Bapsi Sidhwa Essay - Critical Essays

Sidhwa, Bapsi


Bapsi Sidhwa 1938-

(Also rendered as Bapsy Sidhwa) Pakistani-born American novelist.

The following entry presents an overview of Sidhwa's career through 2000.

Sidhwa is widely recognized as one of the most prominent Pakistani-Anglophone novelists writing today. She was raised in the Parsi community, a religious and ethnic minority in Pakistan. Critics regard Sidhwa as a feminist postcolonial Asian author whose novels—including The Crow Eaters (1978), The Bride (1981), and Ice-Candy-Man (1988; republished as Cracking India 1991)—provide a unique perspective on Indian and Pakistani history, politics, and culture. Her characters, often women, are caught up in the historical events surrounding the geographical and social division—or “Partition”—of India and Pakistan in 1947, and the subsequent development of Pakistan as an independent nation. Her recurring themes include human relationships and betrayals, the coming of age and its attendant disillusionments, immigration, and cultural hybridity, as well as social and political upheavals. Sidhwa skillfully links gender to community, nationality, religion, and class, demonstrating the ways in which these various aspects of cultural identity and social structure do not merely affect or reflect one another, but instead are inextricably intertwined. Since moving to the United States and becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen, Sidhwa has written An American Brat (1993), which describes the Americanization of a young Parsi woman.

Biographical Information

Sidhwa was born on August 11, 1938, in Karachi, Pakistan, then part of India. Her family belongs to the Parsi ethnic community which practices the Zoroastrian religion. Sidhwa received a bachelor's degree from Kinnaird College for Women in 1956. After her first husband died, she married Noshir R. Sidhwa, a businessman, in 1963, with whom she has three children. In 1975 Sidhwa served as Pakistan's delegate to the Asian Women's Congress. She immigrated to the United States in 1983, and became a naturalized American citizen in 1993. Since moving to the United States, Sidhwa has taught, lectured, and presented workshops in creative writing at several colleges and universities, including Columbia University, St. Thomas University, the University of Houston, and Mount Holyoke College in Amherst, Massachusetts. She held a Bunting fellowship at Radcliffe/Harvard in 1986 and was a visiting scholar at the Rockefeller Foundation Center in Bellagio, Italy, in 1991. Sidhwa also served on the advisory committee on women's development for former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. In 1991 she was awarded the Sitara-i-Imtiaz, Pakistan's highest national honor in the arts. She has also received a variety of grants and awards for her fiction, including a National Endowment for the Arts grant in 1987, a New York Times Book Review Notable Book of the Year award for Cracking India in 1991, and a Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest award in 1993.

Major Works

Sidhwa's first three novels focus on Parsi families and the Parsi community in the city of Lahore and outlying areas that were incorporated into the newly formed nation of Pakistan. The Crow Eaters—written after The Bride, but published first—draws its title from an Indian proverb which refers to those who talk too much as people who have eaten crows. The story takes place over the first half of the twentieth century, and concerns the fortunes of a Parsi man, Faredoon “Freddy” Junglewalla. After moving from a small village in central India to the city of Lahore, Freddy gains financial success through a variety of questionable money-making schemes, such as arson and insurance fraud. Meanwhile, his strong-willed mother-in-law, Jerbanoo, makes his life increasingly difficult. The Crow Eaters, while addressing serious cultural and historical issues, is written in a humorous, farcical style that lampoons elements of Parsi culture. The Bride details the events of the Partition through the story of Qasim, a Kohistani tribesman, and Zaitoon, a young girl he adopts after witnessing the massacre in which her family was killed. The plot chronicles the events leading up to and following the ill-arranged marriage between Zaitoon and a man from Qasim's tribe in the mountains. When her new husband becomes abusive, Zaitoon decides to run away. The Bride interweaves Zaitoon's narrative with the story of Carol, an American woman unhappily married to a Pakistani engineer. Sidhwa's third novel, Ice-Candy-Man, recounts events surrounding the Partition through the eyes of Lenny, a precocious Parsi girl who has been disabled by polio. Throughout the novel, Lenny relates the effects of the Partition on her family and community. During the course of these events, Lenny's beautiful young Hindu nanny, Ayah, is kidnapped and raped by a group of men who had previously courted her. The Ice-candy-man, a local popsicle vendor, is among this group of suitors-turned-kidnappers. The novel is both the story of Lenny's coming of age and a complex history of the growing divisions among Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh communities of India at the time, as well as a scathing social commentary about the British colonization of India. An American Brat, written after Sidhwa immigrated to America, follows a sixteen-year-old Parsi girl named Feroza Ginwalla. Alarmed by the rising fundamentalism of Pakistan in the 1970s, Feroza's mother, Zareen, decides to send Feroza to the United States to stay with her uncle. After an initial culture shock, however, Feroza decides to remain in America as a college student, where she falls in love with a young Jewish man. Feroza also becomes increasingly politicized about such issues as gender, imperialism, and global relations. Zareen, alarmed by Feroza's newly Americanized attitudes, travels to the United States to retrieve her daughter, who Zareen believes has become an “American brat.”

