Book review ‘The Crow Eaters’ by Bapsi Sidhwa a Woman Parsi Writer from Islamic Pakistan

Women in Pakistan

Pakistan and women’s rights are two divergent roads that do not meet. Despite a woman Prime Minister in Benazir Bhutto and numerous bills for women’s rights, the lot of the Pakistan woman has not improved. In fact it has worsened with the ill famous Hadood ordinance promulgated by General Zia ul Haq. In such a scenario a woman writer from Pakistan is a refreshing experience, even if she is a non-Muslim. The woman writer is Bapsi Sidhwa who is a Parsi.

Bapsi Sidhwa

Bapsi Sidhwa is a Parsi writer from Pakistan who has defied the system and produced a string of novels that have won her critical acclaim. But the start was not at all rosy as “the Crow Eaters “her first novel was difficult to publish for want of a publisher. She took a decision to publish the book privately and it was a runaway success. The book could not find a publisher as Bapsi Sidhwa was unknown and the fact that she hailed from Pakistan was itself a drag

The Crow Eaters-The Plot

The Crow Eaters is a book in English and mirrors the Parsi life in undivided India, when the Raj was supreme. The book gives a glimpse of Parsi customs and life in India at the turn of the last century. The plot is simple and revolves around the main character Faredoon Junglewalla, a Parsi who leaves his home somewhere in Central India and with his pregnant wife, mother in law (Jerbanoo) and daughter arrives in Lahore. He travels in a cart with all his belongings. Lahore smiles on the fortunes of Faredoon and he amasses wealth, but not before he makes a false insurance claim and succeeds.

Faredoon and his Family Life

Faredoon does not look back and his rise is phenomenal, but Bapsi brings out the clash of Parsi values when his son falls in love with an Anglo-Indian girl. Faredoon cannot allow it and the boy is shattered when he learns his love is a part time prostitute.

The undercurrent of the book is the animosity between Faredoon and his mother in Law Jerbanoo. These episodes are beautifully written and are the piece de resistance of the novel. Bapsi also pictures the hospitality of the Parsi community which is closely knit and any Parsi visiting Lahore is treated to a round of breakfast and dinners by all Parses’.

A Lovely Account of Parsi Life

The book is a paean on the life of the Parsi community and despite it having death as a part of its theme; it is in reality a hilarious tale. The jousts between the mother in law and the son in law are beautifully depicted as well as the staunch belief in religion of Faredoon. He also believes in the inevitability of fate when one of his sons dies as forecast by an astrologer.

The novel ends at the beginning. This is a result of Bapsi’s power of the pen as the novel starts with a death, the death of Faredoon at the age of 65, depicts his life and ends again with his death. On his death bed with partition around the corner faredoon advises his family to live with peace as to who ever the rulers are.

Bapsi as a Writer

Bapsi Sidhwa has interwoven a lovely tale of Parsi life at the turn of the last century. She gives us a picture of how the Parsi community lived and nurtured their faith. She also brings out the reason for the Parsi success and the fact that they were non political all through.

Bapsi has excellent command of the English language and the books makes easy reading. It has been translated into Urdu and many in Pakistan know about her. Bapsi is now a naturalized citizen of the United States, but her roots are in Lahore and she brings to the reader the lovely period in that city, before politics took over and India was divided.

Awards

The book won the David Higham Award for first books and is widely read. Bapsi has also been awarded the Nishan e Imtiaz a literary award by the Pakistan Government. She was on a committee for empowerment of women when Benazir Bhutto was Prime Minister of Pakistan..

Bapsi deserves more than average praise as she made it good despite coming from Pakistan which today is the hotbed of obscurantism

Last Word


Bapsi Sidhwa was born in 1938 and started writing in early nineties. He list of awards and books is listed below. These show she is not an ordinary run of the mill writer, but a lady with command over teh English language

Awards

  • Bunting Fellowship at Radcliffe/Harvard (1986)
  • Visiting Scholar at the Rockefeller Foundation Center, Bellagio, Italy, (1991)
  • Sitara-e Imtiaz, (1991), Pakistan's highest national honor in the arts)
  • Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Writer's Award (1994)
  • Premio Mondello for Foreign Authors for Water (2007)
  • Inducted in the Zoroastrian Hall of Fame (2000

Published Books

  • Their Language of Love (2013)
  • The Crow Eaters : Published by Readings Lahore (2012)
  • Jungle Wala Sahib (Translation) (Urdu) (2012)
  • City of Sin and Splendour : Writings on Lahore (2006)
  • Water, a Novel (2006, )
  • Bapsi Sidhwa Omnibus (2001)
  • An American Brat (1993)
  • Cracking India (1991, U.S.; 1992, India; originally published as Ice Candy Man, 1988, England)
  • The Bride (1982, England; 1983;1984, India; published as The Pakistani Bride, 1990 US and 2008 US)
  • The Crow Eaters (1978)

More by this Author


Comments 10 comments

billybuc profile image

billybuc 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

Fascinating information. Thank you for sharing this with us.


MG Singh profile image

MG Singh 2 years ago from Singapore Author

Thank you Billy. Great of you to have commented


Twilight Lawns profile image

Twilight Lawns 2 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K.

Thank you for this.

As soon as I read Parsi Author, I realised that Bapsi Sidwah "was" the little girl with polio in that magnificent film. 'Earth... 1947' which is based on 'Ice Candy Man'.

Now I must find a copy of at least one of her books. I have looked on Kindle, but as yet have not found one.

I remember that a Parsi family lived very close to our home in Dehu Road Cantonment, and that they were very kind and generous to all. The "great survivors" when all the violence surrounding Partition seemed to spare only the British and the Parsi.


MG Singh profile image

MG Singh 2 years ago from Singapore Author

Thank you TwiLight lawns for a wonderful comment. Its so nice to read a comment from a person who has been in India. I would love to hear about your experiences at that time in India.


Twilight Lawns profile image

Twilight Lawns 2 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K.

They are all bottled up in me, which is a crime, because so people had the fortune to be born when and where as I had.

Some scribblings appear in HubPages,and with a basic knowledge of place names, perhaps you could find two or three.

Just remember that the Raj wouldn't even leave our place names as they found them, and Pune became Poona.


MG Singh profile image

MG Singh 2 years ago from Singapore Author

Thank you Twilight Lawns , so nice of you to have commented.


thumbi7 profile image

thumbi7 2 years ago from India

Very interesting information

Thanks for sharing this


MG Singh profile image

MG Singh 2 years ago from Singapore Author

Thank you Thumbi for reading and commenting


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 2 years ago from Taos, NM

Thank you for introducing us to this Pakastani writer. I have never heard of her before and her book sounds very interesting. I will have to read this. I enjoyed your background information and I am so saddened to hear of the lack of women's rights in Pakistan. I thought they were moving forward in that area, not backwards. That is so sad. I will certainly support the women of Pakisan and women writers from Pakistan. Thank you so much for an interesting and informative article.


MG Singh profile image

MG Singh 2 years ago from Singapore Author

Thank you Suzettenaples, its people like you who will make the difference in the ultimate analysis

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