Saturday, August 28, 2010

Ice-Candy-Man: A Saga of Female Suppression and Marginalization

Ice-Candy-Man projects the violent and chaotic days of India-Pakistan Partition in 1947. Through the character of Lenny, Sid-hwa has given graphic details of the political changes occurring in the country, as well as its effect on the citizens of India. The nov­elist has very realistically illustrated women's plight and exploita­tion in the patriarchal society. Men establish their masculine pow­ers and hence fulfil their desires by brutally assaulting women. Men as aggressors feel elated and victorious whereas women en­dure the pain and humiliation of the barbarity enacted upon them. Sidhwa, as a novelist, talks of emancipation of women. Hence the novel ends on a positive note. Women strive to come out of their plight and finally move forward from their degraded and tor­mented state to start their lives afresh.

Feminism as a movement has played a very vital role in projecting the suppressed status of women in the patriar­chal society. In the domain of patriarchal culture, woman is a social construct, a site on which masculine meanings get spoken and masculine desires enacted. As Sushila Singh puts it in Feminism and Recent Fiction in English: "Human experience for centuries lias been synonymous with the masculine experi­ence with the result that the collective image of humanity has been one-sided and incomplete. Woman has not been defined as a subject in her own right but merely has an entity that concerns man either in his real life or his fantasy life. Many contempo­rary writers have projected the plight of women based on caste, creed, religion, gender-prejudices, community and beliefs, and are trying to suggest some pragmatic solutions to them. Though the conservative social norms and myths of feminine behaviour are challenged all over the world yet a change in the attitude of patriarchal society towards woman is at a snail's pace. Bapsi Sidhwa's novel Ice-Candy-Man represents a series of female characters who have survived in a chaotic time of 1947 in India, which can be registered as the period of worst religious riots in the history of India.
Sidhwa has given a very realistic and transparent picture of carnage during Hindu-Muslim riots in 1947. The novel mirrors men becoming adversary on the basis of their religion and also represents the changing political scenario of the country. Emo­tional turmoil, individual weakness, barbarities of communal ri­ots and the brutalities inflicted on women amidst this iconoclas­tic ruthlessness and communal frenzy have been very realisti­cally projected by the novelist. The whole story has been nar­rated by the female protagonist Lenny who relates the horrors of violence and her personal observations and reactions. The pro­tagonist not only observes but also analyses men's lascivious and degrading attention towards women, voraciousness of male sex­ual desires, women's plight as they are reduced to the status of sexual objects, and relates the peculiar disadvantages, social and civil, to which they are subjected.
Lenny as a narrator moves from one phase of her life, i.e., childhood to adolescence. During this journey, she understands the changes taking place in the society, men's attitude towards women and women's subjection. The whole phase helps her to develop a more mature vision towards life. She gives a closer look at the relationship between men and women which awakens her young mind to develop a vision of her own.
The narrator relates her life as "My world is compressed." As a physically handicapped girl, her world is restricted to the four walls of the house. As a child she spends most of her time with her Godmother. She terms her Godmother's room as, "My refuge from the perplexing unrealities of my home on Warris Road." As a child she had no inclination to have female pos­session though from time to time she was advised to have one by the women of her family. She recalls: "I can't remember a time when I ever played with dolls though relatives and acquaintances have persisted in giving them to me." This reflects the sex­ual identity thrust upon her time and again. Her schooling is stopped as suggested by Col. Bharucha, her doctor, because she was suffering from polio. He concludes, "She'll marry—have children—lead a carefree, happy life. No need to strain her with studies and exams." Lenny concludes that the suggestion made by Col. Bharucha sealed her fate. It reveals the limitations associated with a girl's life. Development of feminine virtues with female nature and carrying out the responsibilities associ­ated with the domestic affairs are considered as the only aim for women. Patriarchal society considers women as physically weak to venture into the world outside the four walls of their houses and too deficient to make important decisions. Hence women are relegated to the domestic sphere where they have to accept the hegemony of a male counterpart. Since ages it is considered that it is a woman's duty to tend house, raise children and give com­fort to her family. Shashi Deshpande, a contemporary novelist, suggests that women should be given enough space to realize their true personality. She points out in an interview to Geetha Gangadharan:
