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Book Review ‘the Crow Eaters’ by Bapsi Sidhwa a Woman Parsi Writer From Islamic Pakistan

Author:

MG is an air warrior with a distinguished career and now a corporate advisor, writer, and intrepid traveler and novelist

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Background

Women in Pakistan

Pakistan and women’s rights are two divergent roads that do not meet. Despite a woman, Prime Minister in Benazir Bhutto, and numerous bills for women’s rights, the lot of Pakistan women has not improved. In fact, it has worsened with the notorious Hadood ordinance promulgated by General Zia ul Haq. The Hooded ordinance was brought in by the General to shore up his support among the hardline Islamic clergy. It is worth noting that General Zia Ul-Haq had no political base.

In such a scenario where women find it difficult to make a mark, a woman writer from Pakistan is a refreshing experience, even if she is a non-Muslim. The woman writer is Bapsi Sidhwa who is a Parsi.


book-review-the-crow-eaters-by-bapsi-sidhwa-a-woman-parsi-writer-from-islamic-pakistan

Bapsi Sidhwa


Bapsi Sidhwa is a Parsi writer from Pakistan who has defied the system and produced a string of novels that have won her critical acclaim. But the start was not at all rosy as “the Crow Eaters “her first novel was difficult to publish for want of a publisher. She took a decision to publish the book privately and it was a runaway success. The book could not find a publisher as Bapsi Sidhwa was unknown and the fact that she hailed from Pakistan was itself a drag. Ultimately she did feel constrained in Pakistan which has a very restrictive atmosphere and decided to migrate to the United States.

The Parsis are now a dying community and only a handful survive in Karachi. Sadly the few who are left are feeling out of place. One Parsi woman from Bombay who married a Parsi from Karachi was aghast as she reached Pakistan and the restrictive atmosphere where even a skirt in public is looked down upon. It was inevitable that Bapsi left Pakistan. She has said that she is saddened by the picture of Pakistan that has developed over the years as a primitive, fundamentalist country. It was not like that just after Pakistan was created under Jinnah. Bapsi migrated to the USA in 1984.

book-review-the-crow-eaters-by-bapsi-sidhwa-a-woman-parsi-writer-from-islamic-pakistan

The Crow Eaters

The Plot

The Crow Eaters is a book in English and mirrors the Parsi life in undivided India when the Raj was supreme. The book gives a glimpse of Parsi customs and life in India at the turn of the last century. The plot is simple and revolves around the main character Faredoon Junglewalla, a Parsi who leaves his home somewhere in Central India and with his pregnant wife, mother in law (Jerbanoo), and daughter arrives in Lahore. He travels in a cart with all his belongings. Lahore smiles on the fortunes of Faredoon and he amasses wealth, but not before he makes a false insurance claim and succeeds.

Faredoon and his Family Life

Faredoon does not look back and his rise is phenomenal, but Bapsi brings out the clash of Parsi values when his son falls in love with an Anglo-Indian girl. Faredoon cannot allow it and the boy is shattered when he learns his love is a part-time prostitute.

The undercurrent of the book is the animosity between Faredoon and his mother- in -Law, Jerbanoo. These episodes are beautifully written and are the piece de resistance of the novel. Bapsi also pictures the hospitality of the Parsi community which is closely knit and any Parsi visiting Lahore is treated to a round of breakfast and dinners by all Parses’.

A Lovely Account of Parsi Life

The book is a paean to the life of the Parsi community and despite it having death as a part of its theme; it is, in reality, a hilarious tale. The jousts between the mother-in-law and the son-in-law have been beautifully depicted as well as the staunch belief in the religion of Faredoon. He also believes in the inevitability of fate when one of his sons dies as forecast by an astrologer.

The novel ends at the beginning. This is a result of Bapsi’s power of the pen as the novel starts with a death, the death of Faredoon at the age of 65, depicts his life, and ends again with his death. On his deathbed with a partition, around the corner, Faredoon advises his family to live in peace as to whoever the rulers are. This has been the trait of the Parsi community; live harmoniously.


Assessment

Bapsi as a Writer

Bapsi Sidhwa has interwoven a lovely tale of Parsi life at the turn of the last century. She gives us a picture of how the Parsi community lived and nurtured their faith. She also brings out the reason for the Parsi success and the fact that they were nonpolitical all through.

Bapsi has an excellent command of the English language and the books make easy reading. It has been translated into Urdu and many in Pakistan know about her. Bapsi is now a naturalized citizen of the United States, but her roots are in Lahore and she brings to the reader the lovely period in that city before politics took over and India was divided. The problem of Pakistan is fundamentalism is on the rise with the result that the non-Muslim population which was close to 30% at the time of petition is now reduced to 2%. Nobody from Pakistan can explain this phenomenon

Awards

The book won the David Higham Award for first books and is widely read. Bapsi has also been awarded the Nishan- e- Imtiaz, a literary award by the Pakistan Government. She was on a committee for the empowerment of women when Benazir Bhutto was the Prime Minister of Pakistan. With the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, she ceased to be a member of the committee.

