Bapsi Sidhwa Criticism - Essay

Judy Cooke (review date 19 September 1980)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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 opening paragraph to whet the reader's appetite and the subject is not one to disappoint his public. Freddy is first seen trundling towards Lahore in a bullock cart with his wife Putli, his baby daughter and his dreadful mother-in-law. He has some trouble with the rooster sharing the ride, a perverse bird who likes to cling to our hero's buttocks at the climax of love-making ‘like an experienced rodeo rider’. In a matter of days Freddy finds an excuse for sacrificing this favourite and is soon eating chicken curry. That is the measure of the man. It is easy to credit his meteoric rise to fortune (aided by arson and insurance fraud); it is inevitable that his children are lesser figures, that Yazdi should renounce his inheritance in disgust, that Billy should become one of the richest misers in the continent. A Parsi Forsyte Saga? Who knows? Mrs Sidhwa's fiction may develop in a number of directions but one thing is certain, she will be read.

Patricia Craig (review date 26 September 1980)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Frank Rudm (review date 18 October 1980)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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, handsome, dulcet-voiced, and consumed with absurd vanities. The greatest thorn in his flesh is Jerbanoo, his mother-in-law, who has been unwillingly brought thousands of miles to Lahore from a Tower of Silence where a devout Parsi must be buried. She is a wily tyrant who is up to Freddy's tricks, but she is asleep when he sets fire to the premises that are both home and business. When the fire breaks out Freddy makes such a clamour that Jerbanoo is rescued, and her fears are temporarily allayed.

Freddy makes a successful claim on the insurance company and never looks back. He becomes a power in the community and is consulted on all sides. The proceeds from many small villainies swell Freddy's riches. Affluence leads to influence and soon Freddy and his timorous wife Putli are invited to Government House. As the fire of Freddy's life flickers he is yet stirred by the imminence of Independence from British rule from which he has so handsomely profited. Realistic to the last, Freddy tells his family, ‘We will stay where we are … let Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, or whoever, rule. What does it matter? The sun will continue to rise—and the sun continue to set—in their arses.’ The Crow Eaters is a wholly charming passage to India.

Alamgir Hashmi (review date autumn 1984)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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 committing a crime and losing his wife and children to the fatalities inflicted by smallpox.

Zaitoon is so named by Qasim, after his own late daughter, and raised from the age of five in the city of Lahore as his adopted daughter. Against better counsel, he decides to marry her off at fifteen to a tribesman in the northern mountains, whence he himself originated. The city-bred young girl now must learn the ways of the tribesman's world outside the civilized, urban though decadent life of the plains, where she spent most of her years. The result is as expected. Sakhi is not husband she wants; nor is she the wife he can endure. So she must escape the rugged hills, which she does, and find her way back, which we cannot know about. Honor, commitment, marriage and loyalty are at stake, and there is really no way either to quash or to salvage them in the painful predicament in which Zaitoon's circumstances have placed her.

Escape from the oppressive, no-go “civilization” is what Carol also decides upon. She appears midway through the book, apparently to highlight Zaitoon's dilemma and to judge it with the outsider's objective eye. Carol is American and married to a Pakistani engineer living in the northern mountains, extremely dissatisfied with her own life as much as with local mores, which she finds “too ancient” and “too different.” She decides to go “home,” thus mirroring Zaitoon's flight from the “different” North. The two story lines combine to produce a splendid tale examining sociocultural differences at a level far above that which is familiar in Pakistani Anglophone writing.

Marianne Wiggins (review date 26 February 1988)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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 subvert what she sees as the Indian version: “And today, forty years later, in films of Gandhi's and Mountbatten's lives, in books by British and Indian scholars, Jinnah, who for a decade was known as ‘Ambassador of Hindu-Muslim Unity’ is caricatured, and portrayed as a monster.” The carping turns vicious when Mahatma Gandhi is involved:

He is a man who loves women. And lame children. And the untouchable sweeper—so he will love the untouchable sweeper's constipated girl-child best … ice lurks deep beneath the hypnotic and dynamic femininity of Gandhi's non-violent exterior.

Such testimony, most of it seen through the eyes of eight-year-old Lenny—who is firmly established as a truthful witness, unlike, say, Saleem Sinai, the unreliable narrator of Midnight's Children, who is often confused about his recall of events—disregards the fact that Mahatma Gandhi refused to participate in the government of the new nation because he opposed Partition.

Lenny tells her story—or, more accurately, her Hindu ayah's story—within the framework of her Parsi household. Ayah is warm, vibrant, earthy; equally evocative are the frolics of her many admirers. The most persistent of them is the Muslim ice-candy-man with his “stinking cigarette clenched in his fist, his flashy scarves and reek of jasmine attar”, selling popsicles or parakeets, inventing a higher status for himself in Pakistan as poet or bastard prince. Sidhwa's sometimes gifted storytelling is marred, though, by her device of the child's voice mouthing adult perceptions and anachronisms. Surely it is inappropriate to call the Sikhs at that time “Akalis … a bloody bunch of murdering fanatics”.

Tariq Rahman (review date autumn 1988)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Kamala Edwards (review date fall 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Jagdev Singh (essay date 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Edward Hower (review date 24 November 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Edit Villarreal (review date 12 December 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Chris Goodrich (review date 14 January 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Adele King (review date spring 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Novy Kapadia (essay date 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Alamgir Hashmi (essay date 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Bapsi Sidhwa and Preeti Singh (interview date 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Jill Didur (essay date July 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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,...

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Ambreen Hai (essay date summer 2000)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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,...

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