A number of novels in the Indian sub-continent have been written on the theme of the Partition of India. This unforgettable historical moment has been captured as horrifying by the novelists like Khushwant Singh in Train to Pakistan (1956), A Bend in the Ganges (1964) by Manohar Malgaonkar, Attia Hosain’s Sunlight on a Broken Column (1961) , Rajan’s The Dark Dancer, Bapsi Sidhwa’s Ice-Candy-Man, Chaman Nahal’s Azadi and Bhisham Sahni’s Tamas.
These novels examine the inexorable logic of Partition as an offshoot of fundamentalism and fanaticism sparked by hardening communal attitudes. These novels belong to the genre of the partition novel. These novels effectively and realistically depict the “vulnerability of human understanding and life, caused by the throes of Partition which relentlessly divided friends,” as Novy Kapadia observes. She opines that throughout history, fanatics as well as ideologies, pushed to the emotional brink of daring their lives, have taken the plunge, which has triggered off a chain reaction of rigid mental fixations and attitudes.
Bapsi Sidhwa’s novels are narratives of political and moral upheaval resulting in a masstrauma which continues to haunt the minds of generations. Generally, in the novels of Sidhwa, there are people from all walks of life and from all communities. They are Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs and Parsis. The event of Partition has been depicted through the painful experiences of these ethnic groups. Novy Kapadia explicitly explains the situation as: “With a morbid sense of humour, Bapsi Sidhwa reveals how the violence of Partition has serrated the roots of people of different communities, irrespective of ideology, friendship and rational ideas. In such a depiction, Bapsi Sidhwa resembles the horror portrayed by William Golding in The Lord of the Flies (1954).
Golding indicated that there is a thin line between good and evil in human beings and it is only the structures of civilizations which prevent the lurking evil from being rampant. At the end of the novel The Lord of the Flies boys of Jack’s tribe like barbarians got a sadistic delight in hunting Ralph. The situation is saved as a naval officer reaches the island to stop brutality … Lenny’s destruction of the doll also has allegorical significance. It shows how even a young girl is powerless to stem the tide of surging violence within, thereby implying that grown up fanatics enmeshed in communal frenzy are similarly trapped into brutal violence.’ It becomes obvious that there is no solution to communal holocausts except struggle and resistance to communalism in a collective effort.
There are no winners in these riots and the communal holocaust devours everything that supports life-sustaining principles. It presents a scene of Holi, not of colours but of blood in the living inferno. The Partition of India proved to be the greatest communal divide in the Indian sub-continent. In fact, the novel Ice-Candy-Man is a Pakistani version of the Partition just like Khushwant Singh’s Train to Pakistan.
In the fictional world of Ice-Candy-Man, the readers are introduced to a plethora of characters from different communities and different walks of life. “Sidhwa’s novel written at a period of history when communal and ethnic violence threaten disintegration of the sub-continent, is an apt warning of the dangers of communal frenzy. Bapsi Sidhwa shows thatduring communal strife, sanity and human feelings are forgotten.” In fact, riots anywhere in the world follow the common pattern where distrust and rumour reign everywhere which leads to bloodshed and terror.
With a sprinkling of humour, parody and allegory Bapsi Sidhwa conveys a sinister warning of the dangers of compromising with religious obscurantism and fundamentalism of all categories. Otherwise a certain historical inevitability marks this historical process. Though her novel is about the traumas of Partition, Bapsi Sidhwa like Amitav Ghosh reveals that communal riots are contemporaneous and that ‘those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it.’
Similar messages have been forwarded by other novelists in their novels based on the theme of Partition. While depicting the heart-rending saga of Partition, these novelists have also tried to adhere to its historical background.
In The Shadow lines, Amitav Ghosh depicts Hindu-Muslim riots in Bengal in 1964 which soon spread to erstwhile East Pakistan. Amitav Ghosh shows “how different cultures and communities are becoming antagonistic to a point of no return. Hence in The Shadow Lines he effectively uses political allegory to stress the need for a syncretic civilization to avoid a communal holocaust.”
Attia Hosain’s novel Sunlight on a Broken Column (1961) is another novel about the communal divide and riots. Attia Hosain depicts the trauma of the Partition and communal riots through her narrator-heroine Laila.The action of the novel is revealed through the memories of her Taluqdar family disintegrating. Laila does not glorify her Muslim past or traditional customs. Attia shows her heroine Laila making a departure from tradition and customs. She rejects dogmatism and epicureanism.
The opening pages of the novel show Lailain an environment which is conservative. Laila’s cousin married in Pakistan returns to Hasanpur. They are engaged in a hot discussion on Muslim culture and traditions. It turns out to be a serious difference of opinion. Laila later recalls this experience with a sigh: “In the end, inevitably we querrelled, and though we made up before we parted I realized that the ties which had kept families together for centuries had been loosened beyond repair.”
After the violence of the Partition, Laila moves around her plundered home. Later, she vividly recalls those shocking sights with a pang in her heart. She walks and strolls through the rooms of her ancestral home ‘Ashiana’, but she does not want to return. She has been fed up with the feudal order and now she wants to be Ameer’s wife. She experiences the expansion of her limited self after discovering her new identity. A-famous critic compares the experience of trauma of Partition of Laila with Lenny (Ice-Candy-Man):
“She comes to detest dogmatism, either in the name of religion or radicalism. Her views and perspective of life developed after intense personal struggle enable Laila to tackle the loss of her husband Ameer and the trauma of Partition. So both narrator-heroines, Lenny and Laila react against communal responses and the horrors of violence. The mature Laila rationalizes against communal tension whereas the young Lenny instinctively reacts against the horrors of communal violence.”
All the novelists writing about, communal violence agree that it is no easy job to find out a solution to the problem of “communal holocaust except intense struggle againt dogmatism”.
In Ice-Candy-Man, Sidhwa shows how friends and neighbours turn out to be enemies overnight. A Muslim village Pir Pindo is attacked by Sikhs and Muslim men and women are killed. Sikh families in Lahore are attacked in Lahore and the chain reaction continues. People like Hari and Moti become converts to save their lives. Ayah’s lover Masseur is killed.
Bapsi Sidhwa shows that the communal frenzy has a distorting effect on the masses and leads to feelings of distrust and frenzy. In such an atmosphere of communal frenzy and hatred, simple people like Ice-Candy man lose their temper when he sees the mutilated bodies of Muslims. Revenge becomes the only motivation in his life. Friendships and personal relations are forgotten. The atmosphere becomes malicious and Ice-Candy man joins the frenzied mob which abdicates Ayah and keeps her in the brothels of Hira Mandi.
Later in the novel, Ice-Candy man tries to mend his ways and forcibly marries Ayah and changes her name as Mumtaz. But she finds this disgusting and with the help of Lenny’s Godmother she reaches a relief camp in Amritsar. Ice-Candy-Man tries to get her but in vain. The novel conveys a serious warning of the dangers of communalism and religious obscurantism.