Ice-Candy-Man describes the harrowing tale of Partition days when the lofty ideal of nationalism was suddenly bartered for communal thinking, resulting in unprecedented devastation, political absurdities and deranged social sensibilities. Sid-hwa has sensitively portrayed the political anxiety and social insecurity which was shared by all the divided people during the Partition days.
The days preceding the largest forced migration of population in human history, and the demographic dislocation it entailed, had their own complexities. People who have survived this holocaust, or witnessed it from a distance try to exorcise this past through memories. Imaginative and literary recreation helps people to recover “some of the lost density of life. Perhaps this is the reason that prominent literary figures in India and Pakistan have constantly taken up themes related with Partition and try to.replicate their memories in all details. Chaman Nahal’s Azadi, Khushwant Singh’s Train to Pakistan, Manohar Malgonkar’s A Bend in the Ganges, B. Raj an’s The Dark Dancer, and Amitav Ghosh’s The Shadow Lines are expressions of different sensitivities about Partition.
However, Ice-Candy-Man is different from these works as it presents the turbulent upheaval of Partition from the viewpoint of a handicapped Parsi girl child. Stressing the vulnerability of human lives, and maintaining a fine balance between laughter and despair, Sidhwa presents various nuances and complexities related with a decision of political pragmatism through Lenny, a child narrator and chronicler. Lenny looks at characters belonging to different communities through the prism of her own Parsi sensitivity. Shorn of biases the child’s narration also imparts an authentic credibility to the novel. Like most of the other novels, Ice-Candy-Man also presents the horrifying details of cruelty, human loss and dislocation, but it does so with a subtle irony, witty banter and parody, forcing the readers to desist from maudlinly sensitive reactions, and to concentrate more on the inscrutability of human behaviour. It also describes a society which has lost its courage, and therefore only crumbles away. It not only presents the barbaric details of atrocities perpetrated by one community over other, but also delineates various manifestations of pettiness and degenerated values which, like termite, had hollowed the inner structural strength of the society.
Ice-Candy-Man narrates a society which has deflated chivalrous attitudes, encourages petty self-serving tendencies and indifferent tolerance of pogroms so long the self stays alive with a whole skin; a society which was given what it deserved—a sanguine and blood-curdling mindset, which made Partition of India a grim reality. The characters and events of the novel suggest that “vanity, hypocrisy and self-deception . . . somehow constitute a truer reality than altruism, self-sacrifice and heroism, even when these are known to have existed. This reinterpretation, Andrew Rutherford argues, of historical and psychological reality by art involves an opposition not only between high and’lower mimetic modes, but between the low mimetic and the ironic, highlighting what he terms as “a disbelief in the psychological probability of the ideal.
Khushwant Singh in his review in The Tribune has commented that Ice-Candy-Man deserves to be ranked as amongst the most authentic and best on the Partition of India Githa Hariharan also comments in Economic Times that Sidhwa has captured “the turmoil of the times, with a brilliant combination of individual growing up pains and the collective anguish of a newly independent but divided country. Seen through the prism of a marginalised minority girl-child, it focuses on the deteriorating communal climate in pre-Partition days. “Lenny’s naivete, her privileged position, and her religious background lend her version of Partition a quality that other novels about this tempestuous period in Indo-Pakistani history lack. Protected by her religious background and her parents’ status, Lenny is not di-rectly affected by the contumelious situation of Partition days, but she keenly observes and comments on the events happening around her. The tone of a reporter which she adopts for recording the events or commenting on them enhances the poignancy of the emotions which are linguistically underplayed. The hilarious tone of the Parsi’s Jaslian prayer, organized to celebrate the British victory in the Second World War is soon replaced first by the acrimonious bickering between Mr. Rogers and Mr. Singh, then by the vague fears and apprehensions unsettling Lenny’s group, and later on by the details of murderous mob fury unleashing death and destruction over whoever comes across them. Lenny learns that India is going to be broken, and has many unanswered queries, “Can one break a country? And what happens if they break it where our house is? Or crack it further up on Warris Road? How will I ever get to Godmother’s then?”
Ayah ventures that perhaps a canal will be dug to crack India. Though Lenny is baffled by such questions, she simultaneously becomes aware of religious differences. She worriedly remarks, “It is sudden. One day everybody is themselves—and the next day they are Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian. People shrink, dwindling into symbols.” In a changed world which responds not to individuals but religious identities Lenny feels that the Parsis have been reduced to “irrelevant nomenclatures.” Her perception of people also changes and she becomes aware of religious symbols acting in, and moulding the individual lives—the tuft of bodhi hair rising like a tail from Han’s shaven head, Cousin’s fresh crop of Sikh jokes, the subtle changes in the Queen’s Garden, are presented with increasing regularity. Lenny’s parents also acquire a strange black box containing, as we are told later, a gun. Their neighbours leave for safer places. Hari, the gardener, is circumcised and converted to Islam for protection, Moti, the sweeper, opts for Christianity, the masseur is killed grotesquely, the markets burn and living beings are torn asunder.
