Parsis are much more eccentric in India: Bapsi Sidhwa
Lahore-born and US-based author, Bapsi Sidhwa is an anomaly as a Pakistani Parsi. Between travel sickness and a recently-culminated city literary festival, Sidhwa speaks to Kanika Sharma on how since Partition, both countries have changed: be it the women, Parsis, and of course, Bawa humour
On literary festivals: I enjoy festivals. I went to the first ever Lahore Literary Festival in February. It was an eye-opener. Nearly 35,000 — youngsters, mainly — thronging the event. No chadar, no naqab, nothing. They were quite like anyone in Bombay, I guess.
On the Mumbai-Karachi connect: I’m back here after seven years, and it’s just like a beehive. The comparison of Delhi-Lahore, Mumbai-Karachi doesn’t hold weight. Karachi used to barely have a population of hundred thousand when Partition happened. Now, it has got 23 million. It has become one of the world’s largest cities. So, you know anything that grows so fast becomes broken after a point. It has become very criminalised. Every third home you go to, they say, “Oh! Some people came to our house to loot it.” For instance, my poor cousin couldn’t hear, so they opened his car door and told him to probably get out but he was hard of hearing. He said, “Huh? Huh?” And, they shot him dead.
On the country of terrorists: Pakistan is not a cosmopolitan society. It used to be, before 9/11, and this whole tamasha happened because of the Americans. The northern area (where terrorism has a major stronghold in the country) -- the road leading from Peshawar to Afghanistan has always been like this. This area, where Malala Yousafzai’s story is based, has always been about brigands including the Colonial times. Now, Pakistan has civilised that area much more. Terrorism is a Western bogeyman. The military industry complex of America needs to instill fear in an unfamiliar subject so they sap terror from Islam and Muslims by painting them in such a light.
A Parsi in Pakistan: We are just lionised. I have so many of my friends who have asked, “Do you know any good Parsis for work?” They still get a lot of respect. Though during Partition we occupied a neutral position but it was a passing phase. The fact is that you take on the colour of the place you live in. Wherever Parsis are; there tends to be the approach of “we shouldn’t get too involved;” although my brother was a politician and so was my father. My father-in-law was from the Sindh but became a minister in the Nehru cabinet. So, Parsis do come out.
On her sense of humour: It is innate and maybe something do to with being a Parsi. Parsis are fun as they crack a lot of jokes among themselves, not the witty but more of the slapstick style. Parsis are much more eccentric in India because they get away with being eccentric here.
Increasing number of working women in Pakistan: There is a consciousness that girls must study. For instance, my children’s ayah’s sister got a Master’s and became a principal of a school. This time when I went back to Lahore, I found there were 110 new colleges. So, times are progressing and women are definitely coming out and working much more. Our banks are full of them. Teaching is a big industry that is privately owned by women.