Saturday, August 28, 2010

Sidhwa’s Quest for the Continuation of Parsi Community

Bapsi Sidhwa has emerged as a leading woman novelist writing in English from Pakistan. In her novels, she shows her concern about her Pakistani roots, culture and the treatment of recent history i.e., Partition. Being a Parsi, she also introduces her Parsi community in her novels. She has a distinctive Parsi ethos in her novels alongwith her individual voice. She possesses a sense of individualism and humour which makes her writings lively. She also possesses the art of storytelling.

As a realist, she believes that a writer of fiction cannot alter the social reality but at least, he can make his voice audible to the sensible people. The Crow Eaters is Sidhwa's first published novel but she wrote her novel The Bride first. It was published later.
When her novel The Crow Eaters was published in Pakistan, it created a storm in its limited reading circles because it was alleged that she revealed her Parsi community's social and ethical secrets to the world. Abroad, the novel was praised for its literary value and strength. It has "a distinctive authorial voice which celebrates the achievements of a tiny community which has survived migration, resettled peacefully and prospered without losing their cultural identity,".
In fact, the book created a turmoil in the Parsi Community. The novel describes the social mobility of a Parsi family, the Junglewallas during the British rule in the early 20th century. The novel also shows the ambivalent attitude of the Parsi in the independence struggle.
In her another novel, Ice-Candy-Man, Sidhwa describes the events that took place during the Partition through a child-narrator Lenny. She presents the Parsi paradox of whether to support the independence struggle or not. Novy Kapadia's observations need attention here: "With Independence imminent, the dilemma is acute and the paranoid feelings of the Parsis, a minuscule minority get accentuated. The Lahore Parsis have an acrimonious debate on the political situation at their temple hall meeting. Apprehensions of their status at the departure of the British emerge." It is observed that now the Parsi community's fascination with the Whites is gone and they hold.a status quo position, resulting in "a typical Parsi compromise." The community of the Parsis is concerned about its survival. Bapsi Sidhwa also provides the moral vision of her community.
In her novel An American Brat, Sidhwa deals with the inter-faith marriage in the Parsi community. Feroza Ginwalla the rebellious daughter of Cyrus and Zareen moves to Colorado from Lahore to improve her lot. Sidhwa here shows the protagonist Feroza adapting to an alien culture. Her room mate Joe instructs her into American way of life.
Feroza becomes bold enough to shed her hesitation. Now she discovers that she has attained an independent personality and thinking. She no longer needs guardians and protectors. She intends to marry David Press, an American Jew. Her family at Lahore is disturbed as no one had in their family marriage outside the parsi community. Here Sidhwa's treatment of theme, subject and characters provides a valuable insight into the Parsi psyche. She also provides an ironic exposure of the Parsi attitude to inter-faith marriage.
Feroza's mother Zareen later realizes that her attitude towards interfaith marriage is no better than the Mullahs of Pakistan. Sidhwa also touches the problem of fundamentalism in Pakistani society. She does not intend to criticize a community but its orthodoxy and out-dated values. She employs irony to expose fundamentalism. "She criticizes the 'mullah mentality' that "girls must not play hockey or sing or dance!" The Parsi community's own brand of fundamentalism."
Bapsi Sidhwa has emerged as a trendsetter in English novel in the Indian sub-continent. She provides insights into the antiquity of the Parsi faith with their tolerance of other beliefs and their cultural values. She lets her readers to know about the Parsi community with their rites, customs, traditions, beliefs and mannerism. One psychological factor behind the restrictions in Parsi community is the small population and its closed society.
As a Parsi, Sidhwa's writings show her quest for the continuation of her community. "She aptly reflects the cultural multiplicity in which she has lived. It is Sidhwa's sexual and excretory candour and depiction of enforced sexual innocence in a touching manner," observes Novy Kapadia. Sidhwa's attempt to show the heart and soul of the Parsi community has been successful. She presents realistically the reaction of the Parsi community towards the question of loyalties and Swaraj. The Parsis have also been presented a culturally hybrids in their faiths and mannerism.
The novels-like An American Brat, The Crow Eaters and Ice-Candy-Man hold a mirror to Parsi community for which Bapsi Sidhwa had to face a hostile reaction from orthodox section of Parsis. The reflection of the Parsi ethos and comic tone in her writings makes her one of the finest Asian writers in fiction. Jagdev Singh observes:
What distinguishes Bapsi Sidhwa's Ice-Candy-Man U988) is the prism of Parsi sensitivity through which the cataclysmic event is depicted. Ice-Candy-Man is, so far, the only novel written by a Parsi on the theme of Partition. While the novel shows in the beginning the non­committal attitude of the Parsi community towards the flux in which the various communities of India found themselves in the beginning of the twentieth century, it distills the love-hate relationship of the Hindus and Muslims through the consciousness and point of view of Lenny, an unusually precocious eight year old Parsi girl.
Bapsi Sidhwa is a realist to the core. She does not romanticize situations and characters in her narratives. Her novels also provide an interesting and realistic socio-cultural background of her community. She introduces her Parsi character without any distortion or exaggeration. They are true to their colours. Her portrayal of Parsi Characters in her novels is in fact a part of her quest for the continuation of her Parsi identity. The novel Ice-Candy-Man has a great potential for textual and sociological criticism. 

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Athar Malik said...


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