Danika reviews Babyji by Abha Dawesar


I don’t know what to think about Babyji. This is going be less of a review and more of an unpacking of my emotions. It’s one of the most uncomfortable reading experiences I have had. I assume that is purposeful, but it means that I can’t seem to get a handle on my own emotional reaction. Anamika is sixteen, and the narrative focuses on her three simultaneous love affairs: two with older women, one with a female classmate. If this was a heterosexual book, I would immediately see her as a victim and the older characters as perpetrators, regardless of context, I’m sure. So I should feel the same way about a same-sex relationship, presumably… but I don’t, exactly. The power dynamics are complicated: one of her relationships is with her servant, which makes me uncomfortable in the opposite way. Anamika has such power over her that it seems like a manipulative relationship no matter Anamika’s intentions (and they’re not always good). Her relationship with the woman she calls “India” should be more straightforward. India is a woman that Anamika hardly knows before she arrives on her doorstep and invites herself into the woman’s bed. India should have refused her, and there are moments where her age asserts itself and makes it clear that the relationship is unbalanced, but frankly it doesn’t disturb me as much as her other love affairs. Anamika is manipulative and demanding, frequently pushing into areas of questionable consent with all three of her partners. Maybe it’s as simple as saying that Anamika functions as both victim and perpetrator in this book, often at the same time. And maybe that’s a reality that I don’t want to face, that it’s possible to be both, and that the question of who’s in the right is not so easy to answer.

The relationships are the focus of the novel, and it was interesting to see how they could both empower her and overwhelm her. Anamika is swept up into a sexual world that she sometimes embraces wholeheartedly and sometimes shrinks away from. Once she begins to pursue India, it seems like she gets advances from every direction, and those moments where she seems to be drowning in this new environment were gut-wrenching. Her thought processes, her unpredictable moods, her erratic priorities all felt very true to being a teenager and discovering yourself. Her philosophical tangents may not have been earthshattering, but they did feel familiar to where I was at that time period. In fact, the whole novel seems messily realistic. It didn’t seem to follow an arc to me, and it concludes abruptly, but it just felt like being abruptly dropped into her life.

One aspect that I found interesting is that I’m not sure how Anamika would identify. She is attracted to women, that’s for sure, but she also identifies with men quite a bit. In her fantasies she often sees herself as a man–usually a man that was power over women. She reads Lolita at some point and compares herself to Humbert Humbert multiple times, which she doesn’t seem to find worrying at all. It’s hard to say whether she identifies with men in a personal identity way, or just aspires to the power that these men have over women.

I finished the book feeling unsettled. I wasn’t sure not only how I felt about the characters and their actions, but even how the author intended them to be received. Everything felt murky and troubling. If you’ve read this, I’d love to get your thoughts, because I don’t know how to arrange mine on the subject.


Jess reviews Babyji by Abha Dawesar


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!

“Her breathing got heavier. I was scandalising myself. I was petrified. I had no idea what to do next.” (p25, eBook).

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).