Author’s website : http://www.bapsisidhwa.com
Faredoon Junglewalla is a struggling Parsi businessman living in Lahore at the turn of the 20th century when he strikes upon the then novel idea of an arson based deception of an insurance company. The consequential fire and visual comedy of his mother in law’s rescue from the balcony of the blazing house results in only some of the expected windfall, but enough to see him on his way to becoming a “Godfather” like fixer. As his fortunes grow so does his influence, to such an extent that his son is able to fall for and marry the young daughter of rich parentage. Humour abounds in this book: from the tongue in cheek choice of family names - the Junglewallas and The Easymoneys – to the hilarious scene where Freddy’s son Billy consummates his marriage amid a thunderstorm.
The book is light on overall plot, but strong on memorable characters which the author crafts through side stories like Freddy’s other son Yadze’s infatuation with a Anglo Indian girl at school, whose dubious birth is an outrage to Freddy, and his attention to spiritual gurus and mystics, his search for his “janam patri” ( translates I think as “birthday letter” sort of like a horoscope) amongst a courtyard full of mouldy papal leaves. These side stories are decidedly double edged –funny whilst at the same time sadly poignant of the superstition, religious dogma and racial bigotry that can still be found in India today.
Towards the end of the book Freddy, his wife and mother in law make to England,. This not only shows culture shock in reverse – the mother in law is outraged by the thought of her daughter having to dry clean herself rather than wash after toilet, whilst Freddy is outraged by the mother in law carrying a jug with every every visit. Also as they are guests of an English couple who had been stationed in Lahore they see their lack of servants in England and their perceived reduction in status compared to their lives in India. This dispels their illusion of England being the land of queens and coronets and transforms it into just another version of real live, with sad faces, hard work etc.
The Crowe Eaters was Sidhwa’s first published novel. She had written it and The Bride and failed to get either published and so ended up to privately publishing The Crowe Eaters. It was such a success that her further writings was assured of publication. (see Sawnet bio)
ashramblings verdict: 3* A humorous insight into Indian lifestyles of the time and to an author worthy of much reading further. Recommended.