Critical Reception

Sidhwa's work has garnered positive critical attention for providing a unique Parsi perspective on the culture and politics of the Partition of India. The Crow Eaters has received acclaim as an entertaining social farce, with critics lauding Sidhwa's charming characters and unabashed use of “barnyard” humor. Reviewers have additionally praised her portrayal of an ethically questionable protagonist in The Crow Eaters without subjecting him to moralizing judgments. Ice-Candy-Man has received a decidedly mixed critical reception. While some commentators have favorably compared Sidhwa's narrative device of relating major political events through the eyes of a child to Salman Rushdie's narration in Midnight's Children, other critics have found the device to be an ineffective and clumsy means of describing the events of the Partition. Several scholars have also criticized Ice-Candy-Man for oversimplifying the history and politics of the Partition, and faulted Sidhwa's portrayal of Mahatma Gandhi, asserting that her view of the religious and political leader is unrealistic and unbalanced. Tariq Rahman has disputed this assertion, arguing that Ice-Candy-Man, “shows the human personality under stress as a result of that cataclysmic event and depicts a society responding to it in the way societies do react: through sheer indifference, gossip, trivial and malicious activities, making love, and also killing, raping, and going insane.” Sidhwa has also been highly regarded as a feminist postcolonial author who effectively addresses issues of cultural difference and the place of women in Indian and Pakistani society. Critics have noted both The Bride and An American Brat for their examinations of cultural conflict and their strong characterizations. Kamala Edwards has observed, “Sidhwa is a feminist and realist. One sees in her women characters the strength of passion, the tenderness of love, and the courage of one's convictions. They struggle to overcome the hurts of time and escape the grip of a fate in whose hands they are often mere puppets.” An American Brat has been extolled by many reviewers as a compelling delineation of both the coming of age process and the immigrant experience in the United States. However, several critics have noted Sidhwa's use of stock social and cultural stereotypes in all of her novels, particularly in An American Brat. The plotting of An American Brat has additionally been judged by several reviewers to be weak and predictable, but a majority of critics have found Sidhwa's representation of American culture to be insightful and unique.

Principal Works

The Crow Eaters (novel) 1978

The Bride (novel) 1981

Ice-Candy-Man (novel) 1988; republished as Cracking India, 1991

An American Brat (novel) 1993

*The Bapsi Sidhwa Omnibus (novels) 2001

*Includes The Crow Eaters, The Bride, Ice-Candy-Man, and An American Brat.


Judy Cooke (review date 19 September 1980)

SOURCE: Cooke, Judy. “Roast Cat.” New Statesman 100, no. 2583 (19 September 1980): 23.

[In the following excerpt, Cooke praises The Crow Eaters as an “excellent” and enjoyable novel.]

Bapsi Sidhwa's The Crow Eaters is an excellent novel, her first, a book about India which one can wholeheartedly enjoy rather than respectfully admire. The author is a born storyteller, an affectionate, shrewd observer of the Parsi family whose history is here related. She organises her material well and writes with authority and flair.

‘Faredoon Junglewalla, Freddy for short, was a strikingly handsome, dulcet-voiced adventurer …’ It is an...

(The entire section is 258 words.)

Patricia Craig (review date 26 September 1980)

SOURCE: Craig, Patricia. “Junglewalla & Co.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4043 (26 September 1980): 1057.

[In the following review, Craig compliments the elements of black comedy in The Crow Eaters.]

