Saturday, August 28, 2010
It was only after the Second World War that women novelists transcended gender-related limitations in their thematic concerns and started writing about a range of experiences, including the squalid and the terrifying. In Sidhwa's work, the themes diverge from traditional to contemporary.
The feminine imagination in her novels is presented with an incongruous humour to discuss serious sociopolitical issues even though Sidhwa is not gender conscious in writing about any issue. She analyzes how Ice-Candy-Man, despite possessing stylistic charm, vivacity and compelling themes, fails to achieve artistic synthesis. Though her language and narrative are refined, Sidhwa is unable to delve deep into the psyche of her female characters, consequently the sensations it generates are discordant and dishevelled.
In the last thirty years there is a vigorous development in thinking about women and their role in society. For majority of women their gender has had some effect on their experiences, and their perceptions of the world, and this is reflected in the nature of the work they, produce.
Feminism has become a lighly important issue in contemporary thought and has resulted in challenging the patriarchal assumption. The application of new ideas about women to their conceptions has produced extensive discussion of both how women have been represented in literature and their trend of writing,
The 'gynocritics' theorize about women's literary production and women writers have responded in terms of'colonization of the mind.' In the contemporary literary scenario in the Indian subcontinent, gender consciousness is not palpable in the phraseology of Western criticism. Women are not lagging behind in their input of literature—we have women writers writing in English from the nineteenth century onwards, not to mention regional writers. These writers with their distinctive talents, particular age of interests and individual style have proved that they are imaginative and are at par with women writers of the West.
It was thought before the First World War that a woman writer is at her best when she deals with the known domain of her womanliness, immediate surroundings and cognition of varied relationships that she creates for herself. But it was after the second World War that women novelists of quality have begun enriching literature, specially fiction, on the Indian subcontinent.
Women writers are not always preoccupied with their personal lives; many of them are interested in large-scale social or intellectual questions. Novelists have started using a combination in varying proportions of what they have experienced, what they have discovered and what they have imagined. Their gender has not debarred women from writing about a range of experiences that include the squalid and the terrifying.
Bapsi Sidhwa, born in
and brought up in Karachi , is acclaimed by the Times as 'a powerful and dramatic novelist' and the New Statesman has described her as 'An affectionate and shrewd observer ... a born storyteller.' In addition to writing and teaching in the Lahore , she is an active social worker and has represented United States at the 1975 Asian Women's Congress. All her novels, The Crow-Eaters (1980), The Pakistani Bride (1983) and Ice-Candy-Man (1988), are experimentations in imagination with an aim to achieve artistic synthesis. Pakistan
In Sidhwa's work themes diverge from traditional to contemporaneity. Her concern ranges from a pre-Independence social scene to Partition and its aftermath, and her time frame is fifty years. In this narrow canvas Sidhwa who experiences the pleasures of exile is in a more advantageous position than most of the writers. Her exile has given her an opportunity to laugh at the slogan 'Anatomy is destiny.' She could shed many inhibitions under this influence, but it is doubtful whether she has achieved artistic synthesis or not.
Being a writer who is not gender-conscious, she relies more on her imagination than on values. As Pap Gems says:
"Writing is individual. When you write you bring the whole of yourself to the meristem, to the growing point of your thought. You are an explorer. You try to push on, to find out. Writing is science, and like science, not entirely cognitive. In fact often hardly so at all."
Therefore, in most cases writing is a personal fantasy.
Sidhwa's first novel The Crow-Eaters is about Faredoon Junglewalla, a man of distinction and listed in the Zarathustra calendar of great men and women and whose motto in life is 'The sweetest thing In the world is your need. Through this narcissistic personality, in about forty-six chapters, Sidhwa takes us into the heart of the Parsi community, portraying its varied customs and traits. It is a straight narration without any twists in the plot and we travel through the book without much mental strain.
At the age of twenty-three along with his wife Putli, mother-in-law Jerbanoo and an infant daughter Faredoon settles in
, never to look back. In Lahore he continues to live till the end of the novel that is 1940. His family expands and with his pragmatic intelligence and fraud and arson in insurance he becomes a man of great consequence among the Parsis. People travelled thousands of miles to see him in Lahore , especially as they wished to escape the tight spots they had got themselves into. This successful worldly man encounters disappointment and personal loss in the death of his eldest son and a self-exiled second son. Lahore
Within this straight conventional theme Sidhwa flings her feminine imagination with an incongruous humour to talk about serious issues like national politics, fraud, death-dealing of mother-in-law, Parsi superstitions, faiths, marriages, rites of death, romance, birth, multifaceted activities and forays to London. Not so much of action but so many incidents take place that one gets a feeling of contradiction. On the one hand the reader finds no link between the words on the page, and on the other the vision or experience is missing in the narrative.
