Saturday, August 28, 2010

Ice-Candy-Man: A Parsi Perception on the Partition of Sub-Continent

The Partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947 is one of the great tragedies, the magnitude, ambit and savagery of which compels one to search for the larger meaning of events, and to come to terms with the lethal energies that set off such vast conflagrations. There have been a number of novels written on the horrors of the Partition holocaust on both sides of the Radcliffe line: Khushwant Singh's Train to Pakistan (1956), Attia Hosain's Sunlight on a Broken Column (1961) and Chaman Nahal's Azadi (1975) present the Indian perception of the trau­matic experiences while Mehr Nigar Masroor's Shadows of Time (1987) projects the Pakistani version of the tragic events, though both the versions are free from religious bias and written more in agony and compassion than in anger.

What distinguishes Bapsi Sidhwa's Ice-Candy-Man (1988)' is the prism of Parsi sensitivity through which the cataclysmic event is depicted. Ice-Candy-Man is, so far, the only novel writ­ten by a Parsi on the theme of Partition. While the novel shows in the beginning the noncommittal attitude of the Parsi commu-nity towards the flux in which the various communities of India found themselves in the beginning of the twentieth century, it distills the love-hate relationship of the Hindus and Muslims through the consciousness and point of view of Lenny, an un­usually precocious five-year-old Parsi girl.
While the novel has attracted attention from Indian scholars and media persons, the studies themselves have been sketchy and inadequate. Madhu Jain in her review of the novel highlights the dilemma the Parsi community faced at the dawn of Independ­ence: "The Parsi dilemma is: whom do they cast their lot with?" But perhaps because of the limitations of space, she does not go beyond this observation to analyze how the pattern of communal relations were subjected to a maddening change during the Par­tition. Although Khushwant Singh's review of the novel is comparatively longer, yet it, too, refrains from tracing at length the changing pattern of communal relations which form an inte­gral part of this book.
In view of the obvious inadequacy of critical attention that this novel has received, this paper attempts to analyze the framework of the changing pattern of communal relations that continuously breathes underneath the narrative structure of this novel in order to evaluate its strengths and weaknesses as an aesthetic whole.
Set in Lahore, Bapsi Sidhwa's Ice-Candy-Man sets the tone and tenor of the events described in the very beginning of the novel. The tone of neutrality manifest in the narrator-character Lenny, in describing the climactic incidents of Partition, is an­ticipated in the Parsi get together for the Jashan Prayer, to cele­brate British victory, at the Fire Temple in Lahore. While the Parsis have all along been loyal to the British government, they, however, fear the Partition of India and, consequently, are in a fix as to which community they should support. Col. Bharucha, the domineering Parsi doctor and the President of the 'Parsi An-juinair sounds the note of caution: "There may be not one but two or even three new nations! And the Parsis might find them­selves championing the wrong side—if they don't look before they leap!" An "impatient voice" in the congregation replies sarcastically: "If we are stuck with the Hindus they'll swipe our business from under our noses, and sell our grandfathers in the bargain: if we are stuck with the Muslims they'll convert us by the sword! And God help us if we're stuck with the Sikhs!" It is at this moment of Prufrockian dilemma that Col. Bharucha allays the fears of his community by advising them to cast their lot with whoever rules Lahore: "Let whoever wishes rule! Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian! We will abide by the rules of their land!" Thus the note is struck. The Parsis are going to be neutral in the tug of war among the three major communities of India. The neutral attitude of the narrator character, Lenny, has its roots in this racial psychology of the Parsis. In a way, the at­titude of the Parsi community revealed here is the externalized collective sub-consciousness of Lenny.
