Babyji (2005) by Abha Dawesar is an atypical ‘coming of age’ novel featuring an academically gifted, sexually empowered female protagonist Anamika Sharma. Dawesar returns to her Indian roots, placing Anamika in the heart of a class-divided Delhi, juggling the pressures of being both a student and a lover.
This is an unapologetic exploration of the wanton desires of a sexually active teenager littered with occasional self-reflection and naivety. You are immediately introduced to ‘India’, Anamika’s much older, newly divorced female lover. Before you have time to understand this relationship, Rani, the new family servant, shakes her tail feathers for Anamika which ignites the hormones of our lusty sixteen year old heroine and we aren’t even 25 pages into Babyji!
The pacing shifts from breakneck speed to slow motion as Dawesar chronicles intimate moments between the lovers with the precise accuracy of the curiously intelligent teen. The seduction is sliced up with school life. Anamika still has to handle the everyday hassles of education including exams, bullies and school girl crushes.
Dawesar writes for the every-audience, explaining Indian traditions and expectations as observational thoughts, leaving nothing to assumption of understanding. Having never been to India and living in Westernised Australia, I appreciated these culture teachings and enjoyed their constant inclusion, cleverly used to build Anamika’s character profile and educate the reader.
The intensity of the reoccurring romances, including the trip away with ‘India’, builds to a level of incredibility as Babyji maintains momentum while Anamika holds the interest of three female lovers and an older male suitor. I found myself exclaiming out loud in disbelief at some points, perhaps not being convinced that our young adult was capable of ‘having it all’. Admittedly, her school life and friendships occasionally take a hit as she is preoccupied with learning the philosophies of love. Then again, perhaps that’s what all the teenagers are doing these days and I’ve just lived a sheltered existence.
Babyji, while pushing the buttons on relationship realities, powerfully conveys the opinions of the protagonist on various topics – from science to society – and uniquely steps out of the ‘coming of age’ category into the sociopolitical sphere. Class structure, education and family units are thematically explored throughout, proving a break from the titillating tours of the female lover.
If you somehow missed catching this novel around it’s release in 2005, it’s worth the purchase (I read the Kindle edition) to experience Delhi from a wealthy, sexually confident teenage girl’s perspective. I enjoyed delving into Anamika’s world, living her life with her and was left wanting more at the somewhat abrupt ending.
“I want to be free. I don’t want society telling me what to do all the time.” – Anamika is the everylesbian (p300, eBook).