Wednesday, March 28, 2012

I singe the body electric - a few thoughts

I read Meena Kandasamy's article in Outlook describing her harrowing experience in an abusive marriage. It sent shivers down my spine. As a father of a daughter, this is a night mare that every father wishes to avoid.

I have no doubt that she suffered through the abuses she writes in graphic detail. It is the image she tries to build for herself through a personal tragedy that makes me cringe. Anyone reading the article will have a few basic questions.

1. Why didn't she walk out of the marriage much earlier than the 4 months she suffered?

2. Since she claims that he was already married, didn't she make a grave error in not doing a background check?

3. Why didn't she sue him for breach of trust / cheating her into marriage?

She probably tried to stay in the marriage and try to make it work, like what most of those in an abusive relationship try to do. But accepting that point in writing goes against the firebrand feminist image she has cultivated over the years. Hence that is conveniently glossed over.

A bigger error of judgement was not doing a background check before marrying him, especially when he is from another country (He is a MP of Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam). Giving up access to her email ID borders on stupidity. Forget fire breathing activist, any woman with an iota of common sense will not do that.

Claiming that the law made it difficult for her to sue him since he was in another city is obfuscation at its best. I can't believe that a globe trotting activist, one who has access to power centers (she translated a book of Tirumavalavan of VCK and was sued along with him for it) finds it difficult to go to Mangalore again and file a case. It is understandable that she wants to forget the nightmare and move on. Again, writing so goes against her activist image. So conveniently the law is blamed.

You can read the article again. You will never find the phrase "I made a mistake" - in choosing him, in giving up her email ids, in not walking out earlier. No, that will make Meena one more woman who suffered an abusive marriage and will stand starkly in contrast to her projected public persona. So, everyone else is blamed - the city of Mangalore (where woman are thrashed in pubs) (city that did not speak my language - strange to hear that from a published English Poetess), students of her husband (they worship the ground he walks in), the law ( Lady justice does not serve displaced women) - but she never looks into herself. Just a lame "I learnt my lessons" slipped in quietly at the end.

Reading her article gives rise to a vague sense of uneasiness. The reader is forced to see only her point of view. I won't be surprised if her next book of poems is titled "I singe the body electric".

She wrote this article as a catharsis she says, but for it to work, the writing should have been honest.

23 comments:

D.N.A. said...

Your final line is the crux here. Could it be that self acceptance is an iterative process and she is still not there and was hoping to move towards there by writing it?

Anonymous said...

A brave post. Many of us were privately very disturbed by the allegations - not because we believed it was entirely fabricated, but because it glossed over so many things. Through the duration of the marriage, as was documented on Twitter and in Outlook itself, she was travelling to New York City and publishing, and generally being active and visible. Yet she chooses to portray herself as a "bored housewife" in Mangalore. Why? Such glaring discrepancies discredit her public image and all of her previous work.

dabluelawn said...

thank you for writing this...i was all 'what nonsense' after reading the article...

Anonymous said...

My first thoughts were that of anger, that of all people, she could end up in that situation. After some discussion with my husband though, I began to see how one-sided the entire piece is. As it's said, there are three sides to a story - yours, mine, and the truth. Similarly, while she tries to elicit sympathy from the reader by portraying only herself as the victim, we don't know what truly transpired behind closed doors.

I also do agree that if this truly is catharsis and not an attempt to merely gain publicity, honesty is a necessity. She cannot get over this until she realizes and admits that she must have been at fault too.

-Faith

Nilu said...

Aren't you too old to spend time writing about a piece of writing you did not like? In fact aren't you too old to even read a piece of writing you dislike? Age, one thought was the greatest censor.

In my defense, I did not read either this post fully or the original essay you cite, for these very reasons.

Krishna said...

Well I feel that she is slowly reconciling to what happened in her life and as usual everyone blames others first for their tragedy but as time passes by you will understand your own mistakes .I am sure Meena will come with a more balanced version in her next article .

Anonymous said...

Have no wish to read the original essay but I like your analysis.

And those English poems -- so much angst ...

Anonymous said...

So a young woman who is seeing a man for long enough for him to propose, who knows his friends, who is publicly involved with him, pauses when he proposes and says, hm, do you mind signing a release so I can investigate your background.

Or maybe she should just bribe officials at various govt depts/banks/his employer to do this background check?

I think if any woman undertook this, she would be portrayed as a paranoid lunatic.

She didn't walk out because she was involved with him, and when you are involved with someone and you're young and you're in love, it is not that easy to boot them out. She didn't do a background check, because when you are involved with someone and you're in love and you're young, it just doesn't occur to you that he could be lying from A to Z and all his friends are just looking the other way.

