The Life of Bapsi Sidhwa: a Pakistani Writer who Broke the Chains of Society

M G Singh By M G Singh, 22nd Mar 2015 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL
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Bapsi Sidhwa is a Parsi writer from Pakistan and that makes her more special as she came froma nation where gender bias is the norm. She is now an established writer with her own following

Early Years and Back ground

The state of Pakistan and the area it represents has for centuries been dominated by Gender inequality. Partly this flows from the Sharia which has dominated this area as the dominant inhabitants have been Muslims. This is perhaps the reason that Pakistan has produced very few women writers and lesser writers in the English language. The overall atmosphere of gender bias has also made an impact on the minorities, who do not have a free run of the place. In such a scenario one woman writer from Pakistan has made a mark as a novelist. She is Bapsi Sidwa, who has also won the Sitara-i- Imtiaz, the highest award for a Pakistani in the field of Arts.
Bapsi Sidwa is a Parsi, a microscopic minority in Pakistan, who follow the Zoroaster religion. This helps as the strict Islamic code does not apply to the Parsi community and accordingly Bapsi Sidwa could flourish as a writer. A study of her biography shows that she made most of the opportunities that came her way.

Bapsi and Lahore

Bapsi Sidhwa’s parents in the late thirties of the last century were settled in Karachi where she was born 11 August, 1938. Her parents Peshotan and Tehmina Bhandara brought up Bapsi as a Zoroaster and she has retained a faith in her religion through out her life. Her father was a business man and just after Bapsi was born he shifted to Lahore where she spent her childhood.
Early in age Bapsi was stricken by Polio and that put severe limitations on her life. Doctors opined that she should not be sent to school and so Bapsi studied at home. This had a profound effect on her life as it led to loneliness and this she countered by getting immersed in Books.
Bapsi was 9 years old in 1947 when the state of Pakistan was created. This was followed by a frenzy of communal rioting between Muslims on one side and Hindus and Sikhs on the other side. There were mass killings and chilling rapes as each community tried to avenge itself. This period had a deep effect on Bapsi who witnessed this frenzy through detached eyes, thankfully spared as she was a Parsi. This was to form the backdrop of her books later.

College life and Marriage

The rioting subsided as the Pakistan state established itself and Bapsi, a young girl now could go too college. In 1954 she joined Kinnaird College for women in Lahore and graduated in arts with a BA degree in 1957. She was 19 at that time and she has observed that there were very few Parsi in Lahore at that time. That could be the reason she married and moved to Bombay. The marriage did not last and ended in divorce after 5 years.
Bapsi moved back to Lahore and married her present husband Noshir Sidhwa. She had 3 children in Lahore. Bapsi started teaching and made a mark as a teacher. She now actively began to write, but her books the Crow Eaters and The Bride suffered rejection. She took a momentous decision to publish the Crow eaters (1979) privately on her own.

World of Books

After the publication of her book which won critical acclaim Bapsi rose in literary esteem and within a period of about 5 years wrote 4 novels. All the novels have Lahore as a background, a place she spent most of her life. Her novels centre on the human relationships between Hindus and Muslims and she writes dispassionately as she was a neutral observer being a Parsi during the tumultuous period of partition. She wrote the Bride in 1985 and Cracking India a little later. Her novel Cracking India was awarded the German Literaturepreis award and a nomination for the Notable book of the year from the American library association. In 1991 she was mentioned by New York Times as the “Notable Book of the Year”. This was not all as she received $100,000 from the Lila Wallace Readers Digest award in 1991. In the same year she was awarded the Sitara-i-Imtiaz by the Pakistan government.
The coming to power of Benazir Bhutto saw her association with Pakistan get a fillip and she was incorporated on the advisory committee of women’s development in Pakistan. Bapsi who had shifted to the USA became a naturalized US citizen in 1993.

Association with Deepa Mehta

Association with Deepa Mehta
In this period she came in contact with Deepa Mehta, an Indo- Canadian film maker and began a fruitful collaboration with her. It appears Deepa Mehta had a deep influence on her life and she was part of two film projects with Deepa, which were based on her books. Two of the 3 film projects of Deepa Mehta namely Earth (1998) and water (2005) are inspired by the works of Bapsi.
Earlier in her teems she read Imtiaz Ali and Kushwant Singh and these two writers in their own way paved the way for Bapsi to express herself. Earlier she wrote in long hand, but shifted to the typewriter and now uses the computer. Bapsi’s 3 children have integrated with the American way of life and this is personified by her book An American Brat (1993).

Last Word

Bapsi is now settled in USA and is an American citizen, though she fondly remembers Lahore and her period in Pakistan. She has described herself as a Parsi, Punjabi, American Pakistani.
Bapsi’s Books have been translated into many languages including Urdu, though she has not read the Urdu translation which is the language of Pakistan. In variably Bapsi invites comparison with Sir Salman Rushdie the Indo–British author and his book midnight children. But there is no doubt that Bapsi has carved a niche of her own and deserves her place in the sun. Presently she is working on a collection of short stories.


Bapsi Sidhwa, Cracking India, Hindu- Muslim Riots, Pakistani Society, Pakistani Writer

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author avatar M G Singh
A man who spent his early years in Air Force. An avid writer with over 6000 articles and 60 short stories published.Two novels on the anvil for publication.

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author avatar Retired
22nd Mar 2015 (#)

This is a fantastic piece! Keep up the good work!

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author avatar M G Singh
22nd Mar 2015 (#)

thank you Jessica

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author avatar Sivaramakrishnan A
5th Jul 2015 (#)

Thanks Madan for the highlight.

I think she is not seen as a controversial writer like Salman Rushdie and her rich and varied life is unique; she has been in a vantage position to understand the sentiments involved - ultimately, the good and bad are sprinkled everywhere! siva

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