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Meena Kandasamy’s When I Hit You
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Meena Kandasamy’s When I Hit You

“My mother has not stopped talking about it.” – This is how Meena Kandasamy begins her soaring poem of a novel titled “When I Hit You Or, a Portrait of the Writer as a Young Wife”. At around 250 pages, the partially-autobiographical narrative is written in the first person and along with being a chronicle of an abusive marriage, is an examination of violence and rape, love and wedlock, misogyny and control, entitlement and ownership, and the power of art. The protagonist and narrator of the novel – a young woman – is unnamed, and so is the abuser, her husband. In my view, through this choice of not naming the two characters which are at the core of the novel, what Kandasamy is suggesting is that there are many more stories like this. Although each tale of abuse is idiomatic, there are some elements that are fundamental to violence. The narrator should not be mistaken for Kandasamy herself as this is not her life story and the exactitude of the narrative is undetermined because it, ultimately, is fiction, and this fact, instead of taking anything away from the narrative, only adds a new layer to it.

For me, the most terrifying aspect of abuse (emotional and physical) in the book was its sighted nature. It shook me how strategic, well-planned and calculated it was. The book puts forth the idea that being empowered does not render you immune to violence – the narrator is a well-educated, intelligent and financially independent writer and college professor. The portrayal of her husband cuts through the Abuser trope and presents a man who is a college professor, firmly believes in the system and ideology of Communism and in living for the oppressed – “a man who loved people”. He is certainly not devoid of kindness and Kandasamy puts that forth by calling our attention to his benevolence towards the poor and the underprivileged, with mind-boggling courage, while at the same time challenging and dismantling the figure of a typical abuser in our mind. She brings to light the hypocrisy of such people and highlights the fact that how dangerous a selective, convenient and misconstrued interpretation of any socio-political ideology could be. Every person is capable of inflicting abuse as a person’s profession and ideology cannot gauge his propensity for violence.

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