>The Novel Today and Ice-Candy-Man by Bapsi Sidhwa

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The twentieth century has been called as the age of interrogation. In this new age of science and reason, there has been a gradual crumbling of old and traditional values. Writers enjoy more freedom than ever before. One can write a novel on any subject. Experimentation has become an essential activity now in the all fields of knowledge. J.B. Priestley observes, “If we are asked what has been happening to the English novel today, we are tempted to reply, ‘Everything” and to let it go like that.”

In fact literature is an expression of life in its myriad shades and variety. George Eliot says that literature is the nearest thing to life. It is a mode of amplifying human experience. Literature and life are inextricably intertwined. Literature is a human document. One shares the joys and sorrows of other people through literature. Novel has emerged as a powerful and effective vehicle to study and understand the complexity of modern life. Now time is no longer conceived as a movement of moments each of which passes away irretrievably. Time is now considered as a continuous flow, a continuum.

The English novels today reflect the changes in the fundamental beliefs of the age. By presenting these ideas in a popular literary form the novelist exercised a very considerable influence on society. After the First World-War, two tendencies in literature were visible. One group criticized the standards of conduct and belief. The second group created new forms of expression and became self-assertive in its effort to propagate new creed to fill the vacuum caused by the destruction of theold. Both the groups had a pagan attitude to life and exuberant individualistic outlook. After 1930 the novelists showed a loss of carefree joyousness and they turned away from hedonism and concern with individual values and either interest themselves in religious orthodoxy or tried to find in Marxism a panacea for the ills that threatened society.
The influence of Freud gave way to Marx. A spirit of revolt against the existing order created a sense of restlessness in post­war literature. The artist slowly lost his significance. Some writers sought salvation in religion or philosophy or in dreams of uncompromising artistic truth. The novel drew its material from diverse sources and showed a continuous progress.
Novel in the Indian sub-continent is a recent development. Literature in the Indian sub-continent is the result of the bullwork of two different cultural forces —Indian and the English. It has its historical roots in the growth and development of literature in a country struggling to get independence from the British rule. The rise of nationalism in India stimulated the minds of Indian people. The new educated middle-class had become active in its literary pursuits. People realized that love for one’s dialect and language was good but they could not avoid English language. They felt that they could express themselves to the rest of the world through English language. After the First World-War, a new class of writers in India writing in English and in local dialects emerged. One hears about the names of writers like Mulk Raj Anand, Raja Laxmi, Balkrishan, R. K. Narayan, Raja Rao, Bhabani Bhattacharya etc.
The two World-Wars shook the entire world and it had its impact on Indian literature. Political and social developments in the West influenced literature in the East. Indian literature also began to show ideological orientation in its thematic concerns. Marxism, psychoanalysis of Freud and Jung, theories of literary criticism influenced the sensibility of writers in Asia. “The novel in India can be seen as the product of configurations in philosophical, aesthetic, economic and political forces in the larger life of the country. Despite obvious regional variations, a basic pattern seems to emerge from shared factors like the Puranic heritage, hierarchical social structure, colonial education, disjunction of agrarian life and many others that affect the form of a novel as well as its content,” observes Meenakshi Mukherjee in her book Realism and Reality. It is obvious that writers in Asia have made an attempt to adapt an imported form to suit their indigenous requirements.
After Partition in 1947, artists and writers in Pakistan engaged themselves to develop and cultivate a new spirit, a mark of their newly born identity —Pakistani identity. Since Pakistan was carved out of India, it could not cut away its Indian origin and kinship. “Language being a cultural phenomenon, it is conditioned by its local and the socio-historical forces in operation locally. Consequently, the literature of a particular language has its own special form,” observe K. M. George. India and Pakistan share so much in common like language, music, culture, social milieu, beliefs and problems. The only difference of opinion is on political issues. People on both the sides share the same joys and sorrows, same dreams and aspirations. Only names of places have changed in the narratives of Indian and Pakistani writers. Writers like Manohar Malgaonkar, Arun Joshi, Anita Desai, Khushwant Singh, Bhabani Bhatacharya, Raja Rao, R.K. Narayan, Vikram Seth, Arundhati Roy do not seem new and foreign to the readers in Pakistan. Similarly writers like Sadat Hassan Manto, Bapsi Sidhwa and Attia Hosain are not unknown in India because we share the same concerns, tragic or pleasant.
Partition of India has been a traumatic experience for people on both the sides of Wagah border. This unpleasant historical event has left deep scars on the psyche of people from both these countries. Writers like Khushwant Singh, Bhisham Sahni, Chaman Nahal, Manohar Malgaonkar, K. S. Duggal, B. Rajan, Attia Hosain and Bapsi Sidhwa have written on the theme of Partition in their novels. They have tried to recreate reality and traumatic events based on their perception and information. Pakistani writers like Sidhwa have tried to present their point of view in their narratives. Bapsi Sidhwa is a Parsi and her concern for her Parsi community in her novels is obvious. In her novel ‘Ice-Candy-Man Sidhwa has tried to present a realistic picture of the events that took place in West Punjab, now in Pakistan. The locale is Lahore and its adjoining villages. Sidhwa through the child-narrator Lenny depicts the scenario realistically.
In her interviews and writings, Sidhwa asserts that she was deeply hurt to see the portrayal of Jinnah in novels written by Indian and western writers. She saw the film of M.K. Gandhi in which Gandhi has been presented as a saint, a Mahatma and a great leader whereas Jinnah’s portrayal has been negative. She wanted a redressal of this mistake by presenting Jinnah as an intelligent and a leader of his community. Sidhwa in an interview with David Montenegro observes:
In Ice-Candy-Man, I was just redressing, in a small way, a very grievous wrong that has been done to Jannah and Pakistanis by many Indian and British writers. They have dehumanized him, made him a symbol of the sort of person who brought about the partition of India.
Sidhwa finds that Muslims in Punjab suffered more because the Sikhs retaliated with much greater brutality. The novel Ice-Candy-Man brings out Sidhwa’s qualities as a prolific writer and a good story-teller. She also presents the moral vision of her Parsi community. Thus, novelists in India and Pakistan continue to share their culture, heritage, dilemma, problems and dreams.
Tone of the Novel
In the very beginning of the novel Ice-Candy-Man, Bapsi Sidhwa’s narrative genius grips the attention of readers. Set in Lahore, the novel sets the tone and tenor of the events in the narrative. The narrator in the novel Lenny manifests the tone of neutrality while describing the climactic incidents of Hindu-Muslim riots. The Parsi community is worried over these new developments and is unable to express its loyality openly either to the British government or the nationalists. The Parsi Anjuman, the congregation of the Parsis discuss the issue at the fire Temple in Lahore. The Parsis are also worried about their business and economic security. At last, Col. Bharucha concludes by saying: “Let whoever wishes rule! Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian! We will abide by the rules of their land. This strikes the tone and note of neutrality. In fact, “The neutral attitude of the narrator child Lenny, has its roots in this racial psychology of the Parsis. In this way, the attitudue of the Parsi community revealed here is the externalized collective subconsciousness of Lenny,” observes Jagdev Singh in his paper entitled ‘Ice-Candy-Man: A Parsi Perception on the Partition of India.’ One finds unbridled ventilation of the pent up rancour between the Hindus and Muslims. In the beginning, the Parsis stay away from the turmoil but later they shake off their passivity and neutrality and help the suffering people like the ‘ayah’.
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