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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 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 to 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 the 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 deathbed with partition around the corner, Faredoon advises his family to live in peace as to whoever 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 nonpolitical all through.
Bapsi has an excellent command of the English language and the books make 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.
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 the 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
Bapsi Sidhwa was born in 1938 and started writing in the 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 of the English language
- 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 into the Zoroastrian Hall of Fame (2000
- 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)