Book Review


I Want to Destro Myself: Malika Sheikh, translated by Jerry Pinto

--Sushmita Sridhar

Publisher: Speaking Tiger

Genre: Fiction

Extent: 200 pp

Price: Rs 288

This memoir, originally written in Marathi and beautifully translated by Jerry Pinto, is a document to the protagonist’s life as the wife of Namdeo Dhasal, poet and thinker, founder of the Dalit panthers. It is a clarinet call to women trapped in unhappy marriages and unfulfilling relationships. She calls for a death to patience and endurance that keep women tied to circumstances that stifle them, the compromises that keep them in place.

Malika, a poet and intellectual in her own right, is swept off her feet by a charismatic Dhasal and marries young, a marriage that she is never able to extricate herself from. She tells us of her struggles to maintain her sense of self in this marriage, a marriage that leaves her, sick, destitute, abused, betrayed and dependent on the kindness of strangers. Rather than presenting us with a sob story, her memoir tries to grapple with the self-destructiveness of her choice and her inability to break away from a marriage that seems to have broken her and thwarted her dreams.

Malika’s voice shines through the pages, young, energetic, defiant, angry and heartbreakingly honest. Her detailing of her personal degradation at the hands of this abusive and atrocious figure of Dhasal is hugely courageous as is her determination to write herself into existence through her memoir and her poetry.

The memoir in its detailing of their married life, the drunken brawls, the beatings followed by the professions of love and the making up, the fights over the custody of their son, the infidelities of the husband that leave her betrayed and physically ill, tries to come to terms with questions of freedom and tradition, and the consequences of having married into a political movement trying to find its feet.

She thinks of her memoir as a revealing of herself that goes hand in hand with an acknowledgement of the choices that have demeaned her, making her want to destroy herself. At the same time she is very aware that her destructive impulse is one among many and that the circumstances she documents and defies are shared by many others. She is self-conscious of the history of women’s movement she is writing herself into and openly presents her situation as a case study of the workings of patriarchy.

She writes : ‘Dalit’ means ‘oppressed’, ‘exploited’, but within these communities the men are the oppressors, the exploiters of their women. ‘Man? What manner of beast is he? What tree does he come from? What are the criteria for masculinity? […] Who can define what it is to be a man? Hitting a woman is also a matter of masculinity….’ She writes of her story as the story of a ‘defeat, a lonely defeat’, a putting down of a mask for a while and characterizes her impulse to write as keeping alive ‘a poisonous butterfly inside the fist of my hand’, although she might be better off to have crushed it, ‘to stop it from fluttering’. Finally she hopes the book might help ‘at least one woman find her face, that it might help her find her way out of her circumscribed and stuffy world.’

This life-affirming and heartbreaking memoir claims it place alongside the very best of Indian women’s autobiographical writing and makes for compulsive reading.

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Sushmita Sridhar is a writer and book reviewer based in Bangalore.