Author: Meena Kandasamy
Publication Date: 26 May 2017
“Don’t let people remove you from your own story.”
The experience of domestic violence is a universal thing. Every woman has undergone abuse of some sort, and When I Hit You is a searing account of it. It is lyrical in its prose, seething with rage and viscerally powerful. It is a tour de force of writing, one which will bring tears to your eyes but will also leave you seething with anger at the patriarchal norms of our society.
When I Hit You is autobiographical in its essence but it can be the story of all women who are abused. Seduced by poetry, politics and a dream of building a better world together, the unnamed narrator falls in love with a university professor, who is also a radical communist. Moving with him to Manglore, it soon dawns upon her that love, for him, is a contract of ownership. He sits about reducing her to his idealised version of an obedient wife, beating her and killing her ambition of being a writer. She attempts to fight back- a resistance he resolves to break with violence and rape.
When I Hit You is not just Meena’s story but it belongs to each and every woman. Every female reader will find herself in the determination and resilience of the narrator and every male reader will imagine a woman he has known in the narrator. A lot of the protagonist’s suffering is expressed in the form of inner dialogue. Through this technique Meena has poignantly captured the isolated and overburdened backdrop of a violent marriage. The narrator’s soliloquy also portrays that sometimes the only heart-felt conversation you have all day is with yourself.
Meena, herself a communist, shows how a powerful ideology can be twisted and mansplained to subjugate and abuse women. We think that wife-beaters are backward, orthodox men, with no education, who are alcoholics. We stereotype such abusers and think that domestic violence won’t happen to us. When I Hit You shows us that an abuser can be well-educated, be socially and politically aware and also be a respectable face in the society-underneath all these layers he is a rapist, wife-beater and a thorough misogynist.
When I Hit You is a an extremely courageous book. It shows that women are not horses or cattle that men can whip as they please. Women are brilliant, intelligent and amazing and when they are hit, the violence is not just some momentarily pain on their bodies but it also triggers thoughts, questions and a spiral of reflections. All women have undergone abuse of some sort, and if there is one thing we can take from that experience is never, ever let your defiance die.