Massey’s novel “The Widows of Malabar Hill” is dedicated to the life of Cornelia Sorabji; a name that resonates in one’s heart who was the first woman to get high-level education and a law degree from Oxford University. She belonged to a family of high intellectuals where both her parents were actively participating throughout their lifetime for the betterment of the society irrespective of the caste, creed or culture of the people which was a matter of concern during those days. Her mother Franscina Santya Ford, and father Sorabji Kharsedji deputed their whole lives to uplift the society and provide equal rights to women. It was only obvious that Cornelia herself would be influenced and will follow her parent’s footsteps.
Sujata Massey, the writer of this mystery novel tried to depict the lives of the widows back in the 1920s old Bombay. Women were much deprived of higher positions and equal rights. The story revolves around Perveen Mistry (inspired by Cornelia Sorabji) who advocated in behalf of those poor widows to get justice.
The story revolves around Muhammadan Law. A man named Omar Farid; one of the clients of Perveen Mistry’s father dies leaving her three widows behind hence the title of the book “The Widows of Malabar Hill”. Muslim women are forbidden to interact or establish any kind of connection with other men, which is why Perveen Mistry steps in to help the widows get the Dowers; an inheritance the woman gets either on divorce or in case if the husband dies.
How Omar Farid met these women are beautifully portrayed in the novel and at times leave a reader quite intrigued by how the story shapes up and the plot is reached. The three widows are distinct to each other but the interest of the book builds up with Omar’s third wife Mumtaz who has been shown as a woman who is as ladylike as should have been. She wears wrinkled cotton sarees, keeps messy hair and is not as alluring as one would anticipate comparing to the other two wives Razia and Sakina.
Perveen got more interested in understanding the relationship that Omar Farid had with each of his wives and got deeper into getting the intimate details as much as she could. She would often listen to their stories, try to ask questions and get personal with them in terms of understanding their mindset and the bond they shared with their husband.
Somehow, the stories and incidences of these widows’ starts to relate with Perveen’s life herself which makes her feel not only physically but emotionally dragging. Perveen’s life with her husband, mother-in-law and her professional life takes a toll on her where she ends things with her husband due to her unhappy marriage. Perveen’s personal life struggles as a daughter-in-law and a loving wife; that she has been are the clear predicament of the society that prevailed during those days and maybe still today, in some parts of India.
For a reader who enjoys reading about stories with a hint of realism and is more close to society, The Widows of Malabar Hill is a perfect pick for you. The story may relate to your own life or a woman you know. It is fascinating to see how Massey plays with the words so naturally that it brings out life and outshines the perspective wonderfully.
You will surely enjoy this book!