Indian society offers plenty of targets for the humorist, though it hasn't, at any rate in novels written in English, generated, too much straightforward comic fiction. It is more common to find an ironic perspective suddenly lightening a very serious undertaking, as in the novels of Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. Bapsi Sidhwa, however, in a sprightly first novel [The Crow Eaters] shows that black comedy is by no means alien to the spirit of Indian writing. Her...

(The entire section is 658 words.)

Frank Rudm (review date 18 October 1980)

SOURCE: Rudm, Frank. Review of The Crow Eaters, by Bapsi Sidhwa. Spectator 245, no. 7945 (18 October 1980): 25.

[In the following excerpt, Rudm offers a positive assessment of The Crow Eaters, calling the novel “a wholly charming passage to India.”]

[The Crow Eaters] is about the vicissitudes of a Parsi family in Lahore. The action takes place between 1900 and the second World war. The title is taken from an Indian proverb: Anyone who talks too much is said to have eaten crows. Faredoon Junglewalla (Freddy for short) is never at a loss for words, or, for that matter, does he lack ideas, nefarious though they may be. Freddy is an engaging rogue,...

(The entire section is 323 words.)

Alamgir Hashmi (review date autumn 1984)

SOURCE: Hashmi, Alamgir. Review of The Bride, by Bapsi Sidhwa. World Literature Today 58, no. 4 (autumn 1984): 667-68.

[In the following review, Hashmi praises The Bride for its farcical elements and its examination of the complexity of socio-cultural differences in Pakistan.]

Sidhwa's first published novel, The Crow Eaters, introduced a robust, farcical style in the Pakistani novel. The Bride was written earlier but has only now been published. It narrates the story of Zaitoon, who lost her parents in the Indo-Pakistan riots in the summer of 1947 and was adopted by Lahore-bound Qasim, a Himalayan tribesman also fleeing the mountains after...

(The entire section is 368 words.)

Marianne Wiggins (review date 26 February 1988)

SOURCE: Wiggins, Marianne. “The Melting Stomach.” New Statesman 115, no. 2970 (26 February 1988): 23.

[In the following review, Wiggins criticizes Ice-Candy-Man, asserting that the novel is a failure in terms of its stereotyped characterization, problematic narrative voice, weak sense of place, and oversimplified representation of the story's political context.]

A third of the way through Bapsi Sidhwa's new novel [Ice-Candy-Man], which pretends to be a tale about Independence, Mohandas Gandhi arrives in Lahore. The year is post-World War II, pre-Partition—say 1946. Lahore, then as now, is the intellectual centre of Muslim literature, the site of a...

(The entire section is 711 words.)

Bapsi Sidhwa and David Montenegro (interview date 26 March 1988/24 March 1989)

SOURCE: Sidhwa, Bapsi, and David Montenegro. “Bapsi Sidhwa: An Interview.” Massachusetts Review 31, no. 4 (winter 1990): 513-33.

[In the following interview, which took originally took place on March 26, 1988, and March 24, 1989, Sidhwa discusses Pakistani politics, issues facing Muslim women, contemporary Islamic literature, and the central themes of her novels.]

This interview originally took place on March 26, 1988 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Because of the Rushdie affair and radical changes which occurred in Pakistan in the interim, a follow-up interview took place on March 24, 1989. The follow-up questions appear first in the interview.


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Maria Couto (review date 1 April 1988)

SOURCE: Couto, Maria. “In Divided Times.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4435 (1 April 1988): 363.

[In the following excerpt, Couto comments that, while Sidhwa's storytelling talents are impressive, Ice-Candy-Man is ultimately flawed due to the author's problematic rendering of narrative voice.]

Bapsi Sidhwa's new novel—whose very title, Ice-Candy-Man, and the popsicles the eponymous trader sells, belong to a scene far removed from the subcontinent where we know the ubiquitous icecreamwalla—is an attempt to deal with the facts of history and the traumas of Partition. Sidhwa, a Pakistani now resident in America, is quite firm in her resolve to...

(The entire section is 358 words.)

Tariq Rahman (review date autumn 1988)

SOURCE: Rahman, Tariq. Review of Ice-Candy-Man, by Bapsi Sidhwa. World Literature Today 62, no. 4 (autumn 1988): 732-33.

[In the following review, Rahman offers a positive assessment of Ice-Candy-Man, praising the novel's sophisticated and effective narrative techniques.]

