“The Pakistani Bride” is one of the modern novels written by Bapsi Sidhwa.


Bapsi Sidhwa is a Pakistani-American novelist who writes in English and is a resident of the United States. Bapsi Sidhwa was born on 11th August, 1938. At the tender age of nineteen, Bapsi fell deeply for a well-known businessman in Bombay and tied a marriage knot.

The marriage could not last for long. After breaking up, she got down for writing. Later Bapsi married Noshirwan who was a popular businessman residing in Lahore. The qualified Sidhwa did her graduation from Kinnaird College.

She has always been very active in doing social work showing endless concern for women around. Commendably, the generous woman was a member of a women’s delegation escorting to Turkey and Iran in 1970. She gave birth to three kids in Pakistan and began her writing career after that.


The first novel “The Crow Eaters” of Bapsi Sidhwa was published in 1980 which was widely appreciated by the readers living in Europe. Then her brilliance was reflected in the novels: The Pakistani Bride, An American Brat, and Ice Candy Man. 

Her first three writings focused on the Parsi community and families residing in Lahore. The Pakistani Bride explains events of partition through story of a Kohistani tribesmen and a young adorable girl he adopts soon after sighting the deadly massacre in which the girl’s whole family was killed. The Pakistani Bride interpolate Zaitoon’s (young girl) story with that of Carol who was a beautiful American woman not happy with her marriage to a Pakistani soldier.


  • Zaitoon
  • Qasim
  • Nikka
  • Mariam
  • Carol
  • Farukh
  • Major Mushtaq
  • Sakhi
  • Aashiq
  • Misri Khan


This story’s complex subject matter required a strong narrative thrust and the adroit (skillful) combination of separate elements into a clear, sharply etched pattern. There are no loose ends or slow moments or wrong turns; the story has a momentum that steadily increases in tension until it reaches its highly cinematic climax—then breaks off to let the reader contemplate the worlds from which it emerged.

Three worlds come together to form the basic story. The first section contains a largely sympathetic portrait of the tribal society of Kohistan. We meet the central character, Qasim, as a ten-year-old boy being handed a gun by his father and being told he is to be married; a fellow tribal who has failed to repay a debt has promised him his daughter instead.

The boy does not comprehend what marriage might entail but is delighted with the weapon. Sidhwa charmingly describes how he meets his much older bride, who, shocked to find she is being married to a child, humiliates him by bursting into incredulous laughter. Gradually the relationship develops, and at sixteen Qasim finds himself a father.

More children are born to the pair but when there is an outbreak of smallpox; Qasim emerges as the sole survivor. With great compassion, Sidhwa conveys the cruelty of a rugged land where people lead lives formed by the harsh environment.

In the second section, Qasim goes down to the Punjab plains in search of work and is caught up in the madness of partition during which he rescues a little girl whose parents are slaughtered, and he names her Zaitoon after his own dead daughter.

The canvas expands to take in their new home in Lahore, a bustling cityscape vividly described. With Zaitoon we are introduced to a world where the girl is welcomed by the women and children of the entire neighborhood. “Entering their dwellings was like stepping into a gigantic womb, the fecund, fetid world of mothers and babies,” also described as “the mindless, velvet vortex of the womb.”

Zaitoon is carefree in those years, one of “the little girls burdened with even younger children on their hips, the babies’ necks wobbling dangerously as their carriers played hop-scotch or crouched over a game of bone knuckles,” and safely embedded in the affection of elders.

By age sixteen this happy chapter of Zaitoon’s life comes to an end when Qasim, keeping a promise, marries her to his cousin’s son back in the mountain region. There is unbearable poignancy in the scene in which Qasim leaves her in her new, inhospitable home although she weeps and begs to be taken away, only to be told “I’ve given my word . . . On it depends on my honor. It is dearer to me than life.

If you besmirch it, I will kill you with my bare hands . . . You make me break my word, girl, and you cover my name with dung. Do you understand that?” Zaitoon realizes that this is not mere histrionics—in these parts it is the brutal reality. And her married life indeed proves brutal, with her husband’s every look and the word a cruel assault. There is no room here for sentiment or romanticism. To defy it, or escape it, she courts nothing less than death.

