After Margaret Atwood’s “Marrying the Hangman”
Because her husband is dead and will burn, she must burn too.
A man must not know loneliness.
A woman must not know anything other than her man.
She, the witch.
She who outlasted her soldier husband.
She does not fear ignition. She has always been incendiary.
Her birth, a conflagration. Mother’s womb an inferno, hot with the coming blaze.
Now she dies in stolen fire, sharing the flame with her departed husband.
When he is reborn as a cow, the bovine immortal, he will not see her in another’s
Her skin is his to caress, wound or kiss.
His to flay, even in death.
She says: anklet, chrysalis, color magenta, wide expanse of sky.
They say: dam, clipped wings, color black, soil, soil, soil.
“Sati” meaning chaste woman. “Sati” meaning good wife.
Every chastewomangoodwife must strive to be beautiful.
But not too beautiful. They call her dirty, call her temptress, call her evil.
She must not smolder.
She must be made small
Every good woman is invisible.
Imagine her crime:
Being born woman.
Coming into life wedded to another life.
They use the word “ardhangini”2.
“Ardh” meaning half. “Ang” meaning limbs.
They suggest: she, the other half
but she is entire.
Her whole is greater than the sum of his parts.
While her husband’s corpse rots, she finds the body inside the body that is not
With every stroke a strike and every embrace an abrasion,
he never learnt to touch without bruising.
Now: she, disciple. Her body, master.
She becomes a scholar of her untaught anatomy.
Tomorrow she will burn because she must.
Tonight she burns because she wants to.
She says: Tapti3, tobacco, sternum, fountain pen and ink.
They say: drought, dust, fine bone, silence, silence, silence.
Her husband lies limp on the pyre.
1 Refers to a funeral ritual in the Indian Subcontinent dating back to the 4th
Recently widowed women committed suicide by fire, usually by burning to death
with their already dead husbands on the funeral pyre. Some were forced, others
voluntary. In a letter dated October 4, 1667 to Monsieur Jean Chapelain,
Francois Bernier wrote about one particular act of self-immolation:
“As I was leaving Sourate [Surat] for Persia, I witnessed the devotion and burning
of another widow… She was of the middle age, and by no means uncomely. I do
not expect, with my
limited powers of expression, to convey a full idea of the brutish boldness, or
depicted on this woman’s countenance; of her undaunted step; of the freedom
perturbation with which she conversed, and permitted herself to be washed; of
the look of confidence or rather of insensibility which she cast upon us; or her
easy air, free from dejection; of her lofty carriage, void of embarrassment, when
she was examining her little cabin, composed of dry and thick millet straw, with
an intermixture of small wood; when she
entered into that cabin, sat down upon the funeral pile, placed her deceased
husband’s head in her lap, took up a torch, and with her own hand lighted the fire
within…”Source: Bernier, Francois. Travels in the Mogul Empire, AD 1656-1668.
Archibald Constable on the basis of Irving Brock’s version. Edited by Vincent A.
1934. Reprint, Delhi: Low Price Publications, 1994.
2 Hindi word for “wife”.
3 River. Empties into the Gulf of Khambat near the city of Surat in Gujarat, India.
Aarohi is currently a sophomore at Macalester College looking to pursue International Studies, Japanese and English. A native of New Delhi, India, she is particularly passionate about socially engaged literature, and takes an interest in understanding the various intersections of power, history and art.