Book Reviews

When I Hit You – Meena Kandaswamy

I must take some responsibility over my own life. I must write my story.

Short Overview:

The unnamed narrator of the story is a what the society to call a “modern day” woman. She is bold, uninhibited and worldly-wise. She studies literature in Kerala and has a couple of casual affairs. The one guy she really falls in love is a maverick politician, who will not acknowledge her in front of the world. She does not want to be somebody’s dirty secret and hence breaks off the relationship which leave her emotionally wrecked. In her most vulnerable moment, she finds the man that she eventually marries.

The rest as they say is the unrest of the story.

Her husband is a communist. He had been a Naxalite and is still a fugitive living with a bounty on his head. She is enamoured by his idealism and “sense of adventure” and feels that he would make her see the world in a new light. However, her marriage is anything but ideal.

I must learn that a Communist woman is treated equally and respectfully by comrades in public but can be slapped and called a whore behind closed doors. This is dialectics.

She suffers unspeakable horrors and endures for a while; but ultimately gathers courage to walk out and pen down her story.

My thoughts on the book:

This books treats the topic of marital abuse in minutiae. The angle is unique because this is an evidently headstrong girl, not some docile girl-next-door. She was not forced into this marriage by her parents; she chose the man for her. Relationships were not a novelty for her; neither was she in search of a knight in shining armour. Yet, she lands in an abusive relationship, despite not checking off any of the usual pre requisites.

A very important issue spoken about in a rather brazen but realistic manner is marital rape. More often than not, the doesn’t even count it as rape, even though any sexual relationship that does not involve the consent of both the individuals should be termed so, no matter the fact that the individuals in the situation are husband and wife.

The man who rapes me is not a stranger who runs away. He is not the silhouette in the car park, he is not the masked assaulter, he is not the acquaintance who has spiked my drinks. He is someone who wakes up next to me.

The horror doesn’t end with the act itself. The intense scrutiny that follows is tormenting. It causes the victim to hate herself, to think that she might have done something to deserve this.

The shame of the rape is the shame of the unspeakable. Women have found it easier to jump into fire, consume poison, blow themselves up as suicide bombers, than tell another soul about what happened. A rape is a fight you did not win. You could not win. A rape is defeat.

The double standards of men like the narrator’s husband is sickening. He claims himself to be a revolutionary. He is a communist; a worshipper of Lenin. The basic tenet of communism is that no class of human beings should discriminate against another. Ideally speaking, this should mean that men should treat women as equal to them and respect them as equals in a relationship. But, for some men, these ideals are left behind when they cross the doors to enter their homes. Women are reduced to objects to derive pleasure from and punish when she doesn’t confirm to the wishes of the man.

The narrator uses writing as an outlet; which is a good coping mechanism. She also begins to strategise to get out of the relationship. More often than not, it is assumed that having a child would repair all marital relationships. It doesn’t; in fact it forces women to stay and the child’s life is also gambled in the process. The narrator, realises that this is not a solution and makes sure this doesn’t happen.

The writer, explores why women stay in such relationships. Her perspective on this matter is nothing new or unique. It’s usually a lot of social pressure to make things work that drives women. It is also, the tiny bit hope that things would eventually work out. And hope is most often the last thing that dies; and makes women endure much more than they think they can and they should.

Hope – as the cliche goes – is the last thing to disappear. I sometimes wish it had abandoned me first, with no farewell note or goodbye hug, and forced me to act.

There are also people on both sides of the aisle who judge women. The radical feminists think of such women as a disappointment to the gender and ostracise them for choosing to endure abuse. The conservative society blames such women for being too progressive and not having the mettle to sustain relationships.

Sometimes the shame is not the beatings, not the rape. the shaming is in being asked to stand to judgment.

This book is a lesson to judgmental feminists that they shouldn’t be too quick to judge, to women who are in abusive relationships that winning should not be coping but walking out and to young girls in hopes of love that happy ending is not a lover; but the freedom to love.

 

Rating: 4.5/5

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