To bring in another perspective at this point in the story, Sidhwa introduces a total outsider: the American woman, Carol, who married a Pakistani in the United States and has come with him on a visit to the Karakoram Mountains. Her view of this place, and of the military personnel she encounters there, is indeed romantic— but she too learns the place a woman has in such a society: craved sexually but in every other way despised and regarded as an inferior being.

In the end, Carol decides to back to the states and Zaitoon is found unstable because of the hardships she has gone through in the mountains. Actually, she leaves the house of her husband and runs from there though she didn’t know the ways in the mountains because she had to. She didn’t want to suffer all her life. During this period she was also raped and when she reached the military base she was unconscious and in a state of madness.


The twentieth century is considered the modern age. It has certain characteristics associated with it. Here, we will discuss the characteristics associated with this novel:

  1. Pessimism, Disillusionment and Melancholy in Writing: Pessimism, disillusionment, and melancholy are the core of this novel. We see that from the start the novel has a sad tone and it ends in a melancholic mood.  Even the main characters in the novel become pessimistic sometimes. It all reflects the things the writer has seen in her life and the mindset of the people of that time. Qasim lost his whole family due to smallpox which was incurable. Then he did not know what to do and had no vision. Zaitoon lost her family during the partition and her parents were killed. Carol had to leave behind her family and country to marry Farukh. Nikka and Mariam were childless. Everyone in the novel has a melancholic story related to them.
  2. Fragmentation and Loss of Faith: The main event in the story which gives the story a real start is the partition of the subcontinent. It had an impact on the lives of people and left them fragmented in their ideologies and sense of thinking. They thought that nothing good will happen in their life. The lives of the two main women characters of the novel .i.e. Zaitoon and Carol are full of mishaps. At some points, they feel helpless and don’t know what to do and they give up on life in the end.
  3. Reflection of Modern Chaos and Confusion: The novel reflects the chaos, hysteria, and hype due to partition, migration, mob attacks, and bloodshed. The forlorn past in the new land creates a sense of confusion and distress.
  4. Passion for Humanity and Humanitarianism: Bapsi has written this novel to highlight the miserable life of women who are deprived of their rights. The novel shows that whether it be an American woman knowing her every right or it is an illiterate Pakistani woman, both are treated like animals by men. No one in society takes them as human beings. They can’t have any choice of their own and have to do what their men say them to do.
  5. Development and Technology: Modern era is considered as an age of development in architect, warfare, science, and technology. This can also be observed in the novel. The Pakistan Army has been shown by Bapsi in playing its role in constructing bridges and roads in faraway areas to develop communication and trade in those remote areas.
  6. Growing Interest in Poor Class and Working Class: The characters in “The Pakistani Bride” belong to the poor class or the working class because common people can relate to them. Nikka, Qasim, Sakhi, Misri Khan, Aashiq all belong to the poor working class while Farukh and Major are not that poor but they also belong to the working class.
  7. Art for Life’s Sake: Bapsi Sidhwa’s novel “The Pakistani Bride” is not a piece of art only. It deals with the life of women. It is a voice on behalf of women in a male dominant society.
  8. Psychology and Literature: Psychology is the main part of literature in the modern era. Bapsi has also highlighted many psychological issues in her novel. The impact of leaving one’s homeland, all the massacres and mob attacks that happened during migration, hardships in the new state, living in the camp, trust issues between Qasim and Nikka, Zaitoon’s fantasy of Qasim’s homeland, misuse of power, the mindset of tribal men, the effect of hardships on Zaitoon’s life, the effect of Farukh’s jealousy on Carol, homesickness in Major Mushtaq’s life are all psychological issues and Bapsi has wonderfully shown their impact on the characters’ minds.
  9. Anxiety and Interrogation: Bapsi, after observing the life of women in Pakistan, tried to bring reform through her novel. She tried to tell society that subjugating women’s rights can destroy them mentally as well as physically. She has also explained that a new country in the name of freedom also triggered the minds of people. Everyone had their own definition of freedom resulting in an imbalance in society. People thought that they were free to do whatever they want and when they were prohibited from doing so it created anxiety and chaos. Everything was like a mess.


The novel revolves around the lives of women in a male dominant society and how they are not given their basic rights. It shows the difficult life a woman has to pass through whether it be an American educated woman or an illiterate Pakistani woman. Most of the men treat their women in a very inhumane way and very few like Nikka and Aashiq know how to respect women. So, the central theme of the novel is the repression of women in Pakistan.


