Book Review: I Want to Destroy Myself: A Memoir by Malika Amar Shaikh

By Aminah Sheikh


Born to Communist parents Amar Shaikh and Kusum Jaykar, Malika Amar Shaikh was raised in an inspiring environment at a time when history was being staged – Maharashtrian politics of the 1960s. Cushioned by her father, a legendary Marathi folk singer and trade union leader, Malika, who was an ailing child lived the world through books. And, her only outlet was her poetry.

Hirve, hirve gawat, phule bhovti jamat

Jaate mi, maaghaari yete mi…ramat, gamat

(In the green green foliage, the flowers dance

There will I follow, there will I prance.)

She had written her first poem at the age of seven. Riding on the loving shoulders of her father, a respectable man, Malika floated through the art, cultural and political circles as a school-going girl, observing and silently soaking in all that was on offer.

Published by Speaking Tiger, I Want to Destroy Myself: A Memoir by Malika Amar Shaikh, translated from Marathi by author, poet and translator Jerry Pinto, tells a tale of despair. The original autobiography Mala Udhhvasta Vhaychay was published in 1984. The book takes the reader on a journey of a girl, from being young, self-aware and with dreamy eyes, to a woman choking under the burden of her own choice. The choice of following her heart and loving a man who she believed would be her true companion.

When the man of her dreams Namdeo Dhasal, co-founder of the radical Dalit Panthers, is introduced to the reader, you are bound to fall in love just as she did. So honest is her memoir that it will jolt you and leave you wondering – how did she pull through!

I Want to Destroy Myself has been beautifully crafted by Malika as she shares some intense experiences in a matter-of-fact manner. From loving the rain as a girl, sitting with her family with a book in hand, to wading in almost waist-deep water with her husband during her menstrual cycle and ending up at a friend’s doorstep for shelter — one of the many moments when she swallows her self-respect — the book tells many stories. She arouses raging emotions in the reader that make the book a heavy read.

Her turbulent married life with Namdeo plays out during the rise and fall of the Dalit moment in Maharashtra, the effects of which are seen on their bond. The book makes you sick in the gut on the thought of how a loved one can go cold in the heart, crushing the most basic expectation – that of at least showing some humanity towards his 17-year-old wife, while he displays all traits of sensitivity and thoughtfulness towards his party workers.

Through I Want to Destroy Myself, Malika doesn’t seek any sympathy from the reader, and that is clear. But, she for certain questions the hypocrisy of our society as she recounts the misery she lived through in the hands of her alcoholic and womanising husband Namdeo, who was also a “revolutionary poet”(He died in 2014). In the closing chapters of the book, she addresses this and emphasis on the need to recognise the individuality of a woman, and her views on socio-economic and political matters that may be independent of whether her father was a communist worker or husband a Dalit activist. “My Husband’s name – how can that be my name? My husband’s achievements – how can those be my achievements?”

She questions the nerves of patriarchy prevalent in our society that surpasses even the caste systems and religious beliefs we hold dear. I Want to Destroy Myself is a raw portrait of scattered dreams, love defeated, self-respect crushed, and a story of the valour to survive and live a life of meaning. Malika does keep her poetry alive.

Aminah Sheikh is the Online Editor of Kitaab.