TW galore and many apologies to those I end up offending. I mean well, truly.
There is this story about a law graduate, who as soon as she graduated, sued her law school accusing the school of a shoddy job. If she won the case she wins, if she lost the case, she still wins.
Meena Kandasamy’s book manages to replicate that logic.
If I liked the book, it is a good book. If I critique it, I prove that I am yet another peg in patriarchy. And it is a vindicated book.
Eitherways she wins.
In the book, she dissects a marriage in the first person. The book is autofiction she says. Meena the Author has come out of a bad marriage. Writing a first-person account of a cruel marriage makes delineating Meena the Author and Meena the Protagonist almost impossible.
I have to admit I scrupulously shut out Meena the Author out of the book. To me this was fiction. There is a case going on, there are terrible charges of rape, abuse, and intent attributed to the husband, and yes, this is trial by media. At the risk of being called a patriarch, a stickler for due process over instant justice, I refuse to judge real life with this piece of fiction.
The best way to consume literary fiction is to empathize or form hypotheticals. Fiction is a dangerous tool when used to inform prima facie. Those should be driven by a much more rigorous approach. Anne Frank’s book might be one of the most moving accounts of the Holocaust. But god forbid, it is used as a tool to inform on its own right. At best, it is a heart-rendingly terrifying account of prosecution that is corroborated by other verifiable methods.
This is important for me because many who read this book come away in abject misery at the horrors suffered by Meena the Author after reading the tribulations of Meena the Character.
In denying this plea for help am I not enabling the abuse? Am I not playing the archetypical stodgy male with the patronizing “but all are innocent until proven guilty” argument?
Yes, I am.
I stubbornly stand my ground in this instance. I completely empathize with the character while at the same time hold onto the fact that this is a powerful, but as of now fictional, indictment of another human whose side we haven’t heard. An account that, even if true till the very last detail, still hasn’t been through the legal system, a system patriarchal in its legality and application. So yes I stand with Meena the Author in her demand for justice but reserve my judgment of anything unless proven guilty.
Those are powerful structural edifices which when taken in hand allow for vigilante justice, poetic or mob lynching, be it by pen-wielding poetess-novelists or cow worshipping mobs.
Anyways, I abhor marriages with a vengeance.
I truly think it is a vile institution that is mere convenience and insurance and less to do with love. I believe love has nothing to do with marriages whichever way one argues and I wish there is a world without marriages. Marriage is religious; it is petty; it is restrictive; it is one of the reasons many policies and transparencies end at the familial level and not the individual level.
Meena Kandasamy fails to address marriages. She addresses only marital abuse.
It is important to view this abuse from where it starts. Why are marriages deemed so important in a society? And don’t feed me the “humanity needs companionship that needs to be ratified by the state” line. I’ll save that rant for later. At one point, the wife tries to explain why she moved from loving the abuser (before the abuse started) to wanting to get married. And that is one of the lamest, cheesiest, conditioned excuse ever.
There is no real dwelling upon why she entered a marriage and without that, the thread that holds together the story unravels for me. For me, I stress, because I do not doubt that I have very few in my camp.
Sprinkled throughout the book are references to the wife’s ultra feminism label. Any woman who gives into the institution of marriage, is at best, a moderate feminist in my opinion. An ultra feminist is someone who fully grasps the foundation of property ownership in the institution of marriage, who can see in the institution of marriage a barricading of emotions, sexuality, freedom of expression, conformity and economic co-dependence that rewards cohabitation (exactly two that too) over any other forms of fluid existence, historically and currently skewed towards oppressing women.
If one wants a radically different social order for women, one has to be able to break free of the shackles of the current marital framework. There needs to be a direct relationship between the state and the individual without the burqa of a family.
You will all forgive me, therefore, when I reserve my sympathy and horror only for the physical abuse and not about the mental trauma of stigma.
Dream on old man. Talk about this world. Talk about Chennai. Talk about Mangalore. Talk about the million aunties and uncles and brothers and fathers and mothers, who, every day are so marinated in their traditions, ready to shed tears, live in exaggerated modes of bereavement at the singledom or divorce of their children, friends, or family.
It is sad to see the lost time that cannot be retrieved and all the attendant loss of dreams, economic decisions, misplaced emotions. But those are all love’s losses. Not that of a marriage.
I couldn’t care less about a loss of a marriage. I cry only for the misplaced love of the broken marriages if there indeed existed that love.
Things then clear up a little bit.
There are so many instances where Meena’s behavior contradicts what she wants. Without irony, she talks about how her abuser seems to have secluded her from her social support system, isolating her, but the fact that she herself had to move to Kerala, to resort to exactly the same secrecy, to isolate herself from her social circle to explore her sexuality and relations is telling.
I seldom see a family in Southern India where the girl brings a guy to the house, fucks him, sends him back home and comes down to have dinner with the family.
That is the way the system is structured. The secrecy, the taboo, the elaborate rituals, the awkwardness.
There are so many instances of systemic problems that it is really tiring and frustrating to see where India is heading. Hopefully, the next generation doesn’t have baggages. It is not worth it.
Meena the author finally seems to have escaped all this and moved to London. A foreign land where anonymity lets her be who she is without judgment. A country where common sense rules over traditions.
Can one fault her? No.
Her newly acquired accent grates.
Can one fault her for that too? No.