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Aftermath of Partition: A Study of Bapsi Sidhwa’s Ice-Candy Man


Aftermath of Partition: A Study of Bapsi Sidhwa’s

Ice-Candy Man

Dr. Satrughna Singh

Associate Professor

Department of English

Raiganj University

West Bengal, India



Aftermath of partition resulted in rape, violence, unrest, mass killings and displacement. The Partition motif most probably originates in the receptacle of suspicion and egoism. Power invariably plays political cards almost in all contexts- history, culture, society, economy, relation, and religion. Political nature of power aggravates and hampers normalcy. Whenever normalcy depolarizes, it is purportedly for power. Partition was a doleful event in the history of India. But unfortunately, mainstream historians marginalized Partition narratives taking it unworthy to go over. As the matter of fact, it was not such an event to be forgotten straight away. It was a traumatic and harrowing event. Even today affected people and communities recall with tears in eyes. In the present article, it is attempted to evaluate the effect and cause of partition in Bapsi Sidhwa’s Ice-Candy Man with principles of necessity and probability.


Keywords: event; history; independence; partition; power


Literary truth is more efficacious than historical truth as the former invariably seeks some constructive change. Subaltern historians have serious objections and unease with mainstream historiography in India. They find it as an elite identity discourse. Gyanendra Pandey took this event very seriously and particularized the term Partition by using capital ‘P’. The term Partition was in wide currency of most of the regions of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Bengal, Punjab, Delhi and beyond (Pandey 14) during and after the split of Indian subcontinent. He seriously argued for subalterns (especially partition victims) and pitied the absence of silenced or disenfranchised people in nationalist historiography. He found it simply lost in the glorification and celebration of Independence and a few frontline political figures. Definitely it is injustice to them.


Bapsi Sidhwa in her novel Ice-Candy-Man has imported the theme of partition as a harrowing history. The Milkweed Editions America rechristened it and gave title Cracking India to it in 1995. Deepa Mehta a Canadian of Indian origin turned it into a motion picture with the title “1947 Earth”. It is set in 1946-1948, in Lahore, Pakistan. The novel takes place during the subcontinent’s struggle for independence and its eventual partition into India and Pakistan. After Partition, Lahore became part of Pakistan. The story of partition, she recounts does not match with the history written by frontline historians. The narrative of partition is cast from the stand point of minorities. Sidhwa in the first few chapters clarifies the stand of Parsee community on partition. She casts almost all her major characters with particular colour and taste. Lenny, a child of eight years at the time of partition, is a polio victim. Her Hindu maid Ayah (later called Shanta) is the centre of narrative. She has oomph and great liking for everything eighteen years old. She is a Hindu maid employed in the Sethi family to look after Lenny. She is largely neutral to religious differences. Godmother, Sidhwa particularized by giving her glowing generosity. Lenny’s electric-aunt has great passion for navy-blue items. Ice-candy-man is “a raconteur” and “an absorbing gossip” (Sidhwa 19). He changes his business as per the demands of the time. Colonel Bharucha is by profession a doctor and the head of the Parsee community of Lahore. Colonel Bharucha asks his community to stay calm and cool on the matters of partition and government. He even finds Hindu and Muslim engaged into the struggle for power. He reminds his men of milk-sugar legend. Parsee folks are all-religion loving people. They celebrate festivals of Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, and Christians. And therefore Colonel Bharucha advises them to be neutral ethnically, “If we’re stuck with the Hindus they’ll swipe our businesses from under our noses and sell our grandfathers in the bargain: if we’re stuck with the Muslims they’ll convert us by the sword! ...As long as we do not interfere we have nothing to fear! As long as we respect the customs of our rulers- as we always have- we’ll be all right!” (37-39).


There was lurking typical unrest among people who would head the country Hindu or Muslim. Muslims wanted head of the nation from their community and Hindus from theirs. The tussle among Hindu and Muslim about the selection of head of the nation excited Sikhs also with new demands and opposed by tooth and nail Muslim demands of the formation of Pakistan as an independent country: “We will see how the Muslim swine get Pakistan! We will fight to the last man! We will show them who will leave Lahore! Raj arega Khalsa, aki rahi na koi!’ (Italics original) (133-134). One man’s religion truly became poison for others. Sidhwa holds religious fanatic stand of Hindu, Muslim and Sikh communities responsible for the cracking of India. The common people were very much upset over the impending partition. Even Ayah threatens her admirers not to visit the park further if they keep talking about “Hindu-Muslim business” (92). Lenny the mouthpiece of the novelist interrogates the idea of partition of India, “India is going to be broken. Can one break a country? And what happen if they break it where our house is? Or crack it further up on Warris Road? How will I ever get to God mother’s then?” (ibid).


