By Abha Dawesar
Price: Rs 295
Anamika Sharma, head prefect and brilliant student, despite appearances, is not a typical "good girl". While she aces papers, is adored by teachers, feared by younger students, thinks it degenerate to smoke marijuana and refuses to even walk into a liquor store, she has the sexual longings of a filly in heat. At 16, she fancies herself a great philanderer, taking lovers rather than having crushes, relating more to Humbert, that "dirty old man" of Nabakov's classic, than the young nymphets he desired. Like Lolita,
Babyji describes with complete lack of restraint the details of Anamika's sexual escapades knowing fully well that they will be judged reprehensible by many. But like many "scandalous" novels, it is actually a very pointed investigation of morality and perhaps a call to refresh the "rule book".
In Delhi where "things happen under cover", Anamika has a flirtation with Adit, an older married man, but her three lovers are all women- Rani, her beautiful maidservant, Tripta, a divorced, older woman, and Sheila, a pretty schoolgirl. If you balked at the mention of the maidservant, that's the point. Babyji is at once a coming-of-age story, a coming out story, a rebel yell against the moralising forces that would prefer people with "unconventional" sexualities to just disappear and a critique of India's caste and class divisions.
It is a genuine inquiry into the absurdly simplistic systems of thought that human societies love so much: "Being gay is a western construct. Indian sexuality is spectrum not a binary." While you judge Anamika's sexual proclivities, she may be judging your insidious bigotry. Nothing is black and white for Anamika. Being harassed by the "cheapads" on the bus makes her aware of her own predatory behaviour with Sheila. She doesn't always like her "carnal imagination" that has "reduced all love, friendships and filial affections to an orgy in the gutter". She finds she has more in common with her lecherous classmate Chakra Dev Yadav than she would like to admit and takes on the challenge to rehabilitate him because "we all have a terrible beast inside".
Babyji is as much philosophy as pornography, as cerebral as sensual. One of the most appealing aspects of the novel is the play between Anamika's intellectual and sexual experiences. The chaos theory corresponds with her promiscuity while scientific metaphors help describe her emotional states: "I had split myself like an atom into many electrons and neutrons. Each subatomic particle danced with a different person and led its own life. But all of me, the whole me, didn't exist for anyone but myself."
As the novel progresses, the fog of adolescence lifts. Anamika finds the identification she desires in the books she reads and a sense of self in the things she writes. She has been a reckless lover, a selfish friend, a deceiving daughter but she always tries to be better. And while you may never get to the place where you feel you have no choice but to fuse your desires with that of the narrator, you can see how she has grown and you can understand her.
|SECRETS AND LIES |
By Dilip Hiro
Price: Rs 695
The Middle East specialist dissects the Iraq war: the compulsions of George W. Bush and the neocons in his administration and the strategic blunders in post-Saddam Baghdad. A riveting read.
| SOUL AND STRUCTURE OF GOVERNANCE IN INDIA |
Price: Rs 475 Pages: 516
Why the welfare state didn't work out and what needs to be done. Jagmohan ponders on the crisis of governance, from the medieval period through the Raj to liberalised India, and prescribes remedies.
| OF CRICKET, GUINNESS AND GANDHI |
By Vinay Lal
Price: Rs 295
Lal critiques some very disparate but striking elements in India's culture history. He analyses Gandhi's experiments with celibate sexuality as well as the sociology of Hindi cinema.