Black and Blue Sari
Black and Blue Sari is the first book the author, Kamal Dhillon has ever written. She doesn’t know, there may or may not be more to come. She talked
to the editor of TAOM at length about her book and the circumstances that led to her first attempt at creativity. It took her three years to write but wants and hopes every Indo-Canadian woman reads it.
The child was terrified by her mother’s screams for help. The sight of her father’s thick belt imprinted on her mom’s tiny body was unbearably painful and confusing to the little child. That awful occurrence increased in frequency and violence each time. She dreaded the next explosion and fear kept her up most nights. How could she feel safe when her father, who was supposed to be her role model, was spirally out of control?
She could never speak in her mother’s defence for fear of making things worse. She would just sit there being a sad helpless onlooker to the dreadful on-going saga.
The abuse that this six-year old had witnessed was overwhelming. Where were all of her mom’s and dad’s relatives when she needed them? Why were they turning a blind eye to all that was happening? No child should have to live under these circumstances and be a continued witness to such mind- boggling abuse. She felt trapped and had no choice but to continue living with her harsh, distant, abusive father and seemingly voiceless mother. The nightmares and hallucinations plagued her nightly.
Where did all the blood on the floor come from? From her mom? Chills ran through her body as she stood paralyzed in shock, yearning to release the screams that arose within her. Her days and nights were spent crying and feeling extremely alone. Fear was her constant companion.
Did her father love her?
Had she done something to cause her dad to act like this? He seemed so hard hearted. Maybe if she tried her best to be very, very good, he would stop.
The impact of this situation causes her to experience difficulty in expressing herself both at home and in school. She became increasingly withdrawn and began having frequent panic attacks. As a result, her grades in school were negatively affected.
Her mom was being bullied and treated like a servant. It baffled her why her mom was dealt with worse than their real servants.
At the same level, she loved her father – but resented him and felt that he didn’t deserve the title of a father. How did her mom do it? How did she raise her and her younger siblings under such extreme brutality?
She lived with the constant fear, “when I wake up in the morning, will my mother be alive?”
The child alienated herself from the world around her. She had thoughts of running away. She found it hard to rust others – especially grown-ups.
A sense of familial duty and obligation caused her to rally around her mother. Her dad was very unstable and unreliable. He drank and smoked all the time, totally disregarding the fact that her mom was very allergic to cigarette fumes. She wondered how many more times she would have to watch him beat her mother ruthlessly. “Please no more….!”
In between his beatings, he would tell the child that he was disciplining her mother and she was welcome to join in to hit her.
Truth or lies? She knew that they were lies, but it almost seemed like a relief to believe them because of how convincingly he said them and often the lies were being crammed into her head.
Why was he rampaging on about how her mom had wrecked his life? More lies? She could not bear the sight of her mom being grabbed by her throat again. What would be next?
The petrified child hid in the corner of her bed and wept. She was shaking uncontrollably. The tiny space that she called her room became her shelter and her place of refuge. Her whole fragile world seemed like it had been thrashed. She often wondered when the season of mourning and anger would end.
When is it ever going to be okay?
She was the bravest survivor of all. She survived the horrific atrocities. She suffered
alone; hiding her secret well and making sure others didn’t learn about the abuse in her home. She feared abandonment and the repercussions. She had endured so much loss, uprooting and separation. Her home had become a battlefield. Inside there was only audible silence. There was no joy.
The outbursts from her father were frequent, unprovoked and unpredictable. There would be a litany of abuse inflicted on her mother by her father. She felt it was her job to protect her mother. She tried to take an adult responsibility but at the same time she herself was being deprived of the security and care she wanted and needed. Intimidation pervaded her daily life. She did not know a life of peace. Violence had been an integral part of her family for as long as she could remember.
She longed for a home where there would be no more shame and embarrassment. She felt like a child held hostage.
“Not a word from you, young lady. I will deal with you later unless you want to end up in the same place as your useless mother,” were the hateful words that came out of her father’s mouth.
The thing about her dad was he seemed great in front of others. He made sure that her voice remained silent. She had tremendous ambivalence as to who the enemy was.
The child often stayed behind after school to help clear the desks with the teacher. Then she would walk home very slowly. Anything to be away from home. The school was an escape from her domineering father. It helped her forget the most painful aspects of her life at home.
Her mom was her idol. She knew her to be a loving woman who covered her children’s faults. She would take the blame herself. Whenever her dad was away, the child noticed her mother wearing makeup. “Wow mom, you look so beautiful. I want to look just like you when I grow up”, she would proudly tell her.
Little did the girl know that she would be helplessly watching many more tragedies to come. Yet in the end she would burn up all her built up anger, rejection and lies wit him. She would eventually find the strength to let it all pass away.
That man was my……….The child my……
These are excerpts from a just-released book, “Black and blue sari’ by an Indo- Canadian woman. It is an engrossing tale of wife-beating, domestic violence, physical and mental abuse, castigation, humiliation, rape, persecution unimaginable to the human mind. Written by Kamal Dhillon, the story sometimes turns so gory and gruesome that sleeping after reading a few pages of this book is just not possible.
Kamal spoke at length to the Asian Outlook correspondent about her new book, which, she says, was set in the early eighties. Says she, “The story begins when the protagonist falls for this man in her teens. He is handsome, belongs to a well settled wealthy family from India but settled in Canada. She secretly has a crush for him but makes the mistake of telling about it to her little sister who spreads the word in the family. The parents then try to find out about this boy, as the girl has reached marriageable age (18 years), finished high school and it is time for her to get settled and start a family of her own. To cut the long story short, they are married soon and our star is very proud to be married to him because of his looks which surpass all of her sisters’ husbands and their wealth.”