Continued violence largely hastened the allocation plan of border lands. Sir Cyril Radcliffe the chairperson of Border Commission nonchalantly dealt out “Indian cities like a pack of cards. Lahore is dealt to Pakistan, Amritsar to India. Sialkot to Pakistan. Pathankot to India” (140). If India was not divided on the background of religious differences, the situation would have never been worse. During pre-partition days, religious differences were not the matters of concern. Hindu, Muslim, Sikh all were only asking for independence. In wake of random border demarcation, genocide began in full swing. Reports of violence from Bengal and Bihar were being broadcast on radio. People were panicky. Ice-candy-man who was waiting for his relatives’ safe arrival saw what could turn any eye teary immediately: “A train from Gurudaspur has just come in…. everyone in it is dead. Butchered. They are all Muslim. There are no young women among the dead! Only two gunny-bags full of women’s breasts!” (149).


The account of Ice-candy-man’s about Gurudaspur massacre shocked Lenny very much. Dilnawaz Ice-candy-man lost his balance of mind and became one of the Muslim rioters of Lahore. Violence continued on both sides of the border to strike terror among people so that Muslims would leave Indian territories and Hindus plus Sikhs Pakistani land. In connection with, biggest ever population exchange took place along with horrifying casualties. “Within three months seven million Muslims and five million Hindus and Sikhs are uprooted” (159). Sidhwa casually criticizes prevalent child-marriage practice and caste politics, “Hari and Moti-the-sweeper and his wife Muccho, and their untouchable daughter Papoo, become ever more untouchable as they are entrenched deeper in their low Hindu caste. While the Sharmas and the Daulatrams, Brahmins like Nehru, are dehumanized by their lofty caste and caste-marks” (93).


Nationalist historiography fails to shed light on the harrowing history of partition of both countries. Sidhwa depends on victims’ memories to tell the history of rupture. Sidhwa cites Jinnah’s speech delivered on 11th August just two days before the formal declaration that shows his secular vision of would-be Pakistan, “You are free. You are free to go to your temples. You are free to go to your mosques or any other place of worship in the State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of State… etc., etc., etc. Pakistan Zindabad!” (italics original) (144).


Sidhwa hurls so many arrows of criticism on both Indian and British scholars who lately disfigured Ali Jinnah once an icon of Hindu-Muslim unity. She quotes Sarojini Naidu’s remark on Jinnah, “…the calm hauteur of his accustomed reserve masks, for those who know him, a naïve and eager humanity, an intuition quick and tender as a woman’s, a humour gay and winning as a child’s – pre-eminently rational and practical, discreet and dispassionate in his estimate and acceptance of life, the obvious sanity and serenity of his worldly wisdom effectually disguise a shy and splendid idealism which is of the very essence of the man” (161). What happened was altogether different from political declamations of frontline leaders like Jinnah, Nehru, and Gandhi. Perhaps these political leaders were happier with their imminent positions than well-being of common people.


Communalism led to the harrowing happenings of killing, rape, looting and burning of properties. Admirers of Ayah stopped meeting her aftermath the partition. Muslims were in pursuit of Hindus. Ayah also wished to go back and join her relatives immediately for security and safety reasons here in Lahore. Sethi family feels responsible to keep Ayah, a Hindu safe and secure. Ethnic cleansing on both sides turned friends to foe. Those who were once adulators of Ayah’s beauty look for her defloration. She was all-religion loving lady. She was once loved by people from all creeds and castes. Since people know her very well, it was very difficult for Lenny and her parents to keep Ayah safe and hidden. Lenny has been taught to speak the truth always. This was the reason she could not pierce Ice-candy-man’s trickery and disclosed Ayah’s hiding. Then what happened can wring any heart. Ayah was forcefully dragged out of her hiding:


“The men drag her in grotesque strides to the cart and their harsh hands, supporting her with careless intimacy, lift her into it. Fur men stand pressed against her, propping her body upright, their lips stretched in triumphant grimaces” (183). Lenny could not bear this inhuman treatment towards a lady. She cursed herself for speaking the truth and for three days kept staring at her tongue and many a time tried to wring it. She even made it bleeding by rubbing prickling toothbrush on it. Hamida a new ayah substituted Lenny’s Ayah. But Lenny could not develop the intimacy with her. Later on she was also ported to Amritsar by anti-Muslims.


