Saturday, August 28, 2010

A Study of Bapsi Sidhw’s Works

The Bride
The Bride was written earlier but has only now been published. It narrates the story of Zaitoon, who lost her parents in the Indo-Pakistan riots in the summer of 1947 and was adopted by Lahore-bound Qasim, a Himalayan tribesman also fleeing the mountains after committing a crime and losing his wife and children to the fatalities inflicted by smallpox.

Zaitoon is so named by Qasim, after his own late daughter, and raised from the age of five in the city of Lahore as his adopted daughter. Against better counsel, he decides to marry her off at fifteen to a tribesman in the northern mountains, whence he himself originated. The city-bred young girl now must learn the ways of the tribesman's world outside the civilized, urban though decadent life of the plains, where she spent most of her years. The result is as expected. Sakhi is not husband she wants; nor is she the wife he can endure. So she must escape the rugged hills, which she does, and find her way back, which we cannot know about. Honor, commitment, marriage and loyalty are at stake, and there is really no way either to quash or to salvage them in the painful predicament in which Zaitoon's circumstances have placed her.
Escape from the oppressive, no-go “civilization” is what Carol also decides upon. She appears midway through the book, apparently to highlight Zaitoon's dilemma and to judge it with the outsider's objective eye.
Carol is American and married to a Pakistani engineer living in the northern mountains, extremely dissatisfied with her own life as much as with local mores, which she finds “too ancient” and “too different.” She decides to go “home,” thus mirroring Zaitoon's flight from the “different” North. The two story lines combine to produce a splendid tale examining sociocultural differences at a level far above that which is familiar in Pakistani Anglophone writing.
An American Brat
Coming of age is never easy. Coming of age as a woman is even harder. But coming of age as a female immigrant in a foreign country may be the most difficult of all. For many women born into societies with restrictive social and political codes, however, immigration may be the only real way to come of age. In An American Brat, Pakistani-born novelist Bapsi Sidhwa reveals with a humorous yet incisive eye the exhilarating freedom and profound sense of loss that make up the immigrant experience in America.
Sidhwa begins her novel in Lahore, Pakistan. Feroza Gunwalla, a 16-year-old Parsee, is mortified by the sight of her mother appearing at her school with her arms uncovered. For Zareen Gunwalla, Feroza's outspoken 40-something mother, it is a chilling moment. The Parsees, a small sect in Pakistan, take great pride in their liberal values, business acumen, and—most importantly—the education of their children.
It's 1978 in Pakistan and 16-year-old Feroza Ginwalla, the heroine of the novel, An American Brat, is beginning to worry her relatively liberal, upper-middle-class Parsee parents.
She won't answer the phone; she tells her mother to dress more conservatively; she sulks, she slams doors, she prefers the company of her old-fashioned grandmother; she seems to sympathize with fundamentalist religious thinking.
What to do? “I think Feroza must get away,” says Zareen, the girl's mother, to her husband, Cyrus. Feroza is packed off to visit her Uncle Manek, a student at MIT. But as Zareen waves goodbye to her daughter, she cannot know that in America Feroza will become more independent than Zareen ever dreamt, or hoped, was possible. “Travel will broaden her outlook, get this puritanical rubbish out of her head.”
And indeed it does—although to a disastrous degree, from Zareen and Cyrus' point of view, for Feroza's three-month sabbatical with her uncle in Massachusetts turns into a three-year sojourn in many parts of the United States.
By the time Zareen decides, toward the end of the book, to reassert parental control by flying from Lahore to Denver—where Feroza has become a hotel-management student—it's too late. Her daughter is already an “American brat,” a woman with a mind and opinions of her own, able to relish the ability to choose.
An American Brat is an exceptional novel, one of such interest that the reader's reservations, while significant, are ultimately of little consequence.
Bapsi Sidhwa, author of three previous works of fiction and frequently referred to as Pakistan's most prominent English-language novelist, has produced a remarkable sketch of American society as seen and experienced by modern immigrants.
America, to Feroza and her Uncle Manek, is in many ways a paradise—as indeed it appears to be for Sidhwa, a Parsee who has lived in the United States for many years—but An American Brat is nonetheless a measured portrait, often reassuring and discomfiting at the same time.
It's both wonderful and startling, for example, to hear the fully Americanized Manek say to the newly arrived Feroza, as she grapples with some well-wrapped container, “Remember this: If you have to struggle to open something in America, you're doing it wrong. They've made everything easy. That's how a free economy works.”
In style, An American Brat is nothing like Henry James' The Ambassadors, being straightforward, humorous, easygoing and unpoetic. In plot, though, it bears some similarities, with travelers finding themselves unexpectedly transformed by their encounters in a new land.
Feroza soon realizes that Manek's years in the United States have changed him: He is now “humbler and, paradoxically, more assured and quietly conceited, more considerate, yet … tougher, even ruthless.”
One of the first things Zareen notices about Feroza at the Denver airport is her gaudy tan: “You'd better bleach your face or something,” she tells her daughter, “before you come home.”
But even Zareen proves vulnerable to America's charms:
Although she has come to break up Feroza's engagement to a “non”—a non-Parsee—she glories in the shopping and amenities of Denver life, “as happy as a captive seal suddenly released into the ocean.”
Zareen, her American mission at least partially accomplished, returns to Pakistan but wonders momentarily whether she has done the right thing. And that's the issue lying at the heart of this novel—the competing loyalties immigrants feel toward family, culture, heritage, self.
