Magazine article New Internationalist

[Ice-Candy-Man]

Magazine article New Internationalist

[Ice-Candy-Man]

Article excerpt

I REMEMBER the envious intellectual sniffing among Bombay's literati that in 1988 greeted Ice-Candy-Man, Bapsi Sidhwa's rambunctious novel about the partition of India. Here was a book that was fresh and funny, completely unpretentious, which nevertheless reached out to the pain of a subcontinent and held it in its tenacious little clasp without so much as a beg your pardon.

For me Sidhwa's book precisely captured that decisive moment in history when 'one day everybody is themselves - and the next day they are Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian', when identities that existed side-by-side get sharpened like swords against each other. It is a story which has been repeated in various attempts at genocide and 'ethnic cleansing' the world over, and which, in the case of India and Pakistan uprooted seven million Muslims and five million Hindus and Sikhs as they fled from massacres to cross newly-created borders. The legacy of this tumult is the continual chafing of Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs, with periodic eruptions of violence stirred up now - as then - by political interests and local gangsters. So supposedly sensitive is the issue that government media in India will often demurely speak of 'attacks by members of one community against members of another'. What hope then for a book that attempts to tell it like it is?

Ice-Candy-Man is inexplicably neglected. It's compelling, brimful of anecdotes rendered in Sidhwa's caustic, unfussy style. She's a superb storyteller, sprinkling the book with tersely-captured vignettes, which increasingly knit together into a story of passion and betrayal, 'the unscrupulous nature of desire' and 'the pitiless face of love'. Unavailable for a while, it's re-emerged with an awkward new name - Cracking India.

Sidhwa's narrator is Lenny, a Parsi girl with a 'truth-infected tongue' who turns eight on the day partition is announced. Lame in one foot and indulged by her reasonably well-off parents, Lenny is ferried around Lahore by her beloved Hindu Ayah (nanny) whose 'spherical attractions' draw a varied group of suitors eager to dispense ice-lollies, silk doilies, massages and other gifts. Here's how we first meet Lenny:

'Lordly, lounging in my briskly rolling pram, immersed in dreams, my private world is rudely popped by the sudden appearance of an English gnome wagging a leathery finger in my ayah's face. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.