The insensitivity of the social climate is highlighted and individual deeds of kindness and support eclipse out. The massacre of Pir Pindo narrated in the words of a young boy Ranria presents perhaps the vilest side of adult nature which continuously haunts the reader. Lenny senses the changing situation and is perturbed. Listening to the verbal parrying of Ayah’s admirers she closes her eyes in frustration, “I close my eyes. I can’t bear to open them they will open on a suddenly changed world. I try to shut out the voices.”
The brutal realities of the Partition depicted in Ice-Candy-Man with a candour, do not overshadow the resilience of spirit exhibited by several characters in the novel. Rodabai, the Godmother arranges free education for Ranna, Lenny’s mother and Electric-Aunt store petrol in order to facilitate the escape of their friends, Hamida is rehabilitated. Dormant possibilities of the resurgence of human spirit can also be sensed in Ayah as, taking a bold decision, she determines to go back to her family. She rejects the constricting present and decisively wants to face future in all its tentative probabilities. The resilience of women characters saves the novel from being a heart-rending depressing rendition of journalistic reporting.
Ice-Candy-Man also includes several comments on contemporary political figures. Sidhwa has presented the Pakistani perspective regarding these figures and almost all the major contemporary Indian political figures are either caricatured or presented in an unfavourable manner. During her interview with David Montenegro, Sidhwa comments:
The main motivation grew out of my reading of a good deal of literature on the Partition of India and Pakistan. . . . What has been written has been written by the British and the Indians. Naturally they reflect their bias. And they have, I felt after I’d researched the book, been unfair to the Pakistanis. As a writer, as a human being, one just does not tolerate injustice. I felt whatever little I could do to correct an injustice I would like to do, I have just let facts speak for themselves, and through my research I found out what the facts were.
Gandhi’s visit to Lahore is presented in such light as makes him “an improbable mixture of a demon and a clown.” Lenny recalls how he interminably talks about enema, personal hygiene and sluggish stomachs. Sidhwa portrays him as a politician, changing his stances to suit his needs. During the heated discus-sions among Ayah’s admirers the butcher snortingly terms him as “That non-violent violence-monger—your precious Gandhi-jee.” In an attempt to soothe him the masseur says, “He’s a politician yaar. It’s his business to suit his tongue to the moment.” Lenny remembers him as a small, dark and shrivelled old man very much like their gardener Hari. Sidhwa also criticizes the British designs, commenting that after obtaining their objective to divide India, they favoured Hindus over Muslims: “they [the British] favour Nehru over Jinnah, Nehru is Kashmiri, they grant him Kashmir. Spurning logic, defying rationale, ignoring the consequences of bequeathing a Muslim state to the Hindus.” She further says in derogatory terms. “Nehru wears red carnations in the button holes of his ivory jackets. He bandies words with Lady Mountbatten and is presumed to be her lover. … He is in the prime of his Brahmin manhood.” Similarly the Akalis, led by Master Tara Singh, are termed as “a bloody bunch of murdering fanatics.”
Sidhwa has also tried to redefine Jinnah’s role in history. She feels that most of the Indian and British writers have dehumanized him, holding him responsible for the Partition. While Nehru has been portrayed as a “sly one,” Jinnah is lauded for his intellectual capabilities. The off duty sepoy remarks during one of the discussions held regularly at Queens Gardens, “Don’t underestimate Jinnah. He will stick within his rights, no matter whom Nehru feeds! He’s a first-rate lawyer and he knows how to attack the British with their own laws!” Jinnah is portrayed with a sympathy not showed for any other political leader. He is depicted as “austere, driven, pukka-sahib accented, deathly ill, incapable of check kissing”, past the prime of his manhood, he is “sallow, whip-thin, sharp-tongued and uncompromising.” Sidhwa also quotes Sarojini Naidu to substantiate her portrayal of Jinnah. As the story unfolds, we are introduced not only to Jinnah, the political leader, but also to Jinnah, the lover of an eighteen year old, breathtakingly beautiful Parsi girl, who had braved the censure of her wealthy knighted father to marry a Muslim. Lenny feels sad on learning her premature death, but her sympathies clearly lie with Jinnah:
But didn’t Jinnah too, die of a broken heart? And today, forty years later, in films of Gandhi’s and Mountbatten’s lives, in books by British and Indian scholars, Jinnah, who for a decade was known as ‘Ambassador of Hindu-Muslim Unity’, is caricatured, and portrayed as a monster.