Things start to turn sour within the first week of marriage. “My protagonist loves her husband and cares about him. That is why, when his friends show up one fine day after marriage and have plans to take him out drinking and driving, she steps in stop him as he should not be drinking and driving. In return, he hits her so hard that she is not only shocked but starts bleeding. “In a loud voice, he shouted at me to put my head up so it would stop bleeding. He walked to the bathroom and returned with a towel. He handed it to me, suggesting that I clean up all the mess. The mess that he started, I had to clean. I had never been hit that hard in my life and I could feel my nose swelling. Mom and dad had spanked us as kids, but I had never seen blood like this anywhere. And while I had seen women with bruises on their faces, I had never thought it would happen to me. I began to think that this man was a liar and that he shouldn’t have married me if he didn’t like me. After waiting around for ten or fifteen minutes, he left to meet his friends and told me, on the way out, to behave myself while he was gone.”
Continues Kamal, “That day was the start of the violence, abuse, rape, and victimization of the woman who thought she had loved this man enough to spend her life with him. He turns out to be a psychotic, maniac, perpetual liar, and abuser. To outsiders and strangers, he was sweet, charming, and charismatic. At home and with her, he was an aggressive lunatic who looked for a slight excuse to hit her, torture her and show that petite woman who barely weighed 110 lbs, his manly powers. For days, he would not allow her to eat, sleep or shower but would hit her till she bled.”
“Do abusive men consider it their right to punish and control their partner’s actions? Did he feel he succeeded in convincing others that his behaviour was rational and she needs to be taught? Does he believe that his special status as a man entitles him with rights and privileges to hurt her? It is important for him that she not disagree with him, especially in front of other people. No matter how badly he treats her in his mind they should not raise your – voice He only has the right to be angry. Does this sound familiar? The beautiful young virgin he had married just weeks ago, who proudly displayed the wedding pictures in the living room and bedroom, now stood staring. The girl in that picture was dead. She had been beaten away by ruthless man. The wise thing to do is to remain silent because agreeing to disagree would also provoke. All she does is bow her head in shame. He strikes on the face as if verbal abuse wasn’t enough and makes her believe it was her fault again. Marriage is nothing more than loveless and lifeless. What had she done and could she do anything to correct her mistakes?”
When an Indian girl gets married, most parents tell her that now she will be only a guest in her parents’ house and her husband’s house is hers now. As a result of this one sentence, most girls in Indo-Canadian families bear it all, at the end of which many have paid with their lives. Amanpreet Kaur Bahia, Gurjeet Ghuman, Manjit Panghali, Navreet Waraich etc are all cases in point. There may be many more who are suffering in silence because of this one out of Canada on the pretext of taking them on a holiday with no plans to come back to Canada where he was jailed for a night and the case continued.”
“In fact, he was so mad that he had to spend a night in jail, that he held that night against her at all his future beatings, discussions and was always an excuse to torture his wife. She had resigned herself to a life of beatings, blood and abuse. She lost faith in God and the human being as there were people around her who refused to come to her aid. His mom actually egged him on but once in a while his father intervened, that too when too much blood was shed. Being in India helped him as he knew the police and the politicians alike and had the money to bribe them into silence.”
Even the birth of two sons and two daughters did did not stop his behaviour. As the story progresses, gory scenes of violence, blood, physical and verbal abuse are played in the reader’s minds. She is made to live a life of a pauper, despite the fact that her in-laws are doing roaring business and there is more than enough food and other luxuries for the rest of the familiy and even the servants. But nothing for her or her children. She is forced to steal food with the help of the servants, who sympathize with her situation and sometimes try to help. But for fear of losing their jobs, cannot do much.
Raj, the abusive husband, made several attempts to kill her. By strangling or drowning, as Kamal says, “There is a sentence which most parents tell their daughters when getting married. Perhaps, instead, if they had told them that their home will always welcome them any time of the day or night, many might not suffer in silence.
Coming back to the story, violence continues to an extent that Raj, the husband, gets so used to hitting his wife that he is not able to differentiate between home and parking lot. Once, says Kamal, he hit his wife in a parking lot and a bystander called the police as he was shocked. “Thankfully, it was Canada, and charges were laid against him. Being in Canada he could not use his wealth or influence and got caught in his own web. Not that his abuse subsided, for a short while, yes, but then the storyline moves to India where he has family, wealth and influence. He flies his family savior somewhere who was helping her. She did not realize then but there is a force that kept pulling her out of the violent situations. The husband even takes her and the children to show a place where the kids would like to cremate her mother, after her death not realizing that it would be him who would be cremated at that very spot.” How? When?
She had ample opportunities in the more than eleven years of abuse to escape. But she does not. Why? Is this a true story? A life story? Can someone really live to tell that story? Did she finally escape? Alone or with the children? Who helps her?
This is a question that plagues the readers till the end. But yes, as a writer and a woman, I recommend every Indo-Canadian female, whether daughter, mother, daughter-in-law or mother-in-law, should read the book which helps to identify the signs of problems and unhappiness in their dear ones’ home. The first sign of an oncoming storm is when the girls parents or relatives are not welcome in the girl’s house, says Kamal. But there are more outlined in the book. I cannot stop writing about the story as there is so much I haven’t written. You have to read the book to get to the bottom of it and to find out whether it’s a real story or reel story. To order the book online go to www.blackandbluesari.com and gift it to your near and dear ones. You never know, it might be a true story.
Dr Neelam Batra-Verma