In that strange coastal town-city where it rains every morning, I partake of pain as if it is prayer. Married to a violent man who treats me with nothing but distrust and suspicion, my skin has seen enough hurt to tell its own story.
In the early days, his words win me back: I don’t have anything if I don’t have you. In this honeymoon period, every quarrel follows a predictable pattern: we make up, we make love, we move on. It becomes a bargain, a barter system. For the sake of survival, I surrender my space.
The first time he hits me, I remember I hit him back. Retaliation can work between well-matched rivals, but experience teaches me that a woman who weighs less than a hundred pounds should think of other options. It also teaches me other things. I learn that anything can become an instrument of punishment: twisted computer power-cords, leather belts, his bare hands that I once held with all the love in the world. His words sharpen his strikes. If I deliver a quick blow, your brains will spill out, he says. His every slap shatters me. Once, when he strangulates me, I imbibe the silence of a choked throat.
And when I tell him that I want to walk out of the marriage, he wishes me success in a career as a prostitute, asks me to specialise in fellating, advices me to use condoms. I shrink and shrivel and shout back and shed a steady stream of tears. He smiles at his success. He wants me to feel like a fallen woman. He always inhabits the moral high ground and resorts to extreme generalisations: literary festivals are brothels, women writers are whores, my poetry is pornography. His communist credentials crumble. He faults me for being a feminist. I am treated with the hatred that should be reserved for class enemies.
I tell him that I cannot live with him any longer. I tell him that I have lost count of the last chances I have given him.
The next morning I wake up and see that he has singed his flesh with a red-hot spoon. A twisted mind and its twisted love. He is willing to explain himself: I inflict this punishment on myself because I realise my guilt. I did this because I love you. In other words: you made me hurt you, you made me hurt myself. The subtext: please take the blame, please take the beatings too. I am held hostage emotionally. I crave for a freedom that will just let me be me, I flounder to find the words to help me speak my story. I live in a house of slamming doors and broken dreams. I am no longer myself, I am convinced that I am starring in somebody’s tragic film. I look forward to dying, I think death will put an end to this.
As fear seeps into my body, sex becomes submission, and in this role-play of being a wife, I remember nothing except the relief of being let go, being let off after being used up. In this marriage of martyrdom, kisses disappear.
We sleep in separate rooms. Every night, my heart sings a sad song. I long for tenderness. I circle around my sorrow as if it were a village goddess, I feed it my bruised flesh. Come and get me,
I cry. No one hears me, it is just me screaming in my head. I manage to pull myself together because I have vowed never to break.
I grow distant, we grow apart.
I later uncover his double life: he has been previously married, a fact concealed even by his own family members. He has not yet divorced his first wife. When I confront him, he attempts to explain everything scientifically and then comes right back at me. There is more name-calling, hair-pulling, badmouthing, blackmailing. He begins to beat me. He brands me a bitch. I will skin you alive, he says, and then call your father to come and get you. I am numb, too traumatised to react. That night, I am thrown out, like trash. I leave home with a handbag and a bad-girl tag. I plead with the paramilitary personnel at the airport to let me sleep there, they ask me a thousand questions but allow me to stay. One of them buys me dinner. I fly back to Chennai the next morning. I have no words to tell my parents. They ask no questions. My mother hugs me with the air of a woman who will never let me go. My sister is angry why I ever left her.
Weeks later, I consult lawyers. They tell me that my marriage is not valid, that seeking a divorce is a pointless exercise. As an act of mercy, even the law has set me free. When I press for his punishment, the police speak of jurisdictional issues. You lived elsewhere, they say. Lady justice does not serve displaced women.
It is more than a month since I moved back to my parents’ place. I talk to my well-wishers. I wear my sister’s clothes. I weep, alone, at night. I look back at those four months of my life and realise that what I had lived through was not “my life” at all, but something that someone else had charted for me. Wedded to a wife-beater, I never believed that I would live to tell my tale. I console myself that now I have first-hand experience of brutality: a story of struggle and survival that I can share on unfair days. Such empty consolations soothe violated bodies. I join a lucky league of battered women who find comfort in the safe zone of family, solace in the warmth of friends and flirtatious strangers who nurse my wounds with words. Can I overcome this nightmare of a marriage? I don’t have straight answers. I have learnt my lessons. I know that I am single and safe now. With sad-woman eyes and soulful smiles, I strive to find the courage to face this world. Perhaps, along the way, poetry will help me leave the pain behind.
Kudos to Meena Kandasamy for writing this piece, and in such detail (I Singe the Body Electric, Mar 19). It is important that she wrote it, because of who she is. It takes time to come to terms with the paradoxical fact that someone who espouses progressive radical thought should have such deep roots in patriarchy.
Preethi Krishnan, Bangalore
Meena’s story really touched my heart. I applaud her honesty, strength and courage.
Seema Nanda, Houston
The fact that Meena has shared her story will give women in similar circumstances the strength to stand up and speak out. Absolutely nothing explains physical or emotional violence against another human being.