The analysis of the political leadership during the Partition days by Sidhwa is subjective and at times seems even prejudiced. Despite it, the final message of the novel is clear and unambiguous. It rejects the two nation theory and suggests that religious, social and cultural differences are artificially created and exploited by unscrupulous people. She also suggests that power should be used for the good of the people and to suppress the evil. In her interview with Julie Rajan, she comments on the main theme of Ice-Candy-Man:
I was just attempting to write the story of what religious hatred and violence can do to people and how close evil is to the nature of man. Under normal circumstances people can be quite ordinary and harmless; but once the mob mentality takes over, evil surfaces. Evil is very close to the surface of man.
Ice-Candy-Man is criticized by some critics for misrepresenting historical facts. Sidhwa’s description of Gandhiji’s visit to Lahore can be quoted as an example. There is no historical record of Gandhi’s visit to Lahore during the pre-Partition days. Similarly, the reference to the famous Dandi March by Col. Bharucha dates it in 1944, whereas it had actually taken place in the early months of 1930. The vivid description of the Sikh attack on the Muslim village of Pir Pindo is also historically inaccurate. Such inaccuracies are however fictionally justified as these events are imaginatively used to impart an easy continuity and flow to the narrative and communicate the author’s point of view successfully.
The theme of horror accompanying the transfer of population in 1947 has been delineated by several authors in Indo-English fiction. In his essay “The Partition in Indo-English Fiction” Saros Cowasjee has commented on the characteristics of the Partition novels. He says that most of the Partition novels written by Sikh authors portray a romance between a Sikh boy and a Muslim girl, strive for historical accuracy loading their fiction with documentary evidence gleaned from newspapers, government reports and G.D. Khosla’s Stern Reckoning: A Survey of the Events Leading upto and Following the Partition of India (1949) and suggest that Sikh atrocities against the Muslims had taken place only in retaliation. Cowasjee has based his argument on a study of Raj Gill’s The Rape (1974), H.S. Gill’s Ashes and Petals (1978), Kartar Singh Duggal’s Twice Born Twice Dead 1979) and Khushwant Singh’s Train to Pakistan (1956). Manohar Malgonkar’s A Bend in the Ganges, selected by E.M. Forster as the best novel of 1964, probes the Gandhian ideology of non-violence in relation to man’s hidden capacity for violence. Chaman Nahal’s Azadi (1975) propagates the theme of human kindness.
Attia Hosain’s Sunlight on a Broken Column (1961) has the distinction of being the only novel on Partition by a Muslim woman. It tells us of the effects of Partition not on those who were forced out of their homes, but on the members of a Muslim family who, far from the scene of action, struggle to keep their family from splitting up and argue over the priorities of different loyalties. Balchandra Rajan’s The Dark Dancer is saturated with idealism and hope and concentrates on the basic nobility of human nature. In Hindi, Urdu and Bengali too, there are some brilliant novels on this theme—Jhutha Sach of Yashpal, Tamas of Bhisham Sahani, Adha Gaon of Rahi Ma-soom Raza, and-Epar Ganga, Opar Ganga by Jyotirmoyee Devi, The Skeleton (1987) by Amrita Pritam can be mentioned as examples. The Shadow Lines by Amitav Ghosh and What the Body Remembers (1999) by Shauna Singh Baldwin are more recent attempts to grapple with the memories of Partition which, as Krishna Sobti has remarked, is difficult to forget but dangerous to remember.” Ghosh’s novel traces the sources of communal violence. Ghosh effectively uses political allegory to stress the need for a syncretic civilization to avoid a communal holocaust. His novel is against artificial divisions and violence and is an affirmation of unity and enrichment of life. Baldwin traces the oppression of men which the female body remembers with contrasting and constantly shifting viewpoints in her novel.
Ice-Candy-Man stands apart in its rendering of the theme of Partition. Lenny reveals the trauma of Partition through her memories with a sprinkling of humour, parody and allegory, describing how friends and neighbours become helpless and ineffective while faced with the mob frenzy. Sidhwa also describes how political leaders manipulate the ideals and generate feelings of suspicion and distrust in the psyche of the common man. Once communal and obscurantist passions are aroused, the social fabric is torn asunder, leading to wanton and reckless destruction. Sidhwa has also commented on the historical inevitability of social process, suggesting that people who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it. The tragic events combine with the witty freshness characterizing the narrator’s attitude of a distanced watcher. The novel poignantly describes the mindless Partition violence and focuses on its socio-historical consequences to women. Moreover, “the craft of describing violent and humorous scenes alternatively and of freely mixing historical tragedy with witty comedy is not the result of a compromise but it rather displays a lively authenticity which very few novels can be credited with.” Ice-Candy-Man enables the readers to understand the extent of the trauma of Partition and review it in its historical context, and thus suggestively delineates the fruit-lessness of violence in individual and collective lives.