By Meena Kandasamy:
My father on the phone:
“He is hitting you? The bastard. Ah, my daughter. I would have imagined you hitting him. Just try to avoid conflict as much as possible. What can we do? We could talk to him and take your side but he will assume the whole family is against him. That will turn him against you even more. You are alone as it is. Yeah. So, if we talk to him about this, we will have to be on his side de facto, but that will make him feel vindicated, and he will crush you all the more. Our interfering will not benefit you anyway. But remember, we are with you. Clench your teeth and wait it out. Take care of yourself, take care of him. Tell him that I sent him my regards.”
I listen to my father’s advice:
“Hold your tongue. He is your husband, not your enemy.”
“Do not talk back. You can never take back what you have said.”
“Your word-wounds will never heal, they will remain long after both of you have patched up and made peace.”
“It takes two to fight. He cannot fight by himself. It will drain his energy, to fight alone.”
“Do not talk too much. Never in history has anything been solved by constantly talking.”
“Don’t you understand? Silence is golden.”
I climb into the incredible sadness of silence. Wrap its slowness around my shoulders, conceal its shame within the folds of my sari. Make it a vow, as if my life hinged upon it, as if I was not a wife in Mangalore but a nun elsewhere, cloistered and clinging to her silence to make sense of the world.
To stay silent is to censor all conversation. To stay silent is to erase individuality. To stay silent is an act of self-flagellation because this is when the words visit me, flooding me with their presence, kissing my lips, refusing to dislodge themselves from my tongue.
I do not allow myself anything more than the essential necessities of domestic existence. The questions about what my husband wants to eat, when he wants to be woken up, whether the electricity bill has been paid. The minimal interaction bestows an almost formal character to our marriage. He cannot step across that line.
I am unfazed when he assumes that this silence stems from my defeat. He sees it as a sign of victory. He praises me for realizing my folly, for listening to him, for finally coming to my senses. I do not dispute his claim. I do not accept it either. I simply stare at him with vacant eyes, give him a vacant nod.
It irritates him that he cannot walk away with the trophy of victory. He brushes off my wordlessness as childish, and maintains that, sooner rather than later, I will have to reform myself and repent my mistakes. He cannot push me any further than this, and so, he retreats.
My silence settles on us like incessant rain. It stills the humdrum of the everyday. It leaves us stranded in our own little puddles.
I enjoy this brief interlude. My silence becomes an invincible shield. He attempts to penetrate its surface with every conceivable tactic to provoke me into conversation, but he fails. He is left listening to his own words, building his own arguments, eating his own anger.
He reads this as rejection. He is quick to turn the tables on me. He accuses me of inhabiting a world in my mind, a world where I am cohabiting with ex-lovers, a world where I have left him. He asks me to stop leading a double life, tells me that if I believe that I am Andal, living with some imaginary Thirumaal, I have no place in his home. He offers to check me into a mental hospital.
I am unwilling to address his accusations, unwilling to face the consequences of an unwise retort. I do not say anything in my defence. To talk to him, as he is raging against me, would only feed his fury. He is in no mood to listen in any case.
He kicks me in the stomach. “Prove it!” he yells as I double over. “Prove it to me that you are my wife. Prove it to me that you are not thinking of another man. Or I will prove it for you.”
Excerpted with permission of Juggernaut Books from “When I Hit You: Or, a Portrait of the Writer as a Young Wife” by Meena Kandasamy, available in bookstores and on www.juggernaut.in