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.
|‘With sad-woman eyes and soulful smiles’
e-mail address one week, it is enforced the next. He makes personal boundaries disappear. I am isolated from all my friends and family. As an act of purification, 25,000 e-mail messages are erased on New Year’s Eve. I become the woman with no history.
Soon, in my loveless marriage, sex begins to replicate the model of a market economy: he demands, I supply. Never mind that my response does not matter, never mind that I bleed every single time, never mind that he derives his pleasure from my pain. With a scattered heart and in no mood for seduction, the woman in me carries on a conversation with the ceiling, she confides in the curtains. Faced with so much damage, she seeks pleasure in the flaming forces of nature: harsh sunlight, sudden showers. Secretly, she refuses to be tamed.
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.
As a bored housewife, I colour-code the domestic violence: fresh red welts on my skin, the black hue of blood clots, the fading violet of healed bruises. It appears that there is no escape from this unending cycle of abuse, remorse-filled apology and more abuse. One day, when I am whipped with a belt and cannot take it anymore, I threaten him with police action. He retorts that no man in uniform will respect me after reading a line of my verse. He challenges me to go to anyone anywhere. I have no friends in that small world—only his colleagues who think the world of him and his students who worship the earth on which he walks. I do not know whom to trust, even our neighbours could hand me back to him. In the middle of the night, I want to rush to a nearby convent, seek shelter. Would I be understood? Would it work out? How far can I run away in a city that does not speak my tongue, a city where young women in bars are beaten up?
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.