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When I Hit You by Meena Kandaswamy is a hardhitting autobiographical novel in verse that sucker punches you with its powerful prose and hard truths about the society we live in.
Seduced by politics and poetry, the unnamed narrator falls in love with a university professor and agrees to be his wife, but what for her is a contract of love is for him a contract of ownership. As he sets about reducing her to his idealized version of a kept woman, bullying her out of her life as an academic and writer in the process, she attempts to push back – a resistance he resolves to break with violence and rape.Smart, fierce and courageous When I Hit You is a dissection of what love meant, means and will come to mean when trust is undermined by violence; a brilliant, throat-tightening feminist discourse on battered faces and bruised male egos; and a scathing portrait of traditional wedlock in modern India.
I got this book two months back but was procrastinating about picking it up. Since I had planned to get through all the unread books I own this month or at least get through half of them before getting new ones, I finally decided to start reading this one today.
The title gives a hint as to what lies in store for the reader inside, but even with ample preparation I was still not ready for this book.
“Hope – as the cliché 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.”
This is the story of a woman, a writer, a well educated women from a middle class family, with strong opinions and fierce principles, who gets torn down by a man whom she trusted to protect her, using the same ideals and principles she upheld. This is also the story of a woman, who rose up from the ashes of her broken self esteem and managed to recapture her stolen identity, when the whole world including her parents stood against her.
Meena Kandaswamy doesn’t hold back any punches when she takes us through this unnamed protagonist’s life. Every psychological manipulation,every physical abuse the protagonist goes through is spelled out with such raw brutality that you can literally feel the blows raining down. And all this comes wrapped inside prose so lyrical and beautiful that you can’t help turning the pages for more.
The fact that amazed me was that the same things that managed to horrify me also somehow managed to make me laugh too. The self deprecating humor evokes so much contradicting emotions in you, that sometimes you find yourself chuckling with tears rolling down your cheeks.
It takes through all the self doubt, the compromises, the empty platitudes women who are abused try to placate themselves with and show us how helpless even the most confident educated woman feels when the very persons who are supposed to help you turn a blind eye.
“I am the woman who is willing to display her scars and put them within exhibition frames. I am the madwoman of moon days. I am the breast-beating woman who howls. I am the woman who wills the skies to weep in my place.”
Kandaswamy’s sharp insights into our society which blames the victims themselves for every injustice done to them and how they twist the system that preaches equality into the very thing that suppresses a section of the population, is eye opening and thought provoking.
The last couple of pages were a little drawn out and some of it could have been avoided or maybe made more concise but all in all a very powerful book.The fact that this is not completely fictional and that the author used her own experience of being in an abusive relationship, to write this novel makes it all the more real.
A beautiful book that should be read but I wouldn’t recommend it for the faint of heart.
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