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