I suppose Meena could have apologized for being dumb enough to fall in love rather than having the cynicism to sic private detectives on her suitor, but the subject of her essay was domestic violence. And if she really were skeptical enough of men (which I recommend!), she would be getting criticized for her cynicism (as I do!).

And lastly, "Poetess"? What year are you living in?

Chenthil said...

D.N.A - May be.

Anon - I think there is a dichotomy between her public persona and the actual person, which she tries to paper over in this article.

Dabluelawn - welcome.

Faith - I don't question the veracity of her abuse. I think that she could have handled it much better, right from choosing her life partner.

Nilu - so, you're still alive.

Anon - I haven't read her poems

Anon - a back ground check in India doesn't involve private detectives. Connecting with a friend of a friend generally works with far better results.

What I try to point out is that though she portrays herself as a fiery feminist / activist when it came to her own life she did the same mistakes as ordinary women do. And her article isn't honest enough to accept it.

I want to point out this line - "I am treated with the hatred that should be reserved for class enemies." If I interpret it right, Meena says that it is ok for class enemies to be treated as harshly as she was. The communist(?) is her wins over the feminist in this instance. Do you agree with that?

Anonymous said...

What I understood from her article is that their mutual acquaintances covered up for him.

It's comfortable to pontificate about her stupidity, because then domestic violence becomes a matter of her mistakes, rather than men behaving badly and the social collusion that supports that bad behavior.

Being a fiery feminist doesn't mean that you won't get involved with a man who behaves badly -- given the numbers of men who behave badly in a patriarchal society, the odds are stacked that any woman will pick a low card. Feminism means that you don't blame yourself for being victimized, that you see injustice for what it is.

Anonymous said...

It is very easy to criticise...to mock at someone...

Do you know what actually happens..?
When ur in the marriage and getting beaten up - ur in-laws, his friends all tell you "its ur fault for not adjusting" and giving me a few scolds to equalise (in their twisted mind)

When you leave it? People ask you - how can you a educated, working woman - put up with so much abuse?
Why didn't u leave the first day he hit you?

If u stay in it - u get social approval - however much ur body might protest the indiginity and the abuse. If u leave - all u'll get is social disapproval, no social justice (police/courts/evidence or lack of evidence)...
and from the people who support u - u will get - why were u stupid enough to stay for that long....

Unless u are the victim of abuse u can never know...Never feel...

Relationships are complicated. And divorces in India can never be hassle-free...the emotional trauma involved, the financial instability, the children(if there) at stake....
If ur an Indian woman u'd rather be a "good Indian woman" - with in-laws, kids and beating husband in one roof...than homeless and a social outcast under ur own roof

Chenthil said...

Anon - I fully accept all that you say about the societal pressure, confusion in the mind, et al. But all that applies to a conservative, conditioned Indian woman who believes in living as per the society's norms.

Meena Kandasamy positioned herself as a champion of woman, downtrodden. She is outspoken, cares nothing about what the society thinks - atleast that was the image she projected prior to and her marriage and that is the image she projects now, after her separation. That image doesn't gel with the abuse victim's image she portrays in this article. That is what I question.

ItzMyLife said...

Agree with Chenthil, I firmly believe women who stand up against the odds and exhibit their rights, will never hold on to such high levels of suppression, domination and domestic violence.

Agreed She felt helpless, she tried to work through the pain. End of the day she became a mute spectator to her own suffering. She didnt play the whistle blower role coz she was torn between her personalities, with respect to her feministic rights based approach and the lover inside her.


I sincerely wish she fought up against the odds and blew his image to avert another mishap in future to a woman.

And all the posters.. I assume you are going through such issues not at the frequency as the person in question.But at some point of time in your life, you felt the suppression and violence. Have you had the courage to tell your partner 'Walk off' I can carry my children on my own. I guess that you accept such anomalies for the sake of your family.


Women if at all are trying to improve legal methods in India will need to revamp the entire system. Else work through what is available get the system to think and evolve itself. It is blatant that you put up with the abuse in the name of love. I see no purpose when love grants pain. I am open to any feed back ..you can always email me on my views.

Anonymous said...

Funny how men beating women becomes an excuse for men to pontificate on what women are doing wrong. *roll eyes*

Not a word on what men are doing wrong to be wife-beaters in such gross numbers. What is wrong with you people? Is it biological? Should you be let out on the streets without being manacled? Should you be allowed to marry? Inquiring minds.

Chenthil said...

Anon - I condemn what her husband had done. In fact, I asked why is she not suing him? If you care to read the post you will find it. Manacling me won't solve anything. And I am already married, so there is nothing you can do about it.

Next time, do leave an initial atleast. Too many anons for me to keep count.

Anonymous said...

You have turned domestic violence into a platform in which you can discuss what's wrong with Meena for *several paragraphs*, when surely you should have been spending all those paragraphs discussing what's wrong with men.

