Biography of Bapsi Sidhwa

Bapsi Sidhwa is a Pakistani-American novelist and women’s rights activist. She was born in 1938 in Karachi, then a part of the British colony of India. She spent her childhood in the Punjabi city of Lahore, which became a part of newly independent Pakistan when Sidhwa was 9, during the Partition of 1947. She writes in English, but her first languages are Gujarati and Urdu. In 1957 she graduated from Kinnaird College for Women in Lahore with her BA. She got married at 19 and moved to Mumbai, India, before divorcing and moving back to Lahore to marry a second time. Currently, she lives in Houston, Texas in the United States. She has three children, one of whom was a 2012 Democratic candidate for District 9 of the Arizona House of Representatives. She has taught at Rice University, Columbia University, Mount Holyoke College, Brandeis University, and the University of Houston.

Sidhwa is most famous for the novel Cracking India (1988), but she is the author of several other novels including The Crow Eaters, The Bridge (1982), and Water: A Novel (2006). Her books often focus on life in colonial India, the history of Partition, experiences of the Parsi community (a small community of Indian Zoroastrians), and the experience of immigrating from South Asia to the United States. Sidhwa has many commonalities with Lenny, the protagonist of Cracking India. They both lived through Partition as children, were Parsi, and suffered from polio at a young age. Sidhwa drew on her own experiences while creating the character of Lenny. However, the novel is fiction, not an autobiography. Even so, many of the events resemble real occurrences. For example, the character Ranna who is nearly murdered during the mob violence of Partition is based on a man that Sidhwa met in Houston who bears a knife-scar on the back of his head. Of her intentions writing Cracking India, Sidhwa has stated: "my intention was to write about Partition because very little had been written about it. There are certain images from my past which have always haunted me[…]Although I was very young then, I saw chance killings, fires, dead bodies. These are images which have stayed with me[…]This hostility needs to be dealt with." The novel was an attempt to bring more attention to this historical tragedy. In particular, the novel shows how Partition affected women, particularly those who were kidnapped or raped.

Sidhwa has also been active in women’s rights. She worked as a secretary for a Destitute Women and Children’s Home in Lahore. She was also a part of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s committee on women’s development. She is the winner of numerous awards, including Pakistan’s Sitara-i-Imtiaz (Pakistan’s national award for achievements in the arts), the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Writer's Award, and a Bunting Fellowship at Radcliffe/Harvard. Sidhwa has also been inducted in the Zoroastrian Hall of Fame.

Study Guides on Works by Bapsi Sidhwa

First published as Ice Candy Man in 1988, Cracking India tells the story of the Partition of India. This historical event occurred in 1947 when the British colony of India was split into two separate countries, India and Pakistan. The story is...