Guyana Chronicle
April 18, 1999

BOOK REVIEW: TORMENTED WIVES, the sixth novel by Rooplall Monar, was published by Roopnandan Singh, in conjunction with the Association of Guyanese Writers and Artists. 1999, Georgetown, Guyana. 142 pp.

IN HIS latest novel, Monar brings to life real issues in our society, underlining that men who experience violence during their childhood are quite likely to become an abuser.

Written in a light style, `Tormented Wives', as its title suggests, focuses on the suffering of abused women, more particularly, those of East Indian descent.

However, cognisant of the fact that this plight encompasses all and sundry, the author touches, albeit briefly, on the trauma women of other ethnic groups face.

`Tormented Wives' is about the life of a young East Indian woman, Bibi, who had the courage to defy customs, beliefs and traditions of her foreparents and to escape the violence so prevalent in her East Coast village.

The story is set in an era when the economy was stagnant, foodstuff was banned, employment was a scarce commodity and money was scarce.

Those who could have afforded to, migrated in droves; pavement vending flourished; young women capitalised on their bodies to meet their needs; children dropped out of school and began selling sweets and cigarettes in the streets to subsidise their homes.

As the author wrote: "It was an uncertain period charged with prevailing food shortages, power and water outages, smuggled items from neighbouring countries, intermittent street protests and waves of migration.

"Everyone was feverishly trying to make extra money to buy essential food items on the blackmarket. Children were deserting school, one after the other ...."

Like many others, Bibi unfortunately suffered the brunt of the misguided system. Her dream of making herself `somebody' was quashed after her parents, buckling under the pressure of rising food costs, felt that school was "a waste of time".

These and other pressures made her want to escape and caused her to wonder why she could not have been born somewhere else - in another place where, perhaps, men did not beat their wives so constantly after swaggering from the rum shop where most went to try to drown their sorrows.

Just after turning 18, Bibi eloped with Puran hoping for a better life, one in which she could chart her own destiny and a better life.

Puran, like most of the other children in the village, witnessed the brutal beatings of their mothers by their fathers, and pledged never to hit a woman.

His father had had no time for him and his sister; he used to quiz his wife on how she spent the day and threw pots and pans through the kitchen window when he was displeased about the curry or stew. His mother stayed only for the sake of Puran and his sister.

Puran had nightmares of abused women, and one day, when he could not take anymore, he turned on his father and hit him "buff" in the chest.

Since the incident, Puran's father ceased to physically abuse their mother and Puran himself was left with a feeling of manly worth. He stayed away from the home.

But, after not having much parental guidance, Puran dropped out of school, and limed with a band of other youths from the village, and became involved in various forms of mischief.

It was in this group that he was told that "Woman need one two blows" and that stuck in his memory. This phrase that seemed "to condition part of his attitude. He bullied little boys and instigated fights by the street corners".

So it was no wonder, that, not having developed an analytical approach to dealing with his anger, Puran followed diligently in his father's footsteps.

It started one hot day after Bibi returned from the supermarket. He began slapping her in the yard, not relenting although she tried to explain the reason for her returning late.

Later Bibi suffered a miscarriage. The beatings continued. Bibi left, but she returned, hoping that someday, Puran would change. Eventually, she had the courage to leave for good.

As one Sociologist puts it, violence is entrenched in our society. If a child is beaten by his/her parents, of if that child grows up in an environment where he/she constantly sees others being abused, then it is likely that that behaviour pattern can take its toll eventually, as is seen with Puran.

As he puts it "violence is entrenched in our culture". It takes the form of slaps, cuffs, kicks, chocking and hitting with hard objects, and can occur anywhere, both inside and outside of the home, and at anytime of the day or night.

The author accentuates, though, that physical violence is accompanied by other forms of abuse such as infidelity, destruction of household articles and clothing, verbal abuse, and by refusing to have sex and withdrawing contributions, especially financial, to the home.

When the reader begins to internalise the contents of Monar's novel, he/she begins to ask the age-old question "Why?"

"Why do men beat women, and of late, why do some women beat their men? (The latter is in the minority.)

A recent survey conducted by a group of University students found that two out of every three men hit their women in marital unions - whether they are legally married or are in a visiting relationship.

The major cause for this violence stems from men wanting to assert their male role dominance.

So, we say men must put a stop to all forms of violence.

But when the issue is analysed more carefully - as `Tormented Wives' will force its readers to do - what becomes evident is that a lot of family violence is perpetrated by women.

Because we mistreat our sons (and daughters) there will inadvertently be tormented husbands - and as long as there are tormented husbands, there will be tormented wives.