Ice-Candy-Man is Bapsi Sidhwa’s famous novel which is politically motivated. As a Pakistani writer, Sidhwa observes that M.K. Gandhi has been deified by Indian and British historians. When she saw the movie on Gandhi, she was shocked to see the portrayal of Jinnah as a villain. She felt that Jinnah was caricatured, and Gandhi was presented as a Saint. In an interview with David Montenegro, Sidhwa observes:
In Ice-Candy-Man, I was just redressing, in a small way, a very grievous wrong that has been done to Jinnah and Pakistanis by many Indian and British writers. They have dehumanized him, made him a symbol of the sort of persson who brought about the partition of India.
Sidhwa believes that Muslims in Punjab suffered more because the sikhs retaliated with much greater brutality. In her moral vision, she presents common men helping each other and she exposes the politicians. She portrays life in familiar surroundings in undivided India with the themes of marriage and the survival of the Parsi community.
The novel Ice-Candy-Man brings out Sidhwa’s qualities as a prolific writer, heightened sense of story and character and her moral vision of her community. Astute characterization is a trait of Sidhwa’s writing style. The novel has three distinct strands, according to Dhawan and Kapadia. They are political, narrative and the child narrator. It is the only novel of Sidhwa in which she employs a child-narrator. The child Lenny in the novel sees the adult world as a growing child. As the story moves, the history of partition slips into the background and the human struggle for survival becomes primary. The novel is written in the present tense about an historical event. Novy Kapadia observes that Lenny can be compared to the persona that Chaucer adopts in his Prologue to The Canterbury Tales. Kapadia observes that “the device of the child-narrator enables Sidhwa treat the holocausts of Partition without morbidity, pedanticism or censure. It also helps to maintain the balance between laughter and despair. Sidhwa’s blending of astute characterization and sharp humour provides insights into the Parsi psyche and makes the novel both entertaining and revealing.” Here Sidhwa attempts the modernist/post-modernist vein of narrative experimentation.
The novel lce-Candy-Man comprises thirty-two chapters which provides a glimpse into events of turmoil during the partition of India. Historic truth is only a back drop of the novel. The narrative focuses on the tragic fate of the ice-candy-man. He is a Muslim youngman who is a close friend of an eighteen-year old Ayah who works in a Parsi household to look after Lenny. Lenny suffers from Polio and she has to depend on her Ayah. K. Nirupa Rani observes that “the parallel theme in the novel is the slow awakening of the child-heroine to sexuality and pains and pleasures of the grown-up and to the particular historical disaster that overwhelms her world.” It is interesting to note that Ayah is the centre of attraction in the locality. She has thirteen admirers including Muslim, Hindu, Sikh and Parsi youngmen.
The plot of the novel is compact and the central issues engaging and thought-provoking. In Sidhwa’s novels themes diverge from traditional to contemporaneity. Her main concern ranges from a pre-Independence social scene to Partition and its consequences. The main action in the novel takes place in Lahore though there are no graphic description of the area. Cicely Havel observes, “Long before Sidhwa left Pakistan Bapsi Sidhwa’s work had reflected the cultural multiplicity in which she lived. It was only at the moment of international success and physical migration that what might be called her non-aligned gaze became a ground of contest and she was suspected of alienation.” Yasmeen Lukmani praises Sidhwa for her showmanship and the quality of ‘larger than life’ in her novels. The English critic Anatol Lievin Praises Ice-Candy-Man for its ‘enormously refreshing’ challenge to the ‘prim and stilted’ norm of modern Indian fiction. Anita Desai observes, “Lame lenny, Sidhwa’s autobiographically based heroine, can be related to Oscar of Gunter Grass’s Tin Drum”. Cicely Havel observes about Sidhwa that “it is her Zoroastrianism which enables Sidhwa to show the comic as a reflection of the tragic, just as her fortunate position as a non-combatant allows her to stand aside from partisan accusation. Lenny’s childish sexuality mirrors Ayah’s and her cousin’s importunings are potentially explosive.”
Thus, Bapsi Sidhwa has emerged as a new but important voice in commonwealth fiction. Her novels have established Sidhwa’s reputation as Pakistan‘s leading English language writer.