After being sold to a brothel in Hira Mandi, Here Ayah was renamed Mumtaz. Ice-candyman marries her only to kill her soul. Masseur the favorite man of Ayah also fell prey to rioters and lost his life. His death shattered Ayah’s heart utterly. Her eyes were haunted by the memories of Masseur. He has assured her as far as he is here none can even touch a single hair on her head. Lenny along with Godmother Rodabai visited Hira Mandi to kiss her agonies away. Godmother did all the best for Ayah’s safe release and port to Amritsar. She left Pakistan being unmindful whether she was accepted by relatives or unaccepted. Ayah’s betrayer Dilnawaz Ice-candy-man exposed Sher Singh to rioting Muslims. Despite Dilnawaz’s strong arguments that he loves Ayah more than anything could not win Godmother’s faith. He in fact destroyed himself at personal and social levels both. At the end of the novel, Ice-candy-man is seen crossing the Wagha border in search of Ayah. Since Ayah was as pure as ever, Ice-candy-man yet betrayed and deflowered for no reasons. Perhaps her piety of heart and soul got over Ice-candy-man’s satanic self and compelled him to ask her forgiveness at the cost of his own life across the border.


Imam Din who has relatives at Pir Pind was employed as cook in the Sethi family. They were random survivors of riots. They have come and taken shelter in Imam Din’s quarter. Lenny who had visited Pir Pindo village several times with Imam Din was well familiar with lives of Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs. During pre-partition, the people (Hindu, Muslim and Sikh) of Pir Pindo village were altogether restless about the probable division of Punjab. They were even firm not to quit the land where they took birth and grew up. “And to uproot themselves from the soil of their ancestors had seemed to them akin to tearing themselves, like ancient trees, from the earth” (ICM 198). In view of rampage, Ranna’s grandmother wished they should have migrated to newly formed Pakistan. Lenny had seen many Hindu whereabouts being blown up like wild furnace in Lahore. Rioters were chopping men, women and children mercilessly. In fact she was very much upset to see all around though her family was safe for neutral stand. It seems very difficult to fathom the depth of her mental restlessness. She of course took all these casualties as they were going to happen in her life too.


Ranna saw and faced the untold violence at Pir Pindo. Sikh rioters swarmed in the village. They were “killing all Muslims. Setting fires, looting, parading the Muslim women naked through the streets- raping and mutilating them in the centre of villages and in mosques….There is an intolerable stench where the bodies, caught in the bends, have piled up” (197). These Sikh rioters were killing Muslim kids. Ranna had seen babies being “snatched from their mothers, smashed against walls and their howling mothers brutally raped and killed” (207). Survivors were forced to eat raw potatoes, “uncooked grains, wheat-flour, rotting peels and vegetables” (ICM 207). Dost Mohammad requested them to let them live. But it affected them little. They were pursuing every probable nook and corner of hiding. Ranna skillfully dodged rioters and survived. During these rioting days many common people were forced to change their religion. Many for safety reasons converted either into Muslim, Hindu, Sikh or Christian. In fact anarchy was let loose upon the world by some antihumanists.


Merciless butchering of men, women, and children coincided with the declaration of independence. But who was responsible- Hindu, Muslim, Sikh or the English? On the one side, frontline politicians were hailing independence and genocide continued on the other side. These politicians were asking people not to panic ironically. In view of unforgettable violence, partition seems just an excuse to give vent to either long suppressed or moderated communal feelings. Survivors of partition on the both sides of division line mean partition violence of undefined shape and method. For them, Gyanendra Pandey writes, “Partition was violence, a cataclysm, a world (or worlds) torn apart” (Pandey 7).


Works Cited


Pandey, Gyanendra. Remembering Partition: Violence, Nationalism and History in India. Cambridge University Press, 2004.

Sidhwa, Bapsi. Ice-Candy-Man. Penguin Books India, 1988.