Ice-Candy-Man is Bapsi Sidhwa's famous novel. Its American publishers Milkweed Editions (1991) published it under the title Cracking
. It is a serious political novel. Sidhwa uses the child-narrator technique in the narrative of the novel. There are three strands in the novel namely political, narrative and the child narrator. Anita Desai observes that lame Lenny who is Bapsi Sidhwa's autobiographically based heroine can be related to Oscar of Gunther Grass's Tin Drum. The physical disability of Lenny not only isolates her but also gives "an additional obliquity to the childish perspective which so many writers have used to make strange the supposed rationalism of the adult world." Here the narrative has been presented from a child's point of view. It is told in the present tense and in first person through the voice of a young girl Lenny, eight years old. India
As the story progresses, the history of Partition struggle becomes less important and the human struggle assumes epical dimensions. She also narrates the events leading to
's partition from a child's point of view. R.K. Dhawan and Novy Kapadia find Lenny's growing up "marked as much by a loss of political and racial egalitarianism as by her developing sexuality." So Lenny becomes the persona in Ice-Candy-Man who renders credibility by becoming a part of reader's consciousness. Being a novel about a historical and political event, it contains enough information about local and national politics and leaders. The Parsi community is seen to be in a fix over the question of loyalty. Its leaders are not able to decide whether to support Swaraj or to remain loyal to the throne. By now the situation has become clear and independence almost imminent. India
"The dilemma is acute and the paranoid feelings of the parsis, a minuscule minority get accentuated. The Lahore Parsis have an acrimonious debate on the political situation at their temple hall meeting."
In Ice-Candy-Man, Bapsi Sidhwa shows the Parsi community pondering over choices —to support independence movement or to remain loyal to the Raj. Now a number of Parsis like Colonel Bharucha, Lenny's father and Dr. Mody begin to support the nationalists. Some people advise to observe the developments on the political arena. In the meeting, the Parsis agree to be on the side of the ruler, whether British or Indians. It turns out to be a resolution of self-interest. Here the Parsi community is shown as lacking political participation in the Indian independence movement.
Bapsi Sidhwa in an interview with David Montenegn admits of her political intentions in her writings as:
The main motivation grew cut of my reading of a good deal of literature on the partition of
and India .. .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. Pakistan
In the narrative of Ice-Candy-Man, one finds references to the names of political leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Jawahar lal Nehru, Lord Mountbatten, Subhash Chandra Bose, Mohammed Ali Jinnah. Sidhwa eulogise them but presents them with their weaknesses, Sidhwa is critical of Gandhi when she speaks through one of her characters: "He's a politician yaar... it's his business to suit his tongue to the moment." Lenny also passes comments on the personality of Gandhi when she calls him "a mixture of a demon and a clown." When Bapsi Sidhwa saw the film Gandhi, she was shocked to find Gandhi presented as a saint. She was pained to see the role of Jinnah in the film as negative. She found Gandhi completely deified, sanitized into a saint. She confesses:
I felt, 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 person who brought about the partition of
... Whereas in reality he was the only constitutional man who didn't sway crowds just by rhetoric. India
In short, Sidhwa tries to bring Gandhi down from the high pedestal and project him a purely political figure like Jinnah. She does this from a Pakistani's point of view. Political and ethnic considerations and bias emerge stronger than secular thinking. Sidhwa shows that the Muslims in
East Punjab suffered more because of the majority of Hindus and Sikhs. She gives detailed descriptions of attacks on Muslims by Sikhs with 'much greater brutality.' Sidhwa believes that Hindu leaders failed to be just in their role as statesmen.
In this novel, Sidhwa gives scant credit to politicians. Her moral vision is that it is the ordinary person who "battles wrongs" like Lenny's Godmother who helps Ayah to escape from Hira Mandi and move to a refugee camp in
or Lenny's mother who helps her Hindu neighbours flee from violence stricken Amritsar , not people in the corridors of power. The horrors of Partition are aptly depicted by Sidhwa without histrionics or preaching and by some clever use of Urdu poetry. The human cost is shown for example in young Ranna's story, the most harrowing account of what atrocities are perpetrated by human beings when induced to remove restraints of civilized life through external events or political propaganda. Like Tamas, Ice-Candy-Man is also a political text which shows the consequences of political decisions. Bapsi Sidhwa also paints, a vivid picture of the political scenario when the nationalists were struggling to break the shackles of slavery. She also shows ambivalent attitude of the Parsi community towards the shift of power in 1947. She presents the Parsis as cultural hybrids. Sidhwa writes that through her writings, she has tried to give a voice to her readers in Lahore alongwith a sense of self-esteem. She regrets that Pakistanis have not been portrayed favourably by third world writers, and in Ice-Candy-Man, she has redressed this mistake. She looks up and says: Pakistan
"We are not worthless people because we inhabit in a poor country that is seen by Western eyes as a primitive, fundamentalist country only."
The novel Ice-Candy-Man shows Sidhwa's qualities as a writer, her keen sense of observation, sense of story, character, and her moral vision of her Parsi community. She has emerged as a trend setter in Pakistani literary world.