University of Management & Technology Department of Applied linguistics MPhil in Applied Linguistics Book reviewPresented to: Sir zafar iqbalPresented by: Hina Javaid Roll no. 100884006
The Water: Novel by Bapsi sidhwaPublished: 2006Genre: FictionBook ReviewWinner of the Italian Premio Mondello 2007 for Foreign Authors! That’s the only novel fromPakistan written by "Pakistans finest English-language novelist" according to the New York TimesBook Review. The novel ‘Water’ (2006) by Pakistan-born Houstonian, Bapsi Sidhwa has taken itsscript from the Deepa Mehta’s the most controversial film ‘Water’ (2005). Deepa Mehta askedBapsi to write a novel based on her then-unreleased movie within three months and both, thenovel and the film, released on April 28.“Once widowed, a woman was deprived of her useful function in society – that of reproducingand fulfilling her marital duties.” this is what Bapsi Sidhwa states through the eyes of a sevenyears old girl Chuyia, "Little Mouse," who is betrothed at age 6 with an elderly man, widowedat age 8 and abandoned at a widows ashram. She has to live in ashram in contrition for all ofher lives until her last breathe. The novel is set in 1938 in a pre-Independent, riotous India,against the milieu of Gandhis rise to power. Later on Chuyia acts as a catalyst for the changeof women’s life specially widow women in India, as her one widow friend Kalyani. Kalyani is abeautiful widow-prostitute and she falls in love with a young, upper-class Gandhian idealist. Heraffair is considered forbidden as it defies Hindu tradition and threatens to undermine theashram delicate balance.Chuyia was living a carefree and gypsy’s life, wandering in field in search of leeches and berrieswhen suddenly her life changed when at the age of seven, she got married to 44 years oldwidower, harilal, a Brahmin. As per the custom with wedded pre-pubescent girls, Chuyia lives inher parents’ home but at the same evening her husband dies and her hair are cut off and sheis stripped of marriage markers, her red and green bangles and mangalsutra, is draped in acoarse homespun white cloth and left at an ashram for widows. She is shunned by her parentscompletely in the ashram. In the ashram, Chuyia experiences the strong and the weak, thecorrupt and the honest, the victims and the victors, some minor themes of the story whichdeals with the feministic point of view at micro level. There, Chuyia befriends many widowslike Shakuntala and Kalyani. Kalyani drowns herself when she tries to merry Narayan and findsthat his father has been one customer of Kalyani. Chuyia is sent to some customer with Gulabi,a hijra. Shakuntala tries to save her but in vain. The story ends when Gandhi’s train passesthrough the village, Shakuntala tries to stop it with the help of people and hands Chuyia overto Narayan who is a follower of Gandhism.Bapsi aptly illustrate the shackles of law and custom of Indian people for widows through thewords of her various characters as Madhumati, the law-keeper of ashram asks Chuyia, “And
when our husbands die, God help us, the wives also half die. So how can a poor half-deadwoman feel any pain?” And Chuyia replies naively that because she is half-alive. Bapsi alsocriticize the patriarchy mind of the caste conscious “Mards” of Hindu society as at one place aBrahmin husband rages at his wife: "A womans role in life is to get married and have sons.That is why she is created: to have sons! That is all!"Bapsi also takes in account the Gandhism as a catalyst force for the colonial India in a sensethat the ideas of Gandhi were threatening to the caste culture and religious traditional ideas ofthat Indian society as he preached people to abandon archaic Hindu laws like child marriage,the caste system, the shunning of widows and etc. at the end o the novel, she shows thepassing of the train of Gandhi as a flicker of hope and bright future for the victims of punishingcustoms of traditions at the name of religion and Water ends on a tenuous note of hope.Beside the Gandhism and miserable plight of Indian women, the novel also contains comicalaspects. As Bapsi Sidhwa’s writings have “plenty of subtle humor in it (Bapsi, Arthur J. Pais June06, 2006)” we can find many comic scenes at the part of Gulabi eunuch, who wears colorfuldresses and makes the stress environment light.Bapsi only takes in account the high class Brahman’s customs and we can find many instancesof out of the ordinary status of Brahmans like "Our holy texts say Brahmins can sleep withwhomever they want, and the women they sleep with are blessed." This also bears witness ofpatriarchy, hypocrisy and double standards of Indian society. Women were treated lower thanthe men as according to Brahmins, “a woman is recognized as a person only when she is onewith her husband. Outside of marriage the wife has no recognized existence, so, when herhusband dies, she should cease to exist.” The most barbaric act Sati was outlawed in 1846 atthe time of independence.In spite of all the above discussion, still there are some points which remain unrequited thatBapsi only takes in account some customs for widows and not the all. It is to mention herethat the poor widows were placed in ashrams on their own volition whereas the rich ones werebeing paid money by their families. So she couldn’t absorb the gist of the rules from theManusmriti and also to understand that this is the book only for Brahmans and lower castesreject it completely. As I progressed through the impression of the title ‘Water’ remained vague.It seemed as if Mehta has adopted this title to conform with her trilogy, as the other twonature elements are the, Fire and Earth. But the question arises that what Water, being anature element or the holy water denoting the omnipresence of the god, has to do with thewidowhood in the novel? Along with it novel leaves some more questionable aspects but overallthe novel is a must read book for the people who want to read something different from thethemes of partition at the edge of Pakistan writers.