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November 17, 2005

Down to ‘Earth’

Photograph by Kunal Kulkarni

On her recent visit to Mumbai, award-winning novelist, Bapsi Sidhwa, speaks about penning her first novel in secret, surviving a bomb scare and her love for the Parsi community

Houston-based Pakistani novelist, Bapsi Sidhwa, shot to fame with her third novel, Ice-Candy Man (also published as Cracking India), which projected her into the international literary arena, winning the German Literaturepreis and a mention as a New York Times ‘Notable Book of the Year’. Later made into the hugely successful movie, Earth, by film-maker, Deepa Mehta, Ice-Candy Man is now taught in practically every University or high school in America.

Hailed as ‘Pakistan’s finest English language novelist’, the 67-year-old author is the recipient of the Sitara-I-Imtiaz, Pakistan’s highest honour in arts bestowed upon a citizen. In Mumbai recently for the launch of her new anthology, City of Sin and Splendour: Writings on Lahore, the articulate and highly entertaining author opens up to ANAITA N VAZIFDAR about her childhood fantasies and creative muse.

Minutes after my arrival at the house where she is staying during her visit to the city, Bapsi Sidhwa comes bustling into the beautiful living room, arms spread wide to engulf me in a warm hug. A diminutive figure, but with a presence that fills the room and a lovely inflection to her voice, the warmth in her “Hi, honey. Good to see you” is genuine and I know instantly that this will be a delightful evening.

“City of Sin And Splendour… is a labour of love…”
I’ve lived all my life in Lahore; it’s a marvellous city. So, when Penguin asked me to edit this anthology, I readily agreed. I didn’t know then that it would take me three years to compile. The book is filled with fascinating fiction and personal insights into Lahore. It’s not just Pakistani writers who have featured in the anthology; I’ve consciously chosen the work of Indians like Khushwant Singh and Urvashi Butalia, as well as others with connections to Lahore, such as Pran Nevile, Rudyard Kipling and Sara Suleri Goodyear.

“To me, this city is ‘aamchi Mumbai’…”
I was born in Karachi and brought up in Lahore but my mother used to bring me to Mumbai (then Bombay) to visit relatives. I moved here after I got married at the age of 19 and two of my three children were born here. After my divorce, there was nothing left for me in Mumbai and my parents were in Pakistan, so I returned to Lahore. I have fond memories of this city by the sea though. I now live in Houston, Texas, but I love visiting Mumbai. I came into my own in this liberated city.

“I love their koyla jokes…”
I am very comfortable among Parsis, so I love interacting with the community here. I love their sense of humour. I feel part of my community in Mumbai, completely at home here; there’s a sense of belonging.

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