For word’s worth


October 24, 2005

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By Sunaina Kumar

[ Saturday, October 22, 2005 09:40:23 pmTIMES NEWS NETWORK ]

The author of four successful novels and many essays, Bapsi Sidhwa has spiced up her writing with her multi-cultural experiences…

Home alone: As a child, I suffered from polio. The doctor advised my parents to keep me at home. It was a lonely childhood with no companions of my age. My parents were always busy with their own thing.

I filled up the hours by reading. I realise now that it crippled me as a person. My formative years were spent amongst books and I never learnt to interact with people, just like the character of Lenny in Ice Candy Man.

Memories of Partition: I was only seven at the time, yet my memories are distinct. I remember hearing the mob shouting religious slogans and feeling that it threatened me and my family. I witnessed houses being burnt and families dislocated. It all became a part of my mental landscape.

The voice within: During Partition, a mob entered our house to loot us and our cook dispersed them by saying that it was a Parsi household. It was such an unforgettable experience that when I chose to write about the Partition in Ice Candy Man, I hit upon the Parsi child’s voice. It was only through the eyes of an innocent child that I could maintain some sort of objectivity on such an emotional subject.

Life in Lahore: I had a conservative upbringing and was married off at the age of 19. My first husband was then settled in Mumbai and I was suddenly exposed to a whole new lifestyle.

I loved Mumbai and being embedded in the boisterous Parsi community. My second marriage took me to Lahore, where life was endlessly dull. To break the tedium of bridge parties and mindless chatter, I took to writing.

Me, the writer: Writing soon became my obsession, pleasure and meditation. But, I could not tell people that I was writing – the social circle I moved in would have laughed at me. So I wrote secretly.

It was my husband who encouraged me. He was my best critic too. But as a Pakistani writer, and that too a woman, I had to struggle a lot. So much so, that my first book, The Crow Eaters was self-published.

The USA experience: At my husband’s insistence, we migrated to the USA. There I learnt the importance of freedom and independence. An American Brat can be called the sum total of my novel experiences in the US.

I have taught at various American universities but can’t get over the fact that while I never went to school, I am qualified enough to teach!