Ice-Candy-Man is Bapsi Sidhwa's third novel, following The Crow Eaters (1978) and The Bride (1983; see WLT 58:4, p. 667). As in the first two, the mode of narration is realistic. The quality of this surface realism is a product of acute intelligence, integrity, and imagination, the same qualities which enabled her to portray the life of the Parsi community...

(The entire section is 641 words.)

Kamala Edwards (review date fall 1991)

SOURCE: Edwards, Kamala. “Cracked Identities.” Belles Lettres 7, no. 1 (fall 1991): 47-8.

[In the following review, Edwards compliments Cracking India for its incisive and poignant depiction of the Partition of India.]

In Bapsi Sidhwa's novel Cracking India, the reader encounters a richly textured, multicultural society suddenly in flux. Within three months, seven million Muslims and five million Hindus and Sikhs find themselves uprooted in “the largest and most terrible exchange of population known to history.” But the 1947 partition made Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs each other's enemies, overnight. Subsequently, “one man's religion became...

(The entire section is 808 words.)

Jagdev Singh (essay date 1992)

SOURCE: Singh, Jagdev. “Ice-Candy-Man: A Parsi Perception on the Partition of India.” Literary Criterion 27, no. 3 (1992): 23-35.

[In the following essay, Singh examines Ice-Candy-Man as a novel about the Partition of India told from the unique perspective of a sensitive Parsi girl. Singh comments that the story focuses on the effect of the Partition on the Parsi community as a whole.]

The Partition of the Indian sub-continent in 1947 is one of the great tragedies, the magnitude, ambit and savagery of which compels one to search for the larger meaning of events, and to come to terms with the lethal energies that set off such vast conflagrations. There...

(The entire section is 4387 words.)

Edward Hower (review date 24 November 1992)

SOURCE: Hower, Edward. “Endearing Indian Tale.” Washington Post Book World (24 November 1992): E2.

[In the following review, Hower offers high praise for The Crow Eaters, applauding Sidhwa for her endearing characters and effective use of humor, farce, and satire.]

Bapsi Sidhwa, Pakistan's leading female author, has written two powerful, serious novels and one very funny one. Cracking India, which was reissued here to critical acclaim last year, and The Bride, also well received when it was published in 1983, dealt with such themes as ethnic violence and the exploitation of Asian women.

The Crow Eaters, the author's...

(The entire section is 776 words.)

Edit Villarreal (review date 12 December 1993)

SOURCE: Villarreal, Edit. “Feroza Goes Native.” Washington Post Book World 23, no. 50 (12 December 1993): 7.

[In the following review, Villarreal comments that An American Brat is an “affecting, amusing, and enjoyable” novel about a young woman's coming of age and the immigrant experience in America.]

Coming of age is never easy. Coming of age as a woman is even harder. But coming of age as a female immigrant in a foreign country may be the most difficult of all. For many women born into societies with restrictive social and political codes, however, immigration may be the only real way to come of age. In An American Brat, Pakistani-born novelist...

(The entire section is 741 words.)

Chris Goodrich (review date 14 January 1994)

SOURCE: Goodrich, Chris. “A Wide-Eyed View of America, Where All Has Been Made Easy.” Los Angeles Times (14 January 1994): E4.

[In the following review, Goodrich praises An American Brat, calling the work “a funny and memorable novel.”]

It's 1978 in Pakistan and 16-year-old Feroza Ginwalla, the heroine of this novel [An American Brat], is beginning to worry her relatively liberal, upper-middle-class Parsee parents.

She won't answer the phone; she tells her mother to dress more conservatively; she sulks, she slams doors, she prefers the company of her old-fashioned grandmother; she seems to sympathize with fundamentalist religious...

(The entire section is 842 words.)

Adele King (review date spring 1994)

SOURCE: King, Adele. Review of An American Brat, by Bapsi Sidhwa. World Literature Today 68, no. 2 (spring 1994): 436.

[In the following review, King criticizes An American Brat as a problematic and flawed novel, noting that Sidhwa's narrative is “unsophisticated” and that the story oversimplifies American life.]

Bapsi Sidhwa's earlier novels were set in Pakistan and India and described life in her own Parsee community. An American Brat is a result of her years living in the United States and tells of the problems of adjustment to a new culture as experienced by her heroine Feroza, a young Pakistani Parsee girl who comes to visit and then to...

(The entire section is 538 words.)

