Do­mes­tic abuse can leave emo­tional scars that last a life­time. This is the story of how a fem­i­nist wrote her way out of suf­fer­ing

India Today - - LEISURE -

Lon­don-based Meena Kan­dasamy is a fiery fem­i­nist, a Dalit rights ac­tivist, a poet, an aca­demic and an au­thor. Her first book, The Gypsy God­dess, was based on the Kil­ven­mani mas­sacre of 1968. When I Hit You, her sec­ond novel, is about vi­o­lence at home based on her own ex­pe­ri­ence of be­ing in an abu­sive mar­riage.

This isn’t the first time she has writ­ten about do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, but much of her pub­lished poetry, ex­cept a handful of protest po­ems, was writ­ten be­fore her mar­riage in 2011. “I look back at th­ese po­ems and won­der how much I dealt with th­ese themes—of do­mes­tic abuse, in­ti­mate vi­o­lence, mar­i­tal rape—in my own poetry, be­fore I had had any sort of first-hand ex­pe­ri­ence. I think that hap­pened be­cause th­ese were huge con­cerns, they were all around me, hap­pen­ing to peo­ple I knew .... Thank good­ness I’m not a be­liever in pre­mo­ni­tions, be­cause if I were, all this ob­ses­sion about vi­o­lence, and then the same hap­pen­ing to me would seem eerie,” says Kan­dasamy.

How does a fem­i­nist find her­self stuck in an abu­sive mar­riage? It’s hard to be­lieve, even for the pro­tag­o­nist in Kan­dasamy’s book. In her head, she is en­act­ing the role of an ac­tress play­ing the role of a du­ti­ful wife. Bursts of verse ‘one two, tame the shrew, one two, just push through, one two, yes thank you’ breathe life into Kan­dasamy’s prose. Moods change as pages turn; aca­demic fer­vour jux­ta­posed with love let­ters that will never be sent and of course the pre­tence of a cam­era trained on her as she deals with the ter­ror, trauma, de­pres­sion and dis­be­lief.

Al­though Kan­dasamy had writ­ten a piece in 2012 di­rectly ad­dress­ing her mar­riage, she says she tries her best to steer clear of re­vis­it­ing the events. “To dwell (on) and dis­sect such a trau­matic pe­riod deeply pains me .... But writ­ing, and es­pe­cially writ­ing fic­tion, makes a dif­fer­ent crea­ture out of you—you are look­ing at some­thing (pri­vate, per­sonal, painful) and you are think­ing in terms of craft and nar­ra­tive struc­ture and style... in a sense, you are think­ing about ev­ery­thing from a writer’s per­spec­tive. Be­ing a writer al­lows me to step out­side the ex­pe­ri­ence, and I’m ac­tu­ally in­sanely lucky to be able to do that,” she says. ‘I must take some re­spon­si­bil­ity over my own life. I must write my story,’ the pro­tag­o­nist notes in the very first chap­ter. But Kan­dasamy says she didn’t write the novel in a self-ab­sorbed, self-ex­plana­tory way. “I wrote it be­cause I wanted to re­mem­ber my suf­fer­ing with some­thing beau­ti­ful that would in­stead take its place,” she says.

Through the book, Kan­dasamy at­tempts to shat­ter the idea of a woman’s do­mes­tic­ity as a bor­ing, mind­less zone by show­ing a cer­tain in­tel­lec­tual-ness, a fierce­ness that is be­ing crushed. The irony is that the hus­band in­tel­lec­tu­alises the vi­o­lence and abuse he hurls at her. “It is a case of the Devil quot­ing the Scrip­tures. The real dan­ger is that any form of the­o­ret­i­cal en­gage­ment that does not wear its fem­i­nism on its sleeve, that does not con­stantly and un­for­giv­ingly and mer­ci­lessly de­mand and fac­tor in women’s con­cerns, can be ma­nip­u­lated and ped­dled around to prop­a­gate patriarchy,” she as­serts. Rather than kill patriarchy, ed­u­ca­tion could in­stead pro­duce a more so­phis­ti­cated misog­y­nist; in­stead of get­ting rid of the wifebeater, it only makes it harder to spot one.

—Moeena Halim


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