Saturday, August 28, 2010

Discuss laughter, pain and seriousness in Sidhwa’s fiction

While her novels tackle some of the most painful topics imaginable, distinguished- writer-in-residence Bapsi Sidhwa is a serious humorist in the tradition of Heller, Dickens, and Waugh, whose works are assigned this semester in her course, Humor in Novels. Sidhwa's four published novels reflect, she says, "my natural inclination to see the strong element of humor even in tragedies." By focusing on characters' universal foibles and follies, the effects of large-scale social, political, and economic upheaval are made personal and poignant.

"Laughter does so many things for us," she explains. "It has the quality of exposing wrongs and gets rid of anger and resentments." Sidhwa, who came to the United States in 1985 and now lives in Texas, is a Parsee who grew up in Pakistan. Parsees, a small minority religious group, "are viewed as an ancient, special, and honorable people," says Sidhwa, "with a place in both India and Pakistan."
"As a Parsee I can see things objectively. I see all the common people suffering while politicians on either side have all the fun." Sidhwa encourages students in her Transcribing Memoirs course to develop their own clarity of thought as they use memories to write journals and autobiography or change memory into fiction.
Educated at home until age fifteen, Sidhwa says from age eleven she "did nothing but read books, starting with Little Women." Later she attended a university in the Punjab, married, and had three children, now grown. Sidhwa began writing as an adult after visiting an isolated, mountainous region of India. There, gripped by a village tragedy involving a runaway bride, she realized that "I just had to tell the story of this woman, alone with God in the wilderness."
Winner of many international literary prizes, Sidhwa's career is moving in exciting directions. Noted Canadian filmmaker Deepa Mehta, who like Sidhwa is from the Punjab, will begin shooting Sidhwa's novel Ice-Candy-Manlater this year. A huge success in both India and Pakistan, "Ice-Candy-Mandeals with two countries that are absolute enemies, offering something to both points of view," says Sidhwa. She had not accepted other film offers, but feels Mehta is the right interpreter. "It's fascinating to see what Deepa has plucked out of a book which could make many films."
For the remainder of this term, she is at work on articles and essays, and continues to enjoy MHC's "welcoming and pleasing atmosphere, its deep-rooted buildings" and her students, whom she describes as "very bright, full of humor and fun, working hard to suspend attitudes and voicing strong opinions." 

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