Novy Kapadia (essay date 1996)

SOURCE: Kapadia, Novy. “The Parsi Paradox in The Crow Eaters.” In The Novels of Bapsi Sidhwa, edited by R. K. Dhawan and Novy Kapadia, pp. 125-35. New Delhi: Prestige, 1996.

[In the following essay, Kapadia discusses the phenomenon of upward social mobility among the Parsi minority in Sidhwa's novel The Crow Eaters.]

The Parsi are an ethno-religious minority in India, living mostly on the west coast of the subcontinent, especially in Bombay. In Pakistan, most Parsis reside in Karachi and Lahore. As their name implies, the Parsis are of Persian descent. The word Parsi means a native of “Pars” or “Fars,” an ancient Persian province, now in Southern...

(The entire section is 4769 words.)

Alamgir Hashmi (essay date 1996)

SOURCE: Hashmi, Alamgir. “The Crow Eaters: A Noteworthy Novel.” In The Novels of Bapsi Sidhwa, edited by R. K. Dhawan and Novy Kapadia, pp. 136-39. New Delhi: Prestige, 1996.

[In the following essay, Hashmi offers high praise for Sidhwa's novel The Crow Eaters as a representation of Parsi culture and history.]

Though poetry in Pakistan has been a thriving art form, novels in English are few and far between. In fact, fiction and imaginative prose as a whole have suffered acute disfavour over the years; and while acknowledging resplendent instances of exception, such as the works of Ahmed Ali and Zulfikar Ghose, one is naturally inclined to welcome the...

(The entire section is 1456 words.)

Bapsi Sidhwa and Preeti Singh (interview date 1998)

SOURCE: Sidhwa, Bapsi, and Preeti Singh. “My Place in the World.” ALIF: Journal of Comparative Poetics, no. 18 (1998): 290-98.

[In the following interview, Sidhwa discusses the autobiographical elements of her fiction, her role as a postcolonial female author, her identity as a member of the Parsi community, and the use of humor in her novels.]

Bapsi Sidhwa is a well known writer from Pakistan whose fiction has won fame both at home and abroad for the sensitivity with which it depicts the people and places of the South Asian sub-continent. The Bride (1983), The Crow Eaters (1982), Cracking India (1991) and An American Brat (1993) are...

(The entire section is 3779 words.)

Jill Didur (essay date July 1998)

SOURCE: Didur, Jill. “Cracking the Nation: Gender, Minorities, and Agency in Bapsi Sidhwa's Cracking India.ARIEL: A Review of International English Literature 29, no. 3 (July 1998): 43-64.

[In the following essay, Didur examines the discourse of gender and national identity in Sidhwa's Cracking India in terms of feminist postcolonial theory.]

Fictional and historical narratives that portray the rise of the modern nation-state often mobilize the figure of “Woman” in the “construction, reproduction, and transformation of ethnic/national categories” (Anthias 7). Nationalist discourse in South Asia is no exception to this practice. Here,...

(The entire section is 8079 words.)

Ambreen Hai (essay date summer 2000)

SOURCE: Hai, Ambreen. “Border Work, Border Trouble: Postcolonial Feminism and the Ayah in Bapsi Sidhwa's Cracking India.Modern Fiction Studies 46, no. 2 (summer 2000): 379-426.

[In the following essay, Hai discusses Sidhwa's Cracking India in terms of the rubric of border-crossing in postcolonial literature.]

Borderlands […] may feed growth and exploration or […] conceal a minefield.

—Margaret Higonnet, Borderwork: Feminist Engagements with Comparative Literature

It is the intersections of the various systemic networks of class, race,...

(The entire section is 18257 words.)

Further Reading


Dhawan, R. K., and Novy Kapadia, editors. The Novels of Bapsi Sidhwa. New Delhi: Prestige, 1996, 300 p.

Dhawan and Kapadia present a collection of essays by various authors on Sidhwa's novels The Crow Eaters, The Bride, Ice-Candy-Man (Cracking India), and An American Brat.

Ryan, Richard. “India in an Evil Hour.” Washington Post Book World 21, no. 47 (24 November 1991): 10.

Ryan praises Cracking India as a remarkable and mysterious novel by a gifted writer.

Zaman, Niaz. “Images of Purdah in Bapsi Sidhwa's Novels.” In Margins of Erasure: Purdah in the...

(The entire section is 151 words.)