Suzanna Anna Marie had six married husbands and one constant by-stander. She was an Anglo Indian, lived in Mussorie, her father was a contemporary of the legendary Jim Corbett and lived in a huge estate that she inherited as her father’s only child. After her father’s death, she was left an orphan, in her huge estate among servants who were unflinchingly loyal to her. She was a devout Christian, philanthropic and the charming benevolent face of a European civilization that mingled and merged seamlessly with the Indian counterpart. She lived at a time when Victorian values of romantic love and monogamist marriage was at its peak and the law neither allowed men and women to take on spouses while the present one was alive, nor could the marriage be dissolved through divorce. Marriage was made in Heaven and was supposed to be the image of perfect happiness and innocence on earth. In such times, six husbands of Suzanna died one after the other, each one under circumstances those were unnatural. Though there was never any evidence of her involvement in any one of them, interestingly she was always present when the deaths happened. Hence, the great mystery around Suzanna, the protagonist in Ruskin Bond’s novella Seven Husbands of Suzanna and now a film called 7 Khoon Maaf directed by Vishal Bhardwaj.
Suzanna killed each husband in cold blood after meticulous planning and in ways in which the forensic department was thoroughly beaten. In each case the husband was the contrarian image of what she desired in him. The serial murders raise the question in one’s mind whether it was not her who is to be faulted because surely not everyone under the sun can be bad. But as one sits through the film, more than the book, one gets a picture that is startlingly true but is not unfortunately acknowledged to be one. This truth is that romantic love that is consummated in a monogamist marriage and which is supposed to be the ultimate happiness for a woman is one of the greatest lies of our civilization. 7 Khoon Maaf exposes this lie.
Suzanna is fiercely loyal to the one she loves, she sets him on a pedestal, worships him, looks after him, completely surrenders her to him. Her marriage is pure romance because she has enough for her material needs to be taken care of and her husbands are looked after by her rather than her by them. Hence her marriage is never based upon any material need; it is based on a strong need, no, not for companionship alone, but on the need for a husband to who she can unconditionally surrender in an unrestrained manner. She is hugely intelligent for she is knowledgeable about wild animals, game hunting, about horses and jockeys, of poisons and potions and has a penchant for poetry and ear for music. When distressed, she does not lose her mind, but gets into the act of carefully resolving her problems. After bad experiences with marriage and romance, she still seeks love and men, which means that her faith in life as a whole and in the human race is unshaken. This is possible because she is confident and capable, materially secure and intelligent and essentially spiritual and charitable. These qualities in her make her capable of unconditional surrender and unerring loyalty. She becomes a Muslim and in love with Sufism, she becomes a Russian maid when in love with a Russian, a Bengali bride for a Bengali husband and a muse for an aspiring musician. These virtues make for her sexuality as well as spirituality.
The husbands in each case are less than perfect; one is an egoist who uses his wife as a trophy and then, despite her complete surrender to him, suspects her of infidelity. He is cruel and violent and hits to kill or to permanently impair. Such a man is a liability in the Kingdom of God that houses only love, compassion, fidelity, trust and loyalty. The second is a cheater, a plagiarist and a womanizer; the third, a poet who despite his rational and progressive lyrics is a male chauvinist and therefore, a sexual pervert. In an age when there is no divorce, a harassed wife must kill him to end the marriage. Yet, Suzanna could have abandoned him and walked off. But Suzanna does not do that precisely because, as a completely contented self-contained person in herself whose sexuality is indeterminately intertwined with her sexuality, she must maintain the world as a Kingdom of God; precisely in the manner she inherited it and which is why she cannot allow the dirt in the form of the mentally and ethically warped men polluting the beautiful world.
The film does not appeal to those sensibilities which do not have a clear sense of the perfect. For most of us, marriage is a compromise; it is a contract to pool resources and live on. We are mediocres, who marry for food, shelter and to bear and rear our progenies. But for persons who are beyond these measures, for whom romance is a spiritual fulfillment and monogamist marriage an obvious outcome of such love, it becomes difficult to tolerate persons who are unworthy of the total surrender that Suzanna gives to them. Suzanna’s journey is thus through the spirituality of the Western civilization, its moral force by which the West once prevailed over almost the entire humanity. If colonialism’s immorality was ever bailed out, it was because of the underlying spirituality of the West, enshrined in its asceticism that held through its Enlightenment and the Renaissance and that lay as the foundation of its world conquering capitalism. Suzanna is this ascetic of the West and hence her life ends in a Church as a nun, where she as Mira, also weds and dances with Christ. Through her many weddings, she had searched for this God and not frail men with fragile spirits. Christ is her only suitable paramour and husband, for none other than He can be a worthy image of perfection for Suzanna.
Suzanna became what she was because of some “big lies” of civilization; she fell into the ideological manipulation that romantic love was the fulfillment of a woman and that a monogamist marriage was the natural progression of that love. She also fell into the trap that women had to surrender, never to assume agency, never to emerge in command of her life. This forced subservience, this perfidy of love, which was manifested in her nudity, suggested in darker hues of the camera when she surrendered to Arun, the man who she did not get to marry, were to constitute the paradoxes of her existence. These lies of civilization made her seek happiness in nonexistent truths and eventually aroused her moral anger manifested in the serial murders.
Observed carefully the murders are Suzanna’s essential personality; she is imperial and inwardly imperious. She kills the bully to protect the weak from him; it is only the last murder that she really “commits” and that too in self defense. Otherwise, just as Suzanna never takes lead in romance but leads men to propose to her, she also drives her victims to their own death. She arranges things out there, as if laying a trap, ensnares her victim where he dies in due course. In each case she draws upon a vast pool of knowledge, presence of mind, steely nerves and the ability to see right into the law of evidences that eventually becomes her defense against accusations.
Suzanna is that soul of the West that it has lost to itself. She is the spirit of Christ, the Joan of Arc, the archetypal Madonna who in the aeons of time held civilization; for it was woman who discovered agriculture, it was woman who knew how to grow grains, how to tame animals and tend them when men only knew to hunt and eat them; it was woman who first rode on horses and made instruments where men only knew how to make weapons; women made houses where men only could divot mounds. This is why women are at the heart of every art, contained within the idea of the aesthetic; she is the civilizing force of humanity, she is also its spirituality. But women were divested of fruits of their labour, made to believe that men could only fulfill them. Hidden under a heap of cultural mores and social codes, she remains buried as a passive force. Only Suzanna tricked us with her grave, she did not die when we thought that she was dead. Suzanna is Christ resurrected, she awakes when the world sleeps, to reclaim that seed of civilization that belongs to her, for she is all, the male and the female, yin and the yang, Creator and the Destroyer, contained in the image of a woman, charming and coy by day like Lakshmi but terrible and ferocious by night like Kali; representing the Woman Power, not merely as a procreator, but as Creator Herself, the Original (Womb)Man that all civilizations know but have decided to forget. Suzanna connects us with the core of our civilization so that we may live beyond the end of Time, by recalling Time’s origins. Suzanna is not the erotic redness of earth, nor the ethereal blue, nor the puritanical white; Suzanna’s colour is Black, signifying a Brahma beyond Light, or an eternal mourning of the mystic on earth, despairing for Perfection, or the colour of the Black Widow, the deathly spider that devours the male after mating.
Sabaash Suzanna !!!