Why Everyone Should Read When I Hit You by Meena Kandasamy

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Why Everyone Should Read When I Hit You by Meena Kandasamy

When she writes, Kandasamy gives a voice to all the other women who face violence in their own homes, says Manan Kapoor
 When I Hit You or The Portrait of a Writer as a Young Wife instantly throws the reader back to James Joyce, and his first novel, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, in which Joyce’s alter ego Stephen Dedalus, decides to cast off all his social, familial, and religious constraints to live a life devoted to the art of writing. Kandasamy’s book is an auto-portrait—a Künstlerroman with an unnamed narrator who falls in love with an older man, who aspires to become a writer, and the title does justice to the book.

Ilavenil Meena Kandasamy, born 1984, is an Indian poet, fiction writer, translator and activist who is based in Chennai. While most of her previous works of poetry were centred around the anti-caste movements in India, her latest book talks about domestic violence. The unnamed narrator in her book falls in love with a university professor. It is only after marriage that she begins to experience his true nature. He is a “Communist crusader,” who is trying to get her back to “ the right path”.

It starts with him cutting her off from the outside world.

He deletes her Facebook account and threatens to burn himself, slowly robbing her of her voice. He then rations her internet access. As if trying to erase her past, he deletes all her old e-mails. Bit by bit, the narrator loses herself.

My husband decides to set me free…. He deletes the 25,600-odd emails from my inbox. All at one go… everything about my life as a writer is gone,” she writes in the book.  When she writes, Kandasamy gives a voice to all the other women who face violence in their own homes. Like them, she is now confounded to the kitchen, her words are now silences and her degree, along with all her aspirations, bite the dust. He calls them “petit-bourgeois” dreams.

While initially, it is all about control, it slowly turns into violence and subsequently rape and even threats of murder. She instinctively knows that “this will go further, that this does not end easily.”  Her parents tell her that she has to make the marriage work. Her mother tells her “a marriage is not magic”. Her father, on the other hand, repeats six words that echo with the fear of society –“What will we tell the world?

It is a story that many are familiar with but very rarely does someone talk about it as candidly. The author says that she left her narrator unnamed because she could be any woman. In a recent interview, she said, “the specifics, the manifestations, the exact words may vary from one abusive marriage to another – but the woman’s experience of subjugation, humiliation, obliteration and pain largely remain the same.”

As of 2014, the National Crimes Record Bureau recorded domestic abuse as the single largest crime against women, with 122,877 reported cases. Yet this is an issue that we don’t generally talk about, we often cite “personal matter” as the reason to not interfere. More often than not we judge and shame the victims, by wondering how can they stay in such a situation, especially if the person concerned is a strong woman. “The idea that strong women cannot be abused within their marriages is a big myth. I believed that no man, no husband could lay a hand on me. I was fierce and feminist and no-nonsense. Then, within an abusive marriage, I actually realised that your strength is also what makes you a perfect target for an abuser,” says Kandasamy.

Even though the novel hints, refers and theorises the violence, the blood is never shown or described. In an interview, Kandasamy said that “I have learnt that what is left unsaid speaks louder than anything that is put down into words.” In the book, she wrote that salvation from such a marriage only lies with no one else but the woman herself. While It is is not an easy one to read but it is not easy to let go of either. One can and one must read it for the sheer power of its narrative. Kandasamy’s writing is fresh, raw, and full of conviction and one could call her the modern day Kamala Das, who uses poetry to reveal the honest and hidden aspects of an abused person’s life.

“three four

sweep the floor

three four

do the chore

three four

come here whore”

Buy the book here

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