Abha Dawesar’s Babyji (2005, Anchor Books) accompanied me on my vacation. It took a while to get me hooked, and not only because I was usually pretty tired after the daily 20 kilometer hike. I guess it’s another example of high expectations, or at least divergent ones. The book was announced as “racy”, “steamy”, and “sexy”, among other, less carnal attributes. However, really everytime things got interesting, the acclaimed “unabashed detail” was missing. I really do expect more detail than a simple and then we made love, when the book is announced this way. The fact that people make love, or even this being a mayor activity in the novel, does not make it steamy per se. But that’s already my harshest critique about it. Otherwise, the coming-of-age of Anamika and her adventures with and phantasies about other women is a nice read. It get’s more and more articulate, in a way imitating in style the more and more complex thoughts and feelings of the protagonist.
Set in Delhi, the story also refers to many other aspects of Indian society, such as religions and their importance, gender roles and expectations Anamika is growing into, caste and how it influences behaviour toward each other, and development discourse. Especially the complicated relationship toward a lower caste classmate is an example of this, and combines several of these. Anamika patronizingly tries to make him a better person while at the same time facing the challenge of not spending time with him alone (or other males, for that matter), and knowing (and understanding) little about the individual circumstances that made him the person he is. Altogether, the book is sometimes annoyingly pubertal and know-it-all, sometimes shying away from the interesting details, and only several pages in it becomes more capturing, before it falls again shortly before the end. But it is refreshing in telling a story about a queer teenager in an unexpected environment ( – and I am fully aware of the inherent eurocentrism here).
How did I come across the book?
I think it was referenced in either Laurie Penny’s Unspeakable Things, or Eva Illouz’s Why Love Hurts. Or maybe one of the earlier pieces of The Affect Theory Reader by Melissa Gregg and Gregory Seigworth (because I am still not through with that one).
When and where did I read it?
As I said, it accompanied me on my vacation in Portugal and Spain, specifically those afternoons I spend resting from the hikes on the Caminho Portugués.