The problem only flashes through Zareen's mind because she is too old to be fully taken with American ways; Manek can almost ignore the contradiction because, being male, he will be celebrated for living in the United States so long as he takes a Parsee wife.
Feroza, by contrast, feels the brunt of the conflict, newly aware of the severe sexism in Parsee culture—men can marry outside the faith, for instance, while women cannot—and thrilled at the idea of having her own money, her own career, her own identity. Feroza has come to America, she discovers moments after first landing in New York, to be “unself-conscious”—to be free, once and for all, of “the thousand constraints that governed her life.”
An American Brat suffers from a meandering, literal plot and a tone that doesn't distinguish major insights from minor ones. Page by page, though, Sidhwa keeps the reader engaged, for one can never predict which mundane American event she will display in an entirely new light.
At the hospital: A Parsee couple is presented with a ?15,000 bill for their daughter's delivery, where-upon the shocked father replies, walking out, “You can keep the baby.” At home: Feroza, gushing over Manek's vast supply of canned frankfurters and sardines, saying, “I could eat this all my life!”
At an expensive restaurant where Manek has sent back half his meal, to Feroza's horror, because he can't possibly pay for it: “If you weren't so proud,” Manek tells his niece, “you wouldn't feel so humiliated, and you'd have enjoyed a wonderful dinner.”
He has a point, however twisted, and it's moments like that which make An American Brat a funny and memorable novel.
Lenni is an eight year old Parsi girl who leads a comfortable life with the four members of her family before the Partition of India in Lahore. Lenni regularly goes for walks with her Hindu Ayah Shanta. The Queen's garden near her house is their favourite place. Lenny limps on one leg and her parents are worried about her. Dr. Bharucha puts plaster on the leg a number of times but each time the results are not upto the mark. Even surgery hasn't helped much. Dr. Bharucha assures the parents of Lenny that with the passage of time, Lenny will walk normally.
The novel Ice-Candy-Man presents people from all communities —the Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Parsis living in Lahore before Partition. 'Bapsi Sidhwa here introduces the device of child-narrator. Lenny, the eight year old girl narrates the events around her from a child's point of view. The novelist also shows the child growing, becoming more conscious about the changing environment around her. Sidhwa introduces the readers to characters like Shanta the Ayah, Imamdin the cook, the Ice-Candy-Man Dilnawaz and Hassan Ali, his cousin brother. At the moment, people in undivided India are seen engaged in the Quit-India Movement, and on the other hand, the Muslim League motivates the Muslim Community to raise a demand for a separate nation for the Muslims. Often the slogans of 'Pakistan Zindabad' are heard in the streets but the communal harmony is intact. One day, one British police officer Rogers and Mr. Singh a neighbourer of Lenny visit the house on dinner. They begin to quarrel on trifles. This hot exchange of words is in fact a glimpse and foreshadow of the coming conflicts in the near future. People have started discussions on the possibility of Pakistan and the minorities begin to plan for shifting to safer places. It foreshadows the communal riots between the Hindus and Muslims.
One day, riots break out in Lahore in a locality far away from Lenny's house. This leads to the killing of innocent people on both the sides. The news of bloodshed spreads like wild fire. The All India Radio also reports about cases of violence from different parts of India. Soon the entire Punjab province is seen burning in the fire of hatred and communal violence. Dilnawaz, the Ice-Candy-Man waits for his sisters on Lahore railway station. When the trian arrives from Gurdaspur, everyone on the plateform is shocked to see the ghastly, sight. The Train is loaded with mutilated bodies of Muslim passengers. This shocks everyone and the friendly Dilnawaz turns into a person possessed with a frenzy and a desire to kill the Hindus. He also abducts his friend Shanta, the Ayah of Lenny and later takes her to Hira Mandi of Lahore, a locality of prostitutes.
Ice-Candy-Man loved Shanta from the core of his heart but now she is a Hindu for him. Vengeance has transformed him into a killer and a beast. Later with the belp of Lenny's relatives, Shanta is rescued and she reaches the relief camp at Amritsar. Lenny's delicate mind is shocked to see all this. The Parsee community remains neutral during this time. Lenni's life becomes a nightmare. She realizes that her Muslim neighbours will not spare the lives of non-Muslims anymore. There have been a number of incidents where the Muslims burn alive the non-Muslims. These traumatic incidents leave a damaging impact on the sensitive person like Ice-Candy-Man, and he loses his sanity and poise. He begins to roam about in the streets of Lahore to avenge the death of his Muslim friends.:Communalism and the narrow feelings of caste and creed put on a cloak of greed, meanness and hatred which leads to violence and destruction on the large scale.
The Crow Eaters
The Crow Eaters is named after derogatory slang referring to the Parsi people, in reference to their supposed propensity for loud and continuous chatter. The Crow Eaters is a comedy, which signals an abrupt change from her earlier work. The Parsis, or Zoroastrians, are the socio-religious group to which Sidhwa belongs, a prosperous yet dwindling community of approximately one hundred thousand based predominantly in Bombay. The Crow Eaters tells the story of a family within the small Parsi community residing within the huge city of Lahore. Complete with historical information and rich with bawdy, off-color humor, the novel is never boring, as Sidhwa's acute sense of humor constantly changes from the subtle to the downright disgusting. Nothing is above this humor, which often times leaves the reader feeling guilty for laughing out loud. The main character, Faredoon, relentlessly torments his mother-in-law Jerbanoo, especially about her self-indulgent complaints of impending death. Some of the most hilarious moments involve Faredoon's detailed and gory description of her funeral. The Parsis practice charity in life as well as death, and their funeral custom of feeding the body to the vultures reflects this belief.

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