As the action of the novel unfolds, we confront a pattern of communal amity where the three communities—the Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs—are still at peace with one another. But the intimations of an imminent death and destruction lurk in the symbolic significance of Lenny's nightmares at the break of dawn. In one of these nightmares she faces an immaculate Nazi soldier "coming to get me [Lenny] on his motorcycle." Another nightmare that she recalls from her childhood which is more telling and suggestive is that of "men in uniforms quietly slice(ing) of a child's arm here, a leg there." She feels as if the child in the nightmare is herself. She pictures her Godmother as stroking her head as they "dismember" her. She says: "I feel no pain, only an abysmal sense of loss—and a chilling horror that no one is concerned by what's happening." The nightmare symbolizes the impending vivisection of India which was as cruel as the dismemberment of that child. Lenny's lack of pain, however, is suggestive of her community's indifference on ac­count of its aloofness from the religio-political convulsion. This chilling horror that she feels over no one being concerned by what is happening sums up the lack of concern on the part of the authorities to check the unbridled display of barbarism during Partition. Still another nightmare that Lenny has is that of a zoo lion breaking loose and mercilessly mauling her: "the hungry lion, cutting across Lawrence Road to Birdwood Road, prowls from the rear of the house to the bedroom door, and in one bare-fanged leap crashes through to sink his fangs into my stomach. . . Whether he roars at night or not, I awake every morning to the lion's roar. He sets about it at the crack of dawn, blighting my dreams." The hungry lion which invariably appears at the crack of dawn seems to be a symbol of the flood of mutual hatred that the dawn of Indian Independence released to cause havoc to the Hindus, the Muslims and the Sikhs on both sides of the border. Thus, with these three nightmares that Lenny has, the novelist prepares the reader for the gruesome and gory pattern of communal discord that became blatantly obvious during Parti­tion.
Having planted these two authorial guide posts in the struc­ture of the novel, Sidhwa deftly hands over narration to Lenny, who narrates the story of the changing pattern of communal re­lations. As the action of the novel moves forward, we perceive the pattern of communal amity that still exists in rural India, between the Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs. On her maiden visit to Pir Pindo, a Muslim village thirty miles east of Lahore, Lenny has her first experience of rural life. She finds the Muslims of Pir Pindo and Sikhs from the neighbouring village of Dera Tek Singh sitting together and sharing their concern about the wors­ening communal relations in the cities. Sharing the village Mul­lah's concern about it is the Sikh priest, Jagjeet Singh. His words have the ring of the religious concord in Pir Pindo and adjoining villages: "Brother, our villages come from the same racial stock. Muslim or Sikh, we are basically Jats. We are brothers. How can we fight each other?" As the conversation continues, we have a glimpse'of the contrasting communal attitudes of towns­men and country-folk, in the words of the Chaudhry of Pir Pindo: "our relationships with the Hindus are bound by strong ties. The city folk can afford to fight ... we can't. We are de­pendent on each other- bound by our toil; by Mandi prices set by the Banyas—they're our common enemy—those city. Hindus. To us villagers, what does it matter if a peasant is a Hindu, or a Muslim, or a Sikh?" The village Chaudhry's remarks have a historical authenticity. The Unionist Party of Punjab was a pro-farmer political party of the Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs strug­gling against the stranglehold of the Hindu money-lending class. That this party should have won at the hustings in the 1937 Pro­vincial Elections, despite a stiff resistance from the Congress and the Muslim League, is indicative of the unstinted support that it got from the villagers of all the communities in Punjab. A re­nowned sociologist, M.L. Darling echoes the Chaudhry's re­marks when he says: "A class of Hindu money-lenders had arisen in the Punjab which had enriched itself by exploiting the helpless peasantry."4
In fact, the roots of communal amity in rural Punjab go so deep that the members of the two communities are ready to sac­rifice even their lives for protecting each other. "If need be, we'll protect our Muslim brothers with our lives!" says Jagjeet Singh. "I am prepared to take an oath on the Holy Koran," declares the village Chaudhry, "that every man in this village will guard his Sikh brothers with no regard for his own life!" One gets the impression that rural Punjab is an oasis of communal frater­nity in the desert of communal hatred that is ever expanding to spread its tentacles to engulf the two communities in the cities. At this stage of Indian history the pattern of communal relations between the two rural communities, despite buffetings from out­side, was still that of harmony and concord.
The rumblings of communal discord soon reach Lahore. Lenny's parents often entertain guests who are drawn not only from their own community but also from the British and Sikh community. It is at one of these dinner parties that Inspector General Mr. Rogers expresses the view that the differences be­tween the Congress under the leadership of Nehru and the Mus­lim League under Jinnah are pushing India to the brink of Parti­tion. He feels that it is the English who are acting as a lid on this cauldron of flaming passions between the two communities. 'Mr. Singh, however, thinks that once India gains Independence, they will be able to settle all their differences, as these have been created by the British: "You always set one up against the other . . . you just give Home Rule and see. We will settle our differences and everything!"