The Pakistani -Bride is about Qasim and his foster daughter Zaitoon. Qasim is a man who in the hands of fate had known no childhood. From infancy, responsibility was forced upon him and at ten he was a man conscious of rigorous code of honour by which his tribe lived. By the time he is ten, he is married to a fifteen-year-old'girl, at sixteen he becomes a father and a widower at thirty-four. In the year 1947 he migrates to
which is in Jullundur after Partition and from there to India , committing a murder at a slight provocation in Lahore . Jullundur
If Freddy of The Crow-Eaters contemplates murder, Qasim executes it. On his way to
he is impelled to adopt a little girl who is a riot victim like him and calls her Zaitoon. He also makes friendship with Nikkaa 'Pahilwan' and his wife Miriam in the refugee camp. Out of the thirty chapters in the novel, seven (from 4th to 11th) deal with Nikkaa's political connections and Zaitoon flowering into a young girl of sixteen, and as the years slip by Qasim gets nostalgic for the mountains and his memories become Zai-toon's fantasies. When a proposal comes from the mountains of Kohistani, Qasim decides to return to his tribe to settle his daughter. On their way to Kohistan they cross the Army Camp and encounter Major Mushtaq, his cousin Farukh and his American wife Carol. From here seven chapters explain the triangle involvement of Mushtaq, Farukh and Carol. The chapters dealing with this relationship are more authentic than the previous ones. Chapter 18 and 19 are about Zaitoon's incompatible marriage with Sakhi. In the next pan shot we come to know of the infatuation of Carol for Mushtaq and also her desire to understand Zaitoon: "Her life is different from mine, and yet I feel a real bond, an understanding on some deep level." Lahore
The American and the Pakistani brides become subjects of their husbands' suspicion and both take pragmatic decisions to overcome their crises. Carol decides to make it up to Farukh and contemplates to have a child to bring anchorage to her loveless marriage. Zaitoon decides to take a visionary course of action and runs away, knowing fully well that the punishment for such an act is death. There is a world of difference between these two women and Mushtaq explains to Carol:
It wouldn't be easy for you really to understand her. You'd find her life in the Zenanna with the other women pitifully limited and claustrophobic—she'd probably find yours—if she could ever glimpse it—terrifyingly insecure and needlessly competitive.
Though their paths are divergent, both Zaitoon and Carol take the same path to
The title of the novel is to some extent misleading and cryptic. The novel is a combination of Qasim's personal difficulties and a diluted study of ideals and feelings about love and marriage. The area Sidhwa takes for her subject is a significant human experience, and in her treatment of it she does her best to make it a contemporary issue concerning the extent to which women are psychologically free to change their lives. No doubt Sidhwa has passionate interest in the depth and richness of human experience but to a certain extent her enterprise has become too much for her to cope with.
The third novel Ice-Candy-Man and its author have been acclaimed by Anita Desai: "There is no other writer I know on the subcontinent who combines laughter and ribaldry, a passion for history and for truth telling as Bapsi Sidhwa does in Ice-Candy-Man."
Sidhwa acknowledges that she is indebted to Rana Khan for sharing his childhood experiences at the time of Partition. Maybe the author's knowledge of Partition and the historical experiences in the novel is not all that authentic and could be only a borrowed experience. The book was written with the financial assistance of Bunting Institute and the National Endowment for the Arts. No doubt there is novelty and freshness in the book but how far it is artistic is the question.
Ice-Candy-Man comprises thirty-two chapters and gives us a glimpse into events of turmoil on the Indian subcontinent during Partition. Historic truth is only a backdrop of the novel and personal fate of the Ice-Candy-Man the focus. Ice-Candy-Man is a close associate and admirer of an eighteen-year-old ayah working in a Parsi household to look after Lenny, a polio child of four.
As in other novels so also in this novel Sidhwa is meticulous immentioning the age of her characters. It is through Lenny that we come to know of the action of the novel and the seriousness of the narration is marred because of this. It is an adult that speaks through the child's memory and keeps the reader on guard and creates a sense of impressions that the child is capable of reminiscing. The parallel theme in the novel is the slow awakening of the child heroine to sexuality and pains and pleasures of the grown-up and to the particular historical disaster that overwhelms her world. There is an element of exaggeration in all instances with regard to characterization and imagination.