Apparently you want Meena to apologize to you for her inadequacies in being a victim of domestic violence or offer up explanations for her actions -- maybe it is fear of reactions like yours that kept her from fleeing?

Not once do you speculate on Charles Antony's stupidity or ask him to explain his actions. Not once do you reflect on your own implication in gendered violence. You need to get to look into yourself.

Chenthil said...

Anon - I can't do what you think I should do. No where do I question Meena's story nor do I support Charles Antony. My grouse is for all her feminist posturing, Meena reacted in the same way in which a conservative, conditioned woman would have reacted.

If you still don't get it - I want Charles Antony to be punished for what he did. I am asking why did Meena equivocate in suing him. And it is laughable to say that fear of reactions like mine kept her from fleeing. What you imply is what I have been trying to say in this post - there is a dichotomy between Meena the feminist and Meena the wife.

Meena wrote her article in a national magazine, which implies that she wanted to share her story and interact with the readers. But you can't expect every one to be blind to the weakness of the narrative. I don't want her to apologize or offer an explanation - I don't even think she reads me.

If it is of any relevance here - I have been advocating to my acquaintances to get out of an abusive marriage instead of suffering.

Anonymous said...

What I implied is that your remarks are clueless and misogynist. Let's try one last time: you are oh-so-very-concerned with how Meena has fallen short of Ideal Feminism, but you have not discussed how Charles Anthony or society or you yourself have fallen short of Ideal Feminism.

I didn't say you approved of wife-beating but apparently you seem to think that saying you disapprove of wife-beating justifies you picking up a stick to bash Meena with. Apparently you love your stick very much because none of the negative comments (not just mine) have prompted a moment's reflection.

LOL at your personal anecdotes, is that your version of "some of my best friends are". I have to say this is the worst thread I have ever read on this site, and I've been reading for a while. For shame.

Eggshells said...

From my reading of the article, the guy seems like someone with a personality disorder. Having such a spouse is hellish for sure, in a way other people cannot imagine. Let's all get off the "patriarchal male" , "feminist" and "class enemy" labels. The woman should probably seek counselling.

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Anonymous said...

Unfortunately her husband taught us. We felt distrubed when we read the article. Even I felt and agree with your analysis. But when he tried the same with my classmates we did not give him an another chanse. We kicked him at the right time and he is no more there in our college. I am happy and even everyone are happy. He deserves it and Meena should have done the same much earlier.

Anonymous said...

After reading Meena's article, comments and feedbacks, what struck me most is only a few seem to really understand how a woman's heart works when she is in love. When she loves someone unconditionally, a woman becomes a mother at heart. She would endure anything to make the person see that love. Which to the society may seem as nuts or lack of empowerment etc., but it is not a weakness in any sense, it is the very essence of a woman. Even a woman who is socially empowered (like Meena), are facing it at different degrees. To me, she is being a woman - with the yin and the yang. That's what makes women so complex, often misunderstood and perceived as precarious. Estrogen flows through her veins and not testosterone! Woman show the world the power of love - viewed as fragility by many but is an undercurrent that keeps humanity in its balance.
Meena did the right thing by moving out and moving on.
Giving up on love is like giving up your bratish child for adoption. It heals with time but the scars run deep.

Anonymous said...

I can't believe the misogyny of Chenthil's post and of the many horrendously insensitive comments that follow. I sense patriarchal rage against feminists and female rebels in these many insensitive, woman-blaming statements - a rage that prevents empathy. Don't think any of you are being original - all over India misogynists like you are blaming women for their own rape by strangers (why did she go out alone at night and then complain etc kind of tripe) - you people probably don't even recognise domestic abuse as domestic abuse. You, like the abusive husband are probably thinking feminists ask for it and are deceitful by nature. At least this is what your blog posts and comments indicate - hatred and rage for women who don't play by the rules. I suggest everyone read about domestic abuse. Four months is actually *very quick* for anyone to leave. And what an awful thing to do - to blame an abuse victim for the abuse? Like it was her fault??? In truth, abuse and violence from loved and trusted people erodes victims' sense of courage and self worth so terribly - that even one single act of violence - even one act of emotional and psychological violence from a someone you love, let alone physical abuse - can leave them in a haze of shame and self doubt that cripples all action. They get into survival mode where they're trying to avoid the next blow. Most domestic abuse victims get killed *when they are trying to leave* - so not leaving is a *survival tactic*. This is HUMAN. Feminists are HUMAN and when you cut them, they also bleed . Stop dehumanising feminists and expressing hate and rage and scorn and 'she deserved it' kind of sentiments. Have some empathy and READ about domestic abuse before spreading your toxic and vile views. I hope none of you ever have daughters or wives or women in your life. I shudder to think of what they will encounter.