Jyotsna Kaur Habibullah, Lucknow
If this can happen to someone like Meena, imagine the millions of women who suffer in silence in a cruel relationship.
C.R. Gunasekar, Chennai
Writing this piece must have taken a lot more courage than her other writing. That this can happen to someone as bold and assertive as Meena is really jarring, and throws open the question as to how many women suffer her fate. I am sure her experience has made Meena stronger and hers will be a much-needed voice to the voiceless.
M. Vijayakumar, Bangalore
Women suffer without recognising it themselves, thinking things will get better, but unfortunately they never do. Simply because there is a pattern and cycle of victimisation. Whether it’s rape or years of domestic violence, in both, it’s a question of being violated, and losing your identity. Negative comments only reinforce that sense. I can tell because I too have suffered. The perpetrator can be anyone, even a person of position and power.
Amnah, Kuala Lumpur
If a bold and beautiful being like Meena can suffer like this at the hands of the beasts of patriarchy, what would be happening to ordinary, inarticulate multitudes of women?
Dr K.C. Muraleedharan, Kannur
I am so glad you’re safe, Meena. You’ll take time for your emotions to settle, but thank goodness you’re there. My dear friend lived with an abusive partner for 20 years. He murdered her on January 10 this year. And then he killed himself.
Carolyn Hastie, Tweed Heads, Australia
It is shocking that this could happen to Meena Kandasamy, who is as articulate and fierce a fighter for the rights of women and the oppressed as anyone who’s written in these pages. The “communist academic” she was married to was most likely a fellow traveller in Meena’s fight for freedoms and against institutional oppressions. I guess his commitment to those freedoms was, well, academic. Pity Meena had to find out the hard way.
Srinivas, Stamford, US
Meena Kandasamy depicts, quite chillingly, the limitations of gender consciousness—or rather, the conscious act of self-blinding—among even the ‘educated’ section of the Indian populace. We must realise that it’s all operating within a network of power in which men have the luxury of exhibition.
Judhajit Sarkar, Calcutta
What a chilling glimpse of a physically and psychologically abusive marriage. Many women trapped in violent relationships can, no doubt, relate and perhaps draw strength from Meena Kandasamy’s brave revelations.
Ammu Joseph, Bangalore
Though I’ve never fancied the stories you write, this one really hit me. You have shown your strength by recounting your story. Tough times never last, tough people do.
Kiran Voleti, Chennai
If it’s any consolation, please know that you have lent voice to the hundreds of women who live with such brutality. The poignance in your writing moved me. It would seem a bit callous to suggest a bright side to your ordeal, but it speaks volumes of your strength that you ditched that neanderthal.
Amit, Tucson, US
It will be difficult, if not impossible, to count the army of women who must live in such circumstances. Unlike soldiers, though, each is forced to fight her own battle.
Mukul Dube, Delhi
The lack of respect for women is something that is intolerable in today’s society. Your ‘husband’ mocking and punishing you for your passion for the arts embodies a general lack of tolerance, which must be expunged. It is heartening to know Meena is now in a better place.
Anirudh Dhawan, Mumbai
At the end of the day, even if everything else falls apart, you should have yourself. The healing process will peel away the layers of insults and pain, added to your own insecurities and fears. There are many women living in such marriages. One never sees them, the cultural framework has blinded us from the obvious.
No one, man or woman, deserves to be treated so. I’m glad Ms Kandasamy found the courage to break free. I hope she fights for legal justice too.
Prajna, Cupertino, US
I’m so shocked. I would never have thought such wounds lay hidden behind that smile. I hope she knows that she isn’t alone as she deals with this.
Ramesh Dheeravath, Hyderabad
Ms Kandasamy, hats off to you for being this strong. The depths of what you have gone through, only you would be able to understand. I’m glad your family is being supportive. Your leaving that brutal life behind is in itself a fresh start.
It made a sad reading. But I find this article to be a rare instance where Meena Kandasamy has transcended her narrow castiest boundaries.
For all the abuse she has heaped on hindus and brahmins, I am sure the guy who tortured her was neither. She should realize that empathy needs to be extended to humans in general, not label some as this and that, and paint her prejudices on them.
Trust this incident makes Meena feel the common pulse of poetry that beats across the human species.
Your dignity,self respect,erudition,poise,juvenile mirth and joy, and undying sprit cn never be stolen nor brunt by any one. it was only a passing phase and and passing cloud; some time in delay there is plenty; plenty to cherish and pursue;
Please revisit your life.dictate your life on your term. though I subscribe that life is full of compromise. what to compromise, is, should be, by for on your terms.Good wishes and all the best in your endeavour.
@Whats inaname - ""She is a fascist, hating Hindus"
>> She is a fascist hating Hindu
"She is a fascist, hating Hindus"
"She is a fascist, hating Hindus"
There. I fixed the grammatical errors in your post.
>> She is a Hindu hating fascist.
She is a fascist hating Hindu.
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