Step into the gripping and mysterious realm of the Mistress of Bhatia House by Award-winning author Sujata Massey. This spellbinding novel will take you to a world where traditions collide with modernity, power dynamics simmer beneath the surface, and the allure of forbidden love threatens to disrupt what is left in the life of Solicitor Perveen Mistry.
Get ready to lose yourself in the powerful story-telling and richly drawn characters of The Mistress of Bhatia House as Perveen sets off on an investigation that takes her through the evocative streets of old Bombay in search of the truth.
Perveen felt that getting past Mangala Bhatia had been like running the proverbial gauntlet. No matter what she’d said,
it seemed to peeve the woman. But she’d made it into a beautiful stone courtyard half-filled with ladies dressed in pastel-colored summer saris. Many were in shades of pink—quite pretty, but confusing as she started her search for Uma Bhatia.
And soon it would be too late to catch the hostess, as everyone would be sitting down for the presentation. Thin mattresses had been spread across the ground for seating, and in front of them stood short-footed wooden trays. Each tray held a banana-leaf platter, a copper tumbler for water, and a shockingly simple clay teacup. Western-style porcelain, silver, and furniture were in high use amongst Bombay society, so Perveen found this departure an unexpected and very charming setup.
Perveen scanned the courtyard. She’d never been in Ghatkopar before, and she guessed that many of the guests were local. The charitable hospital Uma Bhatia was founding would be built inside Bombay, so Perveen had expected to see some familiar faces. Yet the only woman she recognized was Lady Gwendolyn Hobson-Jones, the prickly mother of Perveen’s best friend, Alice.
Lady Hobson-Jones turned from chatting with one friend to the next, and her cool blue gaze swept the crowd. Perveen smiled and began walking toward her, but Lady Hobson-Jones did not return the greeting. Instead, the doyenne of British Bombay took the arm of the full-figured brunette next to her and motioned for a third woman—this one a slender blonde in her thirties—to step closer. Now all three ladies’ backs were toward Perveen.
Perveen stood still, wondering if Lady Hobson-Jones had snubbed her. Was this what the British called “cutting someone dead”?
Perveen could never admit to being fond of Alice’s mother, but they had always chatted and smiled their way through encounters. Irritation rising, Perveen walked in the opposite direction, resolved that she would complete the mission of locating Uma Bhatia.
Amid the numerous women wearing pinks that ranged from the palest blush to brilliant fuchsia, Perveen finally settled on someone who seemed likely to be the chair of the women’s hospital committee. She appeared to be in her midtwenties and wore an expensive-looking rose silk crepe floral sari. Hanging from her neck was a black-and-gold beaded wedding necklace with a floral pendant made up of many small diamonds.
Striving to appear casual, Perveen approached the woman and her social group, who were gathered around a tall woman in a blue-and-white flowered silk sari. This lady, who had a striking, strong-boned face, wore her hair tightly coiled in a bun. Instead of carrying a cloth purse, she’d nestled a large leather bag under her left arm.
“We must make our hospital welcoming to all,” the tall woman was saying in fluent Marathi, the language spoken by most people born and raised in Bombay and the surrounding countryside. “Even the hospital sentries could be women. Of course, we will have female nurses, but we need more women physicians. I’ll do my best to recruit, but I hope that you’ll encourage your daughters to enroll in medical college.”
The woman in pink glanced at the others, then spoke in a decorous tone. “Dr. Penkar, we admire you for receiving your advanced and useful education. But medical college is too expensive for most of us.”
Hearing the surname, Perveen realized the tall woman had to be Dr. Miriam Penkar, the city’s only Indian female obstetrician-gynecologist. It seemed quite a coup for the fledgling hospital to have her on board.
“The girls can study in India!” The doctor gave her a wide smile. “We are fortunate that the Lady Hardinge Medical College has opened in Delhi. One of our committee members at this gathering, Mrs. Serena Prescott, was even involved in their fundraising. She can help your daughters.”
Skeptical glances flickered between a few women, as if they didn’t believe that an Englishwoman would assist them—or that they could send a daughter as far away as Delhi.
“It’s a grand idea. But first, let’s get the hospital built. By the time the roof goes on, lady doctors may be plentiful.” Uma spoke pleasantly, turning from the crowd to take notice of Perveen. Switching to English, she said, “Good afternoon! Are you a new supporter?” She looked Perveen over, clearly noting the legal briefcase, a cousin to Dr. Penkar’s medical kit.
It was a relief to be invited into a group. Smiling warmly, Perveen answered, “My sister-in-law, Gulnaz Mistry, asked me to bring her best wishes. My name is Perveen Mistry.”
“The solicitor?” blurted Dr. Penkar. “I’ve heard tales of you.”
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