Mr. Singh echoes the views of the Con­gress at that time that wanted to present the picture of a conflict-free society before the British so as to hasten the process of gaining Independence. The Congress was conscious that internal divisions would delay the liberation of the country as the British could justify their presence on grounds of maintenance of peace and stability. An Indian historian, Mujeeb, highlights Mr. Singh's views vis-a-vis the Congress approach at that time: "[these] considerations made the Congress hold that the minority problem could wait till the country became independent."
Underlying the basic unity among the various religions of India is the Hindu Ayah and her multi-religious throng of admir­ers. Taking theft" turn one by one: the Mali Hari, the Ice-Candy-Man, the masseur, Sharabat Khan, Imam Din and Sher Singh, all converge on this focal point. The Ayah is undiscriminating to­wards all and it is in this that she becomes a symbol of the com­posite culture that India is. Interestingly enough, as the events roll ahead with a relentless speed, the group of Ayah's admirers begins to dwindle. A similar symbol of the unity of Indian relig­ions is provided by the visitors to the Queen's Park where men of all religions and creeds rub shoulders with one another. With the imminence of Partition, the Park presents a picture of differ­ent religious groups keeping away from one another's company. The passions run high even when men of different religious communities talk and chat with one another. A reference to Gan­dhi, Nehru and Patel's influence in London evokes a retort from Masseur who feels that in ousting Vavell, they have got a 'fair man' sacked. The Ice-Candy-Man goes a step further:
"With all due respect, malijee," says Ice-Candy-Man, surveying the gardener through a blue mist of exhaled smoke, "but aren't you Hindus expert at just this kind of thing? Twisting tails behind the scene . . . and getting someone else to slaughter your goats?" When the Government House gardener tries to cool the passions by imputing the differences between the Hindus and the Muslims to the English, the butcher with his "dead pan way of speaking" remarks:
"Just the English?" asks Butcher. "Haven't the Hindus connived with the Angrez to ignore the Muslim League, and support a party that didn't win a single seat in the Punjab? It's just the kind of thing we fear. They manipulate one or two Muslims against the interests of the larger community."
Thus the novelist shows the gradual emergence of the pattern of communal discord in urban India.
As the setting sun of the British Empire gathers its parting rays before sinking into oblivion, the lumpen element around Ayah meet less frequently at the Queen's Park and more at the 'Wrestler's Restaurant.' The geographical shift in their get-together is a premonition of the emergence of the pattern of communal discord. That British Queen whose statue stands abandoned in the Park, is soon going to relinquish her suzerainty over India and the Wrestler's Restaurant to which all flock now is a symbol of the wrestling ring that Partition is going to raise on the joint borders of India and Pakistan. Discussing the fate of the Punjab in the event of Partition, Masseur hopes that if the Punjab is divided, Lahore will go to Pakistan. The Government House gardener, however, hopes that this will not come true as the Hindus have much of their money invested there. At this the Sikh Zoo attendant, Sher Singh, shouts: "And what about us? The Sikhs hold more farmland in the Punjab than the Hindus and Muslims put together!"
When Masseur advises Sher Singh that it would be good for their community to cast their lot with one country rather than be divided into two halves and lose thereby their "clout in either place," Sher Singh, like the lions he tends, turns on him: "You don't worry about our clout! We can look out for ourselves . . . you'll feel our clout all right when the time comes!"
 Seeing Sher Singh in a high temper, the butcher, with his professional mercilessness, cites the English, who call the Sikhs a "bloody nuisance." At this Sher Singh and the "restaurant owning wrestler" threaten the Muslims with dire consequences in the event of Partition. The verbal skirmishes between the butcher and the Masseur on the one hand, and the Government House gardener, Sher Singh and the restaurant-owner on the other, show how deep the pattern of communal dis­cord among the Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs has become. The course of the changing pattern of communal relations seems to augur ill for the three communities as Partition looms large on the horizon.
Filtered, as these widening differences are, through the prism of the Parsi character-narrator, Lenny, her response to those re­lations becomes significant. Commenting on these changes, Lenny, and by implication, the novelist herself, remarks: "Gan­dhi, Jinnah, Nehru, Iqbal, Tara Singh, Mountbatten are names I hear. And I become aware of religious differences. It is sudden. One day everybody is themselves and the next day they are Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian. People shrink, dwindling into symbols. Ayah is no longer just my all encompassing Ayah—she is also a token. A Hindu."
