“On her neck, she wears not the thaali,
that marker of marriage,
but a cyanide capsule.
She embraces not men
but her weapons”
In a small village called Kilvenmani, in the Nagapattinam district in Tamil Nadu, on 25th December 1968, 44 men, women and children, or should we say 42 (+2 silent), were brutally massacred, burnt, hacked, annihilated for asking their rights. They threw stones in their defense. They didn’t have guns. They didn’t even have enough food. Or clothes. They were just looking for basic rights with some respect. But because they couldn’t defend themselves against their powerful masters, a holocaust happened.
Meena Kandasamy’s pen doesn’t wear a veil of decorum as it inks The Gypsy Goddess. She doesn’t have time for it. She has to tell a story. She doesn’t shy away from quoting the exact details of the wounds found on the bodies of all 42 (+2 silent) corpses. The pen sometimes assumes a screeching staccato, like shards and heartbeats, and sometimes spirals into long sentences, winding, convoluting, lost like some people in the story.
I am a writer, and being political was never a choice for me. The general idea of a public intellectual is to be on the fence; the minute you have an opinion and identify with a particular movement, you are treated differently. A lot of my writing is expressive in a physical and a political way because it is informed by the resistance that is both individual and collective. My poems have seen children playing with bricks and bones and guns. Most of us turn a blind eye to history, even when it guiltlessly repeats itself time and again. My poems want to be a constant reminder, that this world needs a change and that our words are powerful enough to make that happen.
Kandasamy is someone my pen highly resonates with. She is an anti-caste activist, poet, fiction writer, and translator. She has published two collections of poetry, Touch and Ms Militancy, and four acclaimed novels, The Gypsy Goddess, When I Hit You, Exquisite Cadavers, and The Orders Were to Rape You: Tigresses in the Tamil Eelam Struggle. She has also translated the works of Dr Thirumavalavan, Periyar’s Pen Yen Adimaiyanal (Why Were Women Enslaved), novelist Salma, and the Eelam Tamil poets V.I.S Jayapalan and Cheran Rudramoorthy.
Her writing is a force to reckon with. It holds power of its own. It hits you where it has to. It is haphazard so you have no idea where and when and how it’d hit you next. Sometimes you want to sit her down and shake her up and ask her, why, why this? But then she answers it, almost methodically. She is not our traditional storyteller. The story she wants to tell is not an ordinary story even if it is now hidden behind the curtains of a not-so-long-ago history. Everyone has almost forgotten everything about it.
“They said even hawks could not carry away the sky, so scavenger crows like us should not have lofty dreams.”
We, as a human race, are a terrible disappointment.
Now wait for some optimists to come and tell me, how we are not so horrible, how we have invented some beautiful things around, how we are so intelligent and full of sentiments, and then allow me to thrust the poem ‘Touch’ in their hands and ask them, how many lives they think we trampled over while glossing about everything that looks so beautiful in their eyes. How many lives has this ‘caste monster’ devoured to come to a point where one feels almost proud about atrocities?
Yes, we can be sickening.
“There is no story that cannot be told. The difficulty in telling a tale is a story in itself.”
Kandasamy’s writing is informed by personal, collective resistance. And her narration is unconventional, to say the least. She constantly brings attention to the artificially constructed nature of her novels. In a way, this allows her to shed the Western antecedents of the form and instead posit a distinctly Indian, and Tamil, position. Kandasamy overturns the gaze of the outsider looking in on a Dalit Community and offers a critique of the exoticism which colours the said gaze. When she hits you, pun intended, with the sheer force of her writing, you have no option but to marvel at the finesse with which she wields the pen. Her words manage to be extremely hilarious even as they narrate some shockingly cruel events in the national history.
Truth does not comfort you. In fact, it makes you very, very uncomfortable, in a lot of ways. Books based on truth are not a light read. They are not thrillers either. They are a horror of the worst kind — a horror that isn’t a figment of the author’s imagination; a horror that plagues a living, breathing community even today, that forces them to live in subhuman conditions, kills their children, leaves them homeless, and burns their families.
Meena Kandasamy’s books are unsettling, but essential. In fact, this is the sole reason why people should read them. They should know the horrifying realities of the world we live in. The world that may have been kind to them but not to everyone.
I keep coming back to her words. To remind myself, that the revolution is not over just yet.