Picture Above: Cornelia Sorabji
Dear Diary, Bombay,
February, 1921 Night, 9 pm.
What a surprisingly overwhelming day it was! Working as a solicitor at Pappa’s flourishing law firm was undoubtedly a breath of fresh air, a departure from the despondency that had enveloped me ever since my retirement from marriage. In the hearts of hearts, I was desperately seeking for an opportunity to appear in court representing my clientele as the FIRST FEMALE LAWYER: Parveen Mistry and not P.J Mistry, as printed on my business card to lure clients as they were oblivious of my gender until we meet. Today I stumbled upon a contract signed by three widows of Mr. Farid’s who were ungrudgingly donating all their share of dowers and mahr to the family’s wakf. Why will these purdahnashins, with negligible source of income, donate their sole assets to a charitable organisation, keeping in mind that they already have four children to fend for? And to top it all, two signatures on the contract were so indistinguishable I would say that it was from the same hand. Anyway, the notion of polygyny is so scandalising to me, though I’m confident my family practiced it until it was criminalised by law in 1865. Nonetheless, armed with rudiments of Mohammedan Law and being the only medium to converse with these secluded women who are barred from engaging with men can be a golden opportunity to genuinely practice what I was preached! Sometimes, life throws so many bouncers and right the next moment, you are bestowed with favourable instances that can be a doorway to unfulfilled dreams. Meeting Alice at Oxford was one of those instances. Both of us could confide in each other and share our darkest melancholic secrets! Today when she returned from England after three years, I could sense that beneath her vivaciousness, she was searching for a remedy to her problems that were accentuated now that her parents are looking out for suitable grooms. Perhaps they would never welcome her as the daughter who finds solace in other woman’s arms, the one who had fallen head over heels for a girl but then buried into her mathematical books after she was banished from college to get cured.
Purdahnashin: A woman who observes purdah (segregation of the sexes)
Mahr : Marriage portion paid to bride’s family
Wakf: the permanent dedication by a person professing the Islam, of any movable or immovable property for any purpose recognized by Muslim Law as religious, pious, or charitable.
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The Widows of Malabar Hills by Sujata Massey is set in 1920s, Bombay and revolves around the life of Parveen Mistry, one of the pioneering female lawyers of British India equipped with a law degree from Oxford. A diary entry is genuinely an effective medium that conveys most personal and raw encounters of day to day happenings in the writer’s life. Neither fabricated nor elaborated with concoctions, it delivers the most tender emotions that bind humans in an unusually unconventional soul-level way. Hence, ahead of her time, Parveen’s knotty life involving phallocentric norms and ostracised treatment of women at both professional and personal front, which she fought against deserves to be narrated to the susceptible modern women who occasionally find themselves in a crippling state due to conservative traditions and injustice at play that bars them from achieving dreams.