That these changes should have sunk even into the mind of the tender and immature Lenny, speaks of the extent to which the various communities of India had become conscious of their in­dividual identity at the cost of the composite culture they had evolved after centuries. As time passes, Lenny becomes aware of the newfound religious fervour among Ayah's admirers. Not only are the differences within the caste hierarchy of the Hindus accentuated but also the racial differences among the Christians heightened. The English Christians look down upon the Anglo-Indians, who snub the Indian Christians who, themselves, in turn, regard all non-Christians with a supercilious air. In this at­mosphere of heightened communal consciousness, the Parsis are reduced to "irrelevant nomenclatures." Bapsi Sidhwa, thus, paints a miniature picture of the pattern of communal discord that then prevailed and simultaneously turns the neutrality of the Parsis. In the mock-epic manner, she holds up these differences to ridicule by showing how they had even affected the classifi­cation of jokes: "Cousin erupts with a fresh crop Sikh jokes. And there are Hindu, Muslim, Parsi and Christian jokes." The denu­dation that jokes undergo because of the communal differences derides the very essence of these differences.
By showing the adverse influence of an imminent Partition, the novelist draws a line between national politics and the rela­tionship among different communities. Partition is shown to be the result of irreconcilability of the adamant and rash leadership of India. In the dinner party, that has been referred to earlier, In­spector General Rogers wonders how far Hindus and Sikhs will be able to settle their differences with the Muslims so long as they acknowledge the leadership of men like Master Tara Singh, Gandhi and Nehru. In fact, the malevolent nature of the differ­ences between the Congress and the Muslim League on the ordi­nary people of India is rightly anticipated by Sharbat Khan when he cautions Ayah: "These are bad times—Allah knows what's in store. There is big trouble in Calcutta and Delhi: Hindu-Muslim trouble. The Congress-wallahs are after Jinnah's blood." Ayah, however, shakes off this caution with a casual remark:
"What's it to us if Jinnah, Nehru and Patel fight? They are not fighting our fight," says Ayah, lightly.
However, Sharbat Khan does not agree with her assessment and is of the opinion that though that "may be true but they are stir­ring up trouble for us all." Here he becomes a persona of the novelist and comments that it was the intransigent sectarianism of the national leaders which wrought havoc on the pattern of communal amity existing in rural India.
As the fever of Partition runs high, Lenny notices "a lot of bushed talk." Everywhere "men huddled around bicycles or squat against walls in whispering groups." The fear of Partition and the violence it would unleash drives the common man to think about his safety. On her second visit to Pir Pindo, Lenny goes along with the members of Imam Din's family to Dera Tek Singh on the occasion of Baisakhi. As they reach the village, the festival is already in full swing. It is in the midst of these gay ac­tivities that Ranna senses the steel of suspicion and fear. Bapsi Sidhwa captures this feeling thus:
And despite the gaiety and destruction Ranna senses the chill spread by the presence of strangers; their unexpected faces harsh and cold. A Sikh youth whom Ranna has met few times, and who has always been kind, pretends not to notice Ranna. Other men, who would normally smile at Ranna, slide their eyes past. Little by little, without his being aware of it, his smile becomes strained and his laughter strident.
The apathy of Ranna's friends is symptomatic of the tension which the arrival of the "Akalis" in Dera Tek Singh has gener­ated. Dost Mohammad, Raima's father, too, has noticed the in­trusion of a new factor in the communal atmosphere of Dera Tek Singh. When he refers to them during his conversation with the genial-faced Granthi, Jagjeet singh, he learns about their sinister designs from the affable Granthi:
The Granthi's genial face becomes uncommonly solemn. ... He says: ". . . The Akalis swarm around like angry hornets in their blue turbans. . . . They talk of a plan to drive the Muslims out of East Punjab.'. . . They say they won't live with the Mussulmans if there is to be a Pakistan. . . . Trouble makers. You'll have to look out till this evil blows over."
The patterns of communal relations between Lenny's first and second visit to Pir Pindo are, therefore, poles apart. While during her first visit, the Sikhs and the Muslims had pledged their lives to save each other from any intruders, during her second visit, that enthusiasm has evaporated in the heat of the violence that the Akalis hold out for anyone who comes in the way of their re­solve. The pattern of communal harmony has been replaced by the pattern of fear and suspicion between the two communities.