Bapsi deserves more than average praise as she made it good despite coming from Pakistan which today is the hotbed of obscurantism


Last word


Bapsi Sidhwa was born in 1938 and started writing in the early nineties. Her list of awards and books is listed below. These show she is not an ordinary run of the mill writer, but a lady with a command of the English language

Awards

  • Bunting Fellowship at Radcliffe/Harvard (1986)
  • Visiting Scholar at the Rockefeller Foundation Center, Bellagio, Italy, (1991)
  • Sitara-e Imtiaz, (1991), Pakistan's highest national honor in the arts)
  • Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Writer's Award (1994)
  • Premio Mondello for Foreign Authors for Water (2007)
  • Inducted into the Zoroastrian Hall of Fame (2000

Published Books

  • Their Language of Love (2013)
  • The Crow Eaters: Published by Readings Lahore (2012)
  • Jungle Wala Sahib (Translation) (Urdu) (2012)
  • City of Sin and Splendour: Writings on Lahore (2006)
  • Water, a Novel (2006, )
  • Bapsi Sidhwa Omnibus (2001)
  • An American Brat (1993)
  • Cracking India (1991, U.S.; 1992, India; originally published as Ice Candy Man, 1988, England)
  • The Bride (1982, England; 1983;1984, India; published as The Pakistani Bride, 1990 US and 2008 US)
  • The Crow Eaters (1978)

Comments

MG Singh (author) from UAE on April 20, 2021:

Thanks, Tom, In India, the Parsi population is dwindling and I think they are about 40/50,000 left in Pakistan they may be less than 1000(. 4-500). They are progressive and westernized and obviously, they would be out of place in Pakistan.

Tom on April 20, 2021:

Pakistan has just one thousand parsis, india twenty five thousand ,parsi novelidts rohinton mistry

MG Singh (author) from UAE on April 20, 2021:

I will further add as Gandhi said 'blessed are the meek shall inherit the earth' and I am very sure that those who are perpetrating these crimes will repent and look forward.

MG Singh (author) from UAE on April 20, 2021:

Thank you, Nasreen for commenting. It is sad that Ahmadiyyas are discriminated against, I know about it. I am happy you commented.

Nasreen from Pakistan on April 20, 2021:

I am from Pakistan and an Ahmediyya. I just read your article by chance and was impressed with how you wrote about this writer. She is a courageous lady but had to leave Pakistan. She is right that a lot of fundamentalism has crept in and we Ahmadiyyas are at the receiving end. I wonder how many know that we as a community have not voted in any general election for 30 years. Our graves are defiled and many prominent persons from our community are murdered and our mosques bombed.

MG Singh (author) from UAE on December 16, 2013:

Thank you Suzettenaples, its people like you who will make the difference in the ultimate analysis

Suzette Walker from Taos, NM on December 16, 2013:

Thank you for introducing us to this Pakastani writer. I have never heard of her before and her book sounds very interesting. I will have to read this. I enjoyed your background information and I am so saddened to hear of the lack of women's rights in Pakistan. I thought they were moving forward in that area, not backwards. That is so sad. I will certainly support the women of Pakisan and women writers from Pakistan. Thank you so much for an interesting and informative article.

MG Singh (author) from UAE on December 14, 2013:

Thank you Thumbi for reading and commenting

JR Krishna from India on December 14, 2013:

Very interesting information

Thanks for sharing this

MG Singh (author) from UAE on December 14, 2013:

Thank you Twilight Lawns , so nice of you to have commented.

Twilight Lawns from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K. on December 14, 2013:

They are all bottled up in me, which is a crime, because so people had the fortune to be born when and where as I had.

Some scribblings appear in HubPages,and with a basic knowledge of place names, perhaps you could find two or three.

Just remember that the Raj wouldn't even leave our place names as they found them, and Pune became Poona.

MG Singh (author) from UAE on December 14, 2013:

Thank you TwiLight lawns for a wonderful comment. Its so nice to read a comment from a person who has been in India. I would love to hear about your experiences at that time in India.

Twilight Lawns from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K. on December 14, 2013:

Thank you for this.

As soon as I read Parsi Author, I realised that Bapsi Sidwah "was" the little girl with polio in that magnificent film. 'Earth... 1947' which is based on 'Ice Candy Man'.

Now I must find a copy of at least one of her books. I have looked on Kindle, but as yet have not found one.

I remember that a Parsi family lived very close to our home in Dehu Road Cantonment, and that they were very kind and generous to all. The "great survivors" when all the violence surrounding Partition seemed to spare only the British and the Parsi.

MG Singh (author) from UAE on December 13, 2013:

Thank you Billy. Great of you to have commented

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on December 13, 2013:

Fascinating information. Thank you for sharing this with us.

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