Abha Dawesar’s Babyji, published 2005, is the beautifully written and intriguing story of Anamika Sharma’s sexual awakening. Anamika is in her final year at school, where she is Head Prefect, a position of honour and responsibility. She has passion for her studies, particularly physics, and draws analogies between her growing self-awareness and quantum physics:
“What are you thinking about?” she asked as she pulled the covers over herself.
“How quantum physics applies to life,” I said curtly.
“Tell me about it.”
“Wave, particle, wave, particle. One falls in and out of love as if one is jumping over a skipping rope,” I said.
“Are you in or out at the moment?” India asked.
India is the first of Anamika’s loves. (I knew then that I would always be in her grip, because like my other India, the greater India, she had a hundred different moods.)
Despite her serious and studious demeanor, Anamika’s confidence and determination makes her powerfully attractive, and she is not content with a single lover and is soon pursuing affairs and juggling lovers. (Adit had kissed me in the morning … he too was now a node, a part of the asymmetric geometric figure that was no longer a love triangle but a pentagon.) But this is not a morality tale about the girl who tried to have it all and was left with nothing. This is the tale of Anamika maturing into an adult as she learns to take responsibility for her life.
The book is set against the backdrop of the Mandal Commission’s recommendations in 1980 that proposed almost doubling the number of places at universities reserved for the lower castes. Anamika herself may be a brilliant student, but the competition for places was (and still is) fierce. (Delhi University has thirty-five thousand applicants for fifteen hundred seats.)
Caste is a recurring theme here, not least because Rani, another of Anamika’s loves, is a lower-caste servant rescued by Anamika from an abusive husband. The treatment of women is another theme, explored even through Anamika’s nature. She is a very boy-ish girl, both in appearance and in the roles she wishes to play. (I imagined Sheela as the young nymphet, and I thought of myself as the rough and sexy man who liked her. … I wanted her to think of me as a mature, dependable, solid man. A Hindi film hero except with more intelligence, wisdom, and good sense, which those machos lacked.)
The book more or less starts with the declaration that Indians, myself included, must immediately place everyone we meet. … There are categories for everything. But Anamika defies classification. Is she a lesbian? Bisexual? A bi-curious lesbian, perhaps. To label her is wrong, however. (Being gay is a Western construct. Indian sexuality is a spectrum, not binary.)
“I thought you were normal,” he said.
“Fuck off with your normalcy,” I said.
I love everything about this book. It’s exotic, beautiful and brilliant.