Meena Kandasamy is a poet, fiction writer, translator and activist. Her most recent work, When I Hit You, is at once the chronicle of an abusive marriage and a celebration of the invincible power of art. When I Hit You is a smart, fierce and courageous take on traditional wedlock in modern India. Read an excerpt below:
My father on the phone:
“He is hitting you? The bastard. Ah, my daughter. I would have imagined you hitting him. Just try to avoid conflict as much as possible. What can we do? We could talk to him and take your side but he will assume the whole family is against him. That will turn him against you even more. You are alone as it is. Yeah. So, if we talk to him about this, we will have to be on his side de facto, but that will make him feel vindicated, and he will crush you all the more. Our interfering will not benefit you anyway. But remember, we are with you. Clench your teeth and wait it out. Take care of yourself, take care of him. Tell him that I sent him my regards.”
I listen to my father’s advice:
“Hold your tongue. He is your husband, not your enemy.”
“Do not talk back. You can never take back what you have said.”
“Your word-wounds will never heal, they will remain long after both of you have patched up and made peace.”
“It takes two to fight. He cannot fight by himself. It will drain his energy, to fight alone.”
“Do not talk too much. Never in history has anything been solved by constantly talking.”
“Don’t you understand? Silence is golden.”
I climb into the incredible sadness of silence. Wrap its slowness around my shoulders, conceal its shame within the folds of my sari. Make it a vow, as if my life hinged upon it, as if I was not a wife in Mangalore but a nun elsewhere, cloistered and clinging to her silence to make sense of the world.
To stay silent is to censor all conversation. To stay silent is to erase individuality. To stay silent is an act of self-flagellation because this is when the words visit me, flooding me with their presence, kissing my lips, refusing to dislodge themselves from my tongue…
He reads this as rejection. He is quick to turn the tables on me. He accuses me of inhabiting a world in my mind, a world where I am cohabiting with ex-lovers, a world where I have left him. He asks me to stop leading a double life, tells me that if I believe that I am Andal, living with some imaginary Thirumaal, I have no place in his home. He offers to check me into a mental hospital.
I am unwilling to address his accusations, unwilling to face the consequences of an unwise retort. I do not say anything in my defence. To talk to him, as he is raging against me, would only feed his fury. He is in no mood to listen in any case.
He kicks me in the stomach. “Prove it!” he yells as I double over. “Prove it to me that you are my wife. Prove it to me that you are not thinking of another man. Or I will prove it for you.”