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Thursday, April 30, 2009

Parsi fiction—a piece of fiction?

Roshan G. Shahani retired as reader and head of the Department of English at Jai Hind College, University of Bombay, where she taught for thirty-nine years. She is the author of Family in Fiction: Three Canadian Voices (Bombay: The Registrar, S.N.D.T. Women’s University, 1993), based on her doctoral dissertation, and Allan: Her Infinite Variety (Mumbai: SPARROW, 2000), a memoir about her mother, as well as of several journal articles. She has also edited numerous publications brought out by the Sound and Picture Archives for Research on Women (SPARROW), for which she is also a trustee. Her research interests include contemporary Indian and British literature as well as women’s studies which she taught at both undergraduate and graduate levels. Roshan was the editor of BEAM, the Bombay English Association Magazine. In this reflection, she evaluates the work of a diverse range of writers who are Parsis, including Gieve Patel, Bapsi Sidhwa, and Adil Jussawalla. Questioning the very category of ‘Parsi writing,’ she suggests that a less essentialist perspective might be more fruitful for critically examining the work of the writers gathered under that label.

Is there something quintessentially Parsi about Parsi culture? Can there be any such classification into which writing by Parsis could be slotted? Why do we distinguish writers of this particular community as a specific category? Do we, for instance, talk about Christian writing, or Hindu writing? Unlike regional writing, say like Sindhi or Bengali literatures, it is not the commonality of a specific regional language that can group such writing together, since English is virtually the first tongue of the Parsi writers, at least when it comes to the written, if not the spoken, word. Unlike Dalit writing, which emerged as a very conscious movement, challenging certain hegemonic notions of ‘Indianness’ and of Indian cultural traditions, Parsi writing, if one can provisionally use such a term, did not, at any given moment, form a cogent movement. Parsis have, traditionally, been a privileged minority, in terms of economic and cultural status.


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