Book Review: Disobedient Women // Sangeeta Mulay

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Sangeeta Mulay is an Indian-born author with an already extensive portfolio of short stories including Savitribai Phule and I which was a notable book of 2020 for the ‘Bombay Review’. Mulay has also previously received commendation in The Sydney Hammond short story competition and the NYC midnight micro-fiction challenge for her short stories. Although in these stories Mulay has previously been known to approach religious, cultural and gender-specific issues in her writing, her debut novel Disobedient Women offers an insightfully new view on many of these same issues from the perspective of a courageous, inquisitive, and critical female protagonist.

Disobedient Women is set in contemporary India and offers an insight into the various plights of female citizens in such a religiously dominated society. Through the course of the novel, Mulay’s Disobedient Women takes the reader on an explorative journey into the experiences of three distinctly different people whose lives intersect in the most unpredictable of ways.

We are first introduced to the female protagonist Aparna Soman, and are instantly enthralled with her character as an outspoken campaigner for rational thought and religious dissent. Through the characterisation of Aparna, Mulay invites us to explore her radical pursuit as a fervent Indian feminist who is resolved to ensure her voice is not silenced by a Hindu nationalist government.

Following the first part of Aparna’s story, we are introduced to Hari, the second central character, as a young child. Through his story, we watch Hari grow into a young man who becomes the passionate leader of a devoutly religious Hindu organisation. Through Hari’s character, Mulay expertly transports her reader into the story of one whose sense of self has begun to conflict internally with its own moral security as Hari delves further into his role as head of a religious group identity.

Hari’s daughter, Kashi, is the third character to take the spotlight in Mulay’s novel. Indoctrinated by her father’s devout way of life, we ardently follow Kashi as she begins to unlearn the ideology imposed upon her throughout her upbringing, favouring instead the choice to discover her own beliefs and identify her own religious and sexual identity.

Both a source of fictional intrigue and an education in discovering and maintaining a specific identity in the midst of socioreligious dogmatism, Mulay insightfully navigates the limitations of freedom imposed on many women in fundamentalist and male-dominated societies and the dangers they can face in speaking out against injustice.

Through this novel, Mulay confidently refuses to shy away from exploring difficult subject matter in order to encourage her readers to question cultural and religious ideologies alongside her characters. Disobedient Women forces us to question the ways in which our lives and actions intersect with or affect those around us and ultimately encourages us to consider the importance of disobedience in an otherwise often blindly obedient society.

Published by Fly on the Wall Press, Disobedient Women is out tomorrow, 24th November 2022.

Words by Hattie Banfield

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