Bapsi Sidhwa (SIH-dwuh) invented English-language fiction in Pakistan. Unlike India, from which Pakistan was carved, the country had no established literary tradition in English. Urdu was the official language, and many would have preferred that the former colonizers’ language disappear altogether.
Born into a wealthy family, Sidhwa spent her first seven years as an Indian citizen in the plains city of Lahore. In 1945, after India was divided, she became a Pakistani. The tremendous turmoil and bloodshed she observed as a child left its mark on Sidhwa, and later in her fiction she revived those powerful memories of Partition (as the division of India has come to be known). That she was born a Parsee also affected her writing. A Zoroastrian religious group of fewer than 200,000, the Parsees had long exerted enormous influence on the subcontinent through their business and professional standing. They also tended to be more Westernized than most of their fellow countrymen.
At age two, Sidhwa contracted polio, and she did not attend school until she was fourteen. Tutored at home in English, she read British literature extensively, a practice that encouraged her to become a writer. Her parents, however, had other ideas, and at nineteen she entered an arranged marriage and soon bore three children. As an upper-class wife and mother, Sidhwa broke tradition by starting to write, even though she admitted in an interview that at first she wrote in secret. Otherwise her friends would have thought her “pretentious,” she said: “After all, I was only a businessman’s wife.”
Her first novel, The Bride, was initiated by a story she heard during a family vacation in Pakistan’s tribal regions in the Himalayas. A young woman had made an arranged marriage with a tribal man. Unable to cope with the harsh treatment accorded women in that society, she ran away, only to be pursued, then murdered by her husband and his relatives. Sidhwa felt compelled to tell this story, which to her symbolized the plight of many women on the subcontinent. A friend...
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