‘My life cannot be made over to anyone, not even Namdeo Dhasal’

‘I Want To Destroy Myself’ is the angry, searing account of the Dalit Panther poet’s wife’s life with him.

I could not conceive of a life in which I chose my own happiness over the well-being of my child. Namdeo would often come home. He would often ask permission to return.

I was very angry. I wanted revenge. He claimed to love his son beyond all things but he could cruelly separate that same son from his mother when he could see the child’s unhappiness writ large on his small face. Once when he came to Saat Rasta to take Ashu, something snapped inside me.

In a savage voice, I said: “You cannot have the child. You have no rights over him.”

“What are you saying?”

“He isn’t yours in the first place.”

The man with him and my mother were both shocked but the attack failed. Namdeo was peaceable. He only smiled a little.

“Makes no difference. Now he’s mine. He’s in my control. And I love him with my life. Don’t they sometimes exchange children in the hospital? I’ll take it that something like that happened.”

I was annoyed. I told Niloufer what had happened.

“I’ll claim he isn’t the father. Then I’ll get my child back, won’t I?”

She looked at me for a couple of moments in surprise.

“Is that what you’re planning to say?”

“Yes. I will get the child, won’t I?”

She couldn’t guarantee it. But she had showed that she was ready to help and that was a big thing.

I had been fighting so long and I had been fighting alone. I was making a laughing stock of myself. I was also laughing at myself. And weeping for myself. Facing my loneliness, facing the bitter truth every night, embracing this truth as I fell asleep.

Peace of mind? What kind of animal is that?

Defeated, I returned to Andheri. Namdeo came to fetch me. I was no abhisarika, stealing away under cover of night to meet her secret lover; nor was I the wife of the leader Namdeo Dhasal. I was only Ashu’s mother.

The Andheri flat was in a middle-class area. Behind the closed doors of their flats, people seemed to be imprisoned. Here all my relationships were broken. I had no friends, no relatives, no confidantes, no one. At 9 or 10 pm, I would walk alone through those empty and deserted streets, my mind in a storm. How was I to break out of this prison? The habit of loneliness is difficult to form so I formed others. I began to drink beer. I began to smoke cigarettes. I neglected my diet and drank tea instead. All day tea; at night, beer. I had subconsciously decided to destroy myself.

After Ashu, I had become pregnant three times but Namdeo’s infidelities and his snatching away of Ashu had poisoned me so thoroughly that I did not want to bear any more of his children. The insults he had offered to me as a mother would be impossible to forget for the rest of my life.

Birth-control pills did not agree with me. Namdeo refused to use any prophylactics. His attitude was: what happens, happens. He had no thought for my mental devastation, my physical weakness. I refused to carry his child in my body. And then it seemed as if my very body would reject the foetuses. In the garden next to the house grew some papaya trees. If I was late, I would go and eat raw papayas and cashews, drink beer. The papaya would leave my lips sore and ulcers would develop.

Then a doctor, a visit to Pearl Centre, and in the first month I would free myself and return. I would go alone. He did not have the consideration or sensitivity to come with me or to send anyone with me. Later, I had an operation on my nose. I have always had trouble with my sinuses but this man did not have the forethought or the kindness to offer me my bus fare to the hospital, let alone the cab fare. What had happened to his love? Where was his humanity?

Namdeo would come home drunk. I would refuse, on these occasions, to sleep with him. I did not want children and certainly not with this man. He would insist, physically forcing me to come near him. I would say, “Be right back” and go into the bathroom, bolt the door and stand there for an hour, sometimes two. If he had drunk enough, he would go off to sleep. Then I would creep out on little cat’s feet and drop down next to Ashu.

That year in Andheri went very badly. I did not mind the economic instability but I could not bear the thought of spending the rest of my life fighting and weeping. Was I to be lonely for the rest of my life?

Namdeo would mock what he called my middle-class behaviour.

“There’s no humanity in you. No food to give others. Not even tea. Instead of just serving it, you ask, ‘Will you have tea?’ as a Brahmin would. What kind of humanity is that?”

But the same Namdeo would never show me the humanity he claimed to have in such full measure.

This happened when I went to Kolhapur. Aai had gone to Andheri to visit but his mother and father locked the door on her and kept her on the doorstep. So much for their humanity. When I heard this my blood began to boil. I was angry but this time it was the venomous anger of a female cobra.

“If I do not make your parents sit on my mother’s doorstep, I will never use my own name again.” I promised myself.

I kept my word.

‘I Want To Destroy Myself’ is the angry, searing account of the Dalit Panther poet’s wife’s life with him.Later I heard another story. After I got married, the poet who had been enamoured of me swallowed some Diazone pills and tried to kill himself. He was very ill after that. Even today, I find it difficult to meet his eyes. I remember reading a wise saying somewhere: “Don’t marry the man you love. Marry a man who loves you.”

Anyway, marriage is a gamble.

After those abortions, I grew emaciated. I was changing inside. My heart was hardening too. I was gaining strength from that which did not kill me. I was becoming bitter. I began to feel nothing. And I started fighting back.

I decided that there was not much point to mewling away in a corner. If I wanted happiness, I would have to snatch at it. I would have to take it from the world. My own life taught me this rare and valuable lesson. Now my life had turned into a challenging game. I accepted the dare. The gauntlet was thrown down: by one man, by every man, by my circumstances.

I picked it up.

Excerpted with permission from I Want to Destroy Myself, Malika Amar Shaikh, translated from the Marathi by Jerry Pinto, Speaking Tiger.

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