  1. Ideologies vied with reason, and everyone had his own concept of independence. When a tongawalla, reprimanded by a policeman, shouted, “We are independent now—I’ll drive where I please!” bystanders sympathized. Fifty million people relaxed, breathing freedom. Slackening their self-discipline, they left their litter about, creating terrible problems of public health and safety. Many felt cheated because some of the same old laws, customs, taboos, and social distinctions still prevailed. Unused muscle, tentatively flexed, grew strong, and then stronger. Dictatorial tyrants sprang up—feudal lords over huge areas of Pakistan.
  2. Jinnah’s austere face decorated office walls and the Jinnah-cap replaced the sola topee. Chevrolets and Cadillacs gradually edged out Bentleys and Morrises and, the seductively swaggering American Agency for International Development (A.I.D.), the last sedate vestiges of the British East India Company. Jinnah died within a year of creating the new State. He was an old man but his death was untimely. The Father of the Nation was replaced by stepfathers. The constitution was tampered with, changed, and narrowed. Iqbal’s dynamic vision of Muslim brotherhood reaching beyond the confines of nationality—a mystic poet’s vision became the property of petty bureaucrats and even more petty religious fanatics.
  3. Entering their dwellings was like stepping into gigantic wombs; the fecund, fetid world of mothers and babies.
  4. Proud husbands, fathers, and brothers, they were the providers. Zealous guardians of family honor and virtue, they sat, when in their homes, like pampered patriarchs, slightly aloof and ill at ease, withdrawing discreetly whenever the household was visited by unrelated women.
  5. Carol had begun to realize that even among her friends, where the wives did not wear burkhas or live in special, women’s quarters, the general separation of the sexes bred an atmosphere of sensuality. The people seemed to absorb it from the air they breathed. This sensuality charged every encounter, no matter how trivial. She was not immune. Her body was at times reduced to a craving mass of flesh. It was like being compelled to fast at a banquet.
  6. The obscene stare stripped her of her identity. She was a cow, a female monkey, a gender opposed to that of the man—charmless, faceless, and exploitable.
  7. Carol meanwhile lay in her room, staring into the dark. “. . . asked for it,” isn’t that what Farukh had said? Women the world over, through the ages, asked to be murdered, raped, exploited, enslaved, to get importunately impregnated, beaten-up, bullied, and disinherited. It was an immutable law of nature.
  8. Whoever said people the world over are the same, was wrong. The more she traveled, the more she realized only the differences.
  9. In preventing natural outlets for cruelty the developed countries had turned hypocritical and the repressed heat had exploded in nuclear mushrooms. They did not laugh at deformities: they manufactured them.
  10. No wonder women here formed such intense friendships—to protect themselves where physical might outweighs the subtler strengths of womanhood . . . At least in Pakistan, they were not circumcised! Small mercy! A pathetic, defiant gesture here and there invited the inevitable thunderclap! Scour the mountains! Hunt the girl! That girl had unlocked a mystery, affording a telepathic peephole through which Carol had had a glimpse of her condition and the fateful condition of girls like her.
  11. Still, he was to blame for imposing his will on something that was bound to end in disaster.


In the novel, Sidhwa defines the status of women in Pakistani patriarchal society as they are supposed to follow the rules forced by their husbands, brothers, and fathers.  She introduces two brides, Carol and Zaitoon, but both are in the clutches of the same destiny. Both are humiliated and exploited mentally and physically by men.

The stories bring into focus the violence, degradation, and oppression faced by women in this male dominant society. Women are shown as a territory to be conquered by men. The relationship becomes one of the colonizer-colonized type wherein the colonizer as if on an imperial offensive tries to possess and extend his powers so as to use and abuse this occupied territory.

author avatar
William Anderson (Schoolworkhelper Editorial Team)
William completed his Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts in 2013. He current serves as a lecturer, tutor and freelance writer. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, walking his dog and parasailing. Article last reviewed: 2022 | St. Rosemary Institution © 2010-2024 | Creative Commons 4.0

1 Comment

  1. Wonderful… really it is helpful for students as well as teachers. I’ll certainly recommend this to my students.
    Thank you…carry on.

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