Bapsi Sidhwa Criticism

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Judy Cooke (review date 19 September 1980)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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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 Parsi hero Faredoon (Freddy) Junglewalla, is one of those beguiling rogues whose exploits make such entertaining reading—in the tradition, if not quite in the class, of Basil Seal.

Freddy's efforts to further his interests are related in detail, from his inauspicious entry into Lahore in a bullock-cart to the position of power and comfort he occupies at the end of his life. How did he get there? Briefly, by being “all things to all people in my time. There was that bumptious son-of-a-bitch in Peshawar called Colonel Williams. I cooed to him—salaamed so low I got crick in my balls—buttered and marmaladed him until he was eating out of my hand”. Freddy is nothing if not quick-witted and venturesome. His good fortune begins with an act of fraud: “Insurance in India was in its infancy. Its opportunities struck Freddy as brand new …”, the author tells us glibly.

Some time later, succumbing to curiosity about the future and having consulted a mystic, Freddy is startled when the man assures him that he has an intuitive understanding of the mysterious nature of fire. “Its divine energy will always benefit you.” Knowing exactly how a fire at his shop has benefited Freddy, the reader might wonder for a moment if Bapsi Sidhwa has created a character unique in fiction: a sardonic soothsayer. She hasn't in fact; the sardonic impulse is all her own, and no less effective for that. Though she's too easy going to make a satirist, she never resists an opportunity to poke fun at every revered belief and practice in Parsi culture. For example: Freddy's wife Putli, outraged at certain relaxations in modern life, asserts her right to uphold tradition by following her husband assiduously about the house—at the required three...

(The entire section is 55,173 words.)