Ayah has thirteen admirers and Sidhwa says: "Only the group around Ayah remains unchanged. Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Parsee are, as always, unified around her." Of this group Ice-Candy-Man is a man of varied interests. On bitterly cold days when ice sales plummet, Ice-Candy-Man transforms himself into a bird man: "News and gossip flow off his glib tongue like a torrent"; sometimes he quotes national leaders and does political analysis and finally he is a metamorphosed character adopting a poetic mould, confessing that he belongs to 'Kotha'—the royal misbegottens located in Hira Mandi. When Ayah becomes a riot victim it is Ice-Candy-Man that saves her and rehabilitates her in Hira Mandi and finally we come to know that she has left for
to be-with her parents, leaving lovelorn Ice-Candy-Man to his fate. The vulnerable Ayah becomes virtuous gaining dignity' and Ice-Candy-Man complimenting her says: "She has the voice of angel and the grace and rhythm of a goddess. You should see her dance. How she moves!" and goes into a poetic outburst "Princes pledge their lives to celebrate her celebrated face!" Hitherto unknown talent of the Ayah is divulged. Amritsar
There are a number of characters in the novel but Godmother alias Rodabai the social worker is the most mundane. She must have .emerged from the depths of Sidhwa's personal experiences as a social worker. Some of the incidents in the novel, instead of being blended into the texture of the novel, are superimposed making the creativity of the author prosaic. After all, the novel is a statement about a thousand different objects and these elements are to be held in place by the force of the writer's vision, if the vision falters, the novel collapses.
A writer's imagination involves his creativity, enterprise, insight, inspiration and originality. To achieve artistic unity the writer has to realize that "Artistic creation is a process of synthesis; by effecting harmony in diffused elements, the artist creates a unity in diversity and imparts 'form' to the formless and the deformed." No doubt Sidhwa is quite enterprising and she has dealt with hitherto untouched themes with a straight narration and her creativity is original but she has failed to achieve artistic synthesis. It is not enough for a writer to create sensation he has seen that there is a grain of truth even in malicious pleasure. "Experience is composed of sensations and it is never one solitary sensation but a system or pattern of sensations. When the sensations are co-ordinated and harmonized our experience is pleasant and when they are discordant and dishevelled the experience is unpleasant.
Some incidents in Sidhwa's fiction are quite incongruous and inconsequential. While reading her works one feels that it is a deliberate attempt of hers to give novelty to her writing. This deliberate attempt of hers in The Crow-Eaters to explore the erotic world and sentiments of the Parsi community is quite refreshing, In her narration in the first part of the novel, she explains her point of view and excels in the technique of description which is graphic and realistic.
Sidhwa's men have distinct personality traits but her women are not extravagant—they are ordinary, devoid of feelings. In their limited orbits they are socially active and lead only a superficial existence. Even though they are active, they are flat characters. In a novel like The Pakistani Bride where there is ample scope for the writer to explore, Sidhwa could not go deep into the psyche of her female protagonist, allowing methodical narra-tion of events in sequential order. Jerbanoo, Rodabai and Carol are lively characters with natural instincts and imagination. They are more familiar to Sidhwa and are within her range of experience.
Sidhwa's language becomes quite refined, and her analytical faculties become sharp when she has to give insights into her statements.
Talking about Parsi community, which is her own community, Sidhwa makes appropriate statements:
The endearing feature of this microscopic merchant community was its compelling sense of duty and obligation towards other Par-sis. . . . There were no Parsi beggars in a country abounding in beggars. . . . Notorious misers, they are paradoxically generous to a cause.
The characters in The Crow-Eaters are true to this statement. Her historic observation on the Parsi community's plight during Partition is also authentic. When Billy asks Freddy "Where will we go?" Freddy says softly, "We will stay where we are ... let Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs or whoever rule. What does it matter?" Likewise Lenny's family and Rodabai's family were not affected by the Partition. It is only the neighbours and close associates of these Parsis that got affected. She has given roots to her characters in
and made Lahore the enchantress. Lahore
The Pakistani Bride is about Muslim community and one realizes that Parsis are more stabilized and privileged and organized than the Muslims. Sidhwa made an honest attempt to explain Islamic sanctity about marriage: "We take marriage and divorce very seriously. It involves more than just emotions. It's a social responsibility. The vision of the writer definitely creeps in the novel however much the author tries to maintain a distance from the subject. The third novel Ice-Candy-Man is about cosmopolitan context where there is no scope to think about a particular community. The problem in the novel concerns all the citizens of
and its surroundings. There is no graphic description of Lahore in her works but for the mention of " Lahore ." In the first two novels she gave us a detailed account of the noc-turnal activities that took place in Hira Mandi. It is only in the last novel that she has traced the original and historical significance of this leitmotif. Tower of Silence