Saturday, August 28, 2010

Critically examine the use of irony and satire in the novel, The Crow Eaters.

Irony and satire have been key instruments of Bapsi Sidhwa in The Crow Eaters. But she has not tried to use these instruments for any of the corrective purposes. She does not look at lashing at the foibles and follies of her characters. Irony has been used both in the dialogues and situations. There are situations in the novels which are highlighted with its help and with the help of a somewhat limited use of satire. But the sole purpose of these devices is to create a bit of humour and save the novel from getting bored.

The use of irony also prevents the novel from becoming either laudatory or disparaging, an inherent danger when an author writes about his or her own community, both the shortcomings and achievements. Wealth and status is the ultimate aim for Faredoon Junglewalla. He achieved this ambition but at what cost. Bapsi Sidhwa's mode of perception is ironic. As we appreciate Junglewalla's achievements, doubts are raised about it. The novel commences on a note of praise for Faredoon Junglewalla, Freddy for short, described as a strikingly handsome, dulcet-voiced adventurer.
About his career it is said, he not only succeeded in carving a comfortable niche in the world for himself, but also earned the respect and gratitude of his entire community. When he died at sixty-five, a majestic grey-haired patriarch, he attained the rare distinction of being locally listed in the “Zarathusti Calendar of Great Men and Women.”1 The achievement is stupendous, yet doubts are raised about it. Freddy's fame and wealth are shown to have dubious roots. The maintenance of identity, in spite of being a microscopic minority, of which Freddy is so proud, is shown as mere public relations, bordering on sycophancy:
And where, if I may ask, does the sun rise? No, not in the East. For us it rises—and sets—in the Englishman's arses. They are our sovereigns! Where do you think we'd be if we did not curry favour? Next to the nawabs, rajas and princelings we are the greatest toadies of the British Empire! These are not ugly words, mind you. They are the sweet dictates of our delicious need to exist, to live and prosper in peace.
So the fawning behaviour and flattery is shown as a “need to exist,” neither lauded nor condemned. The tone of the author is ironic. There is a protective irony in the novel, balancing personal inadequacies against the contradictions of life itself. Hence irony is also a mode of acceptance—a type of philosophy.
Freddy's ostensibly humorous comments, his obsequious behaviour towards Mr. Charles P. Allen, the Deputy Commissioner and his frequent visits to the Government House to pay homage to the British Empire, underline a basic attitude to the ruling colonial power which Bapsi Sidhwa carefully explores. Since the Parsis settled in India, they realized they could only survive as a minority by being strictly loyal to every ruling authority and avoiding tensions and conflicts between various groups and powers in the state. At no time in the subcontinent was the community itself a power factor that would have been able to enforce its own interests against the will of the rulers. Hence Parsis learned to realize that only loyalty to the ruler generates that political climate in which they could remain undisturbed as a minority.
The only condition for their loyalty was that they were not hindered in the practice of their religion. Hence the exaggerated servility of Freddy, his son Billy and other Parsis towards the British is revealed as an act to ensure legal security, peace and economic prosperity. With her ironic perspective the flattery of the Parsis is humorously revealed in the novel, but it also expresses an underlying identity crisis and quest for security amongst the community as a whole.
Following a query by his son-in-law Bobby Katrak about the future of the Parsis after Independence, Faredoon makes a prophetic reply:
“We will stay where we are. … Let Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, or whoever, rule. What does it matter? The sun will continue to rise—and to set—in their arses.”
Such witty remarks are the hallmark of Bapsi Sidhwa's style and the genial satire both shocks and offends Parsi sensibilities in the sub-continent. It is remarks like this which led to the function held in Pakistan to launch the novel being sabotaged by a bomb scare—suspected to be the work of some irate Parsis. Although The Crow Eaters is a novel that may shock, offend and dismay, it never ceases to entertain. It is a rambunctious mixture of gentle perceptiveness and wild barnyard humour. The satire of Bapsi Sidhwa, though sharp is never castigating and censorious like that of Swift, but is a genial tolerance of the foibles of a community, full of paradoxes with an identity crisis caused by their minority status and ideas of loyalty to the ruling authorities.

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