It is in this surcharged atmosphere that the Akali leader, Master Tara Singh, visits Lahore. Addressing a vast congrega­tion outside the Assembly chambers he shouts: "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 Karega Khalsa, aki rahi na koi." His address is greeted with the roar of "Pakistan Murdabad! Death to Pakistan! Sat Sri Akal! Bolay so nihal!" The Muslims, in turn, shout "So? We'll play Holi-with-their blood! Ho-o-oli with their blo-o-d!" With both the communities having taken up their positions, the ensuing festival of Holi becomes a blood-soaked festival. The pattern of commu­nal amity that existed before the Baisakhi of that year got shat­tered in the bloodbath of Holi during Partition.
What follows Partition is the unbridled ventilation of the pent-up rancour between the two communities on both sides of the border. While the Muslims of Pir Pindo—that fell on the In­dian side of the border—are subjected to mass slaughter by the marauding gangs of the Akalis from the surrounding Sikh vil­lages, the Hindus and Sikhs of Lahore undergo a similar har­rowing experience. Their fate gets blighted when a train load of corpses from across the border reaches Lahore. Ice Candy-Man's relations lie dead in the heap of carcasses in the ill-fated train. Imam Din's entire family has been wiped out in Pir Pindo. Ranna alone has survived to tell the gruesome tale. While the ambers of Partition goad Ice-Candy-Man to join the marauding hooligans out to kill and destroy the vestiges of the Hindu and Sikh presence in Lahore, Imam Din remains calm in the face of all calamities. The distinction between the two becomes marked when a gang of Muslim hooligans comes to abduct Ayah. Imam Din goes to the extent of telling a lie about Ayah: "Allah-ki-Kasam, she's gone." In contrast. Ice-Candy-Man not only abducts her and throws her to the wolves of passion in a Kotha but also kills out of jealousy his co-religionist Masseur. Thus, the novelist shows that the defenders of Islam who turned Lahore into a burning city were not even true proponents of Islam. Imam Din's character, therefore, shines in this novel as that of Kamaln in B. Rajan's The Dark Dancer (1958).
While the flames of communal passions leap up in the skies of Lahore, the Parsis, who till now, have maintained a safe dis­tance from this communal conflagration, act as the Messiah of the Hindus and Sikhs trapped in the burning city. They, as Lenny learns later on, help in their transportation to India. Even Ayah is rescued by Lenny's Godmother and is sent to her parents in Amritsar. Thus, inspired by a feeling of humanism, the Parsis shake off their passive neutrality and become the agents of a healing process.
The change from the pattern of communal discord to that of reconciliation is, however, traced in the person of the Ice-Candy-Man. Though his role in the cataclysmic events of Partition is painted in lurid colours, his growing passion and love for Ayah is shown to redeem him from the morass of senseless communal hatred. From a rough and rustic man, always ready to nudge Ayah, the Ice-Candy-Man becomes a person of refined sensibil­ity; he steeps himself in poetry. When Ayah is wrenched away from him and sent to Amritsar, he follows her across the border. That the Ice-Candy-Man is willing to leave the land that he so much cherishes for the sake of his Hindu beloved is not only an example of self-sacrifice but also symbolic of a future rap.-prochement between the two warring communities—the Mus­lims and Hindus. Though Bapsi Sidhwa shows the possibility of the emergence of a harmonious pattern of communal relations between the Hindus and Muslims sometimes in the future, yet she leaves much unsaid about how the change in the Ice-Candy-Man's personality comes about.
Thus, the analysis of the changing pattern of communal re­lations shows a pattern of communal amity between the Hindus and Sikhs on the one hand and the Muslims on the other in the pre-Partition era, a growing impatience and mistrust between them on the eve of Partition culminating in the pattern of utter communal discord during Partition and the pattern of reconcilia­tion in the breaking of the dawn of understanding between them in the distant horizon during the post-Partition era. Related very closely to these changing patterns of communal relations is the sea-change in the attitude of the Parsi community from the bald egg-shell of passive neutrality to an active neutrality towards the pattern of communal discord swirling around them during Parti­tion.
Though Bapsi Sidhwa's novel does focus on the changing attitude of the Parsi community, it leaves out the exploration of the dilemma that the Parsi community had to resolve regarding its unnatural schismatic division between Indian and Pakistani Parsis. While the novel cannot be faulted for that, one does feel0 the need of yet another Parsi novel on Partition which would ex­plore and express this vital aspect.

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