The stress laid on the feminine functions, at the cost of all your potentials as an individual enraged me. I knew I was very intelli­gent person, but for a woman, intelligence is always a handicap. If you are intelligent, you keep asking, "Why, why, why" and it be­comes a burden.
Simone de Beauvoir also holds the same view about social con­ditioning. According to her, mothers are highly responsible for inculcating feminine traits of submission and self-abnegation in women. She writes in The Second Sex that the girl-child is often concerned in this way with motherly tasks; whether for convenience or because of hostility and sadism, the mother thus rids herself of many of her functions; the girl in this matter made to fit precociously into the universe of curious affairs; her sense of importance will help her in assuming her femininity. But she is de­prived of happy freedom, the carefree aspect of childhood, having become precociously a woman, she leaves all too soon the limita-tions this estate imposes upon a human being; she reaches adoles­cence as an adult, which gives her history a special character.
Lenny as a girl learns that marriage of girls is of utmost impor­tance to their parents. Independence and self-identity are meant for men. The intense concern for her marriage even in her child­hood puts Lenny in dismay. She states, "Drinking tea, I am told, makes one darker. I'm dark enough. Everyone says, 'It's a pity Adi's fair and Lenny so dark. He's a boy. Anyone will marry him."
She" recognizes the biological exploitation of women as she grows. As a child she cherishes her mother's love and her fa­ther's protection but the whole episode of Ice-Candy-Man and Ayah destroys all her conceptions about love. She was shocked to perceive Ice-Candy-Man pushing his wife Ayah into the busi­ness of prostitution. She concludes, "The innocence that my par­ents' vigilance, the servants' care and Godmother's love shel­tered in me, that neither Cousin's carnal cravings, nor the stories of the violence of the riots, could quite destroy, was laid waste that evening by the emotional storm that raged around me. The confrontation between Ice-Candy-Man and Godmother opened my eyes to the wisdom of righteous indignation over compas­sion. To the demands of gratification and the unscrupulous na­ture of desire. The site of Hindu and Muslim women be­ing raped during the riots petrifies her. She watches men turning into beasts leaving no room for moral and human values. Women including Ayah were becoming prey of men. Lenny was shocked to see the human mind which was built of nobler mate­rials getting so easily corrupted. Men were declaring superiority over each other by sexually assaulting women. Women had nothing in their favour. Envy, malice, jealousy, rage for personal power and importance in men were leading to violence and in­jury. Shashi Deshpande states:
rape is for me the grossest violation of trust between two people. Whether it is someone in the family or your husband or any other man who commits a rape, it destroys the trust between men and women. It is also the greatest violence because it is not only the woman's body but it is her mind and feeling of her right to have a control on her body which is gone.
Sidhwa has also projected the aftermath of such inhuman and barbaric acts against women after the riots. She has projected the farcical social behaviour which victimizes women alone for any bodily violence and leaves them to wail with their bitter experi­ence which gives them a feeling of pain and sense of loss. Lenny is shocked to see the changing attitude of men towards one an­other. Religious enmity easily erased the threads of friendship. She concludes:
And I became aware of religious differences. It is sudden. One day everybody is themselves—and the next day they are Hindu, Mus­lim, Sikh and Christian. People shrink, dwindling into symbols.
She knows that men of different religions can never become friends again. To take revenge was their only motive in life. Lenny concludes, "Now I know surely. One man's religion is another man's poison." Lenny is not ready to accept the prevailing social condition. As a grown up she analyses the whole situation and draws some conclusions. She decides to hunt for her lost Ayah, who also became a prey of the Hindu-Muslim riots. Lenny decides to talk to her mother regarding Ayah. She wants to save Ayah from the terrible profession of prostitution as told by her cousin. Lenny decides, "If those grown men pay to do what my comparatively small cousin tried to do, then Ayah is in trouble. I think of Ayah twisting Ice-Candy-Man's intrusive toes and keeping the butcher and wrestler at arm's length. And of those stranger's'hands hoisting her chocolate body into the cart. . . . I decide it's time to confront Mother." Due to Lenny's continuous persistence at home, she is informed about Ayah's whereabouts. The novel ends with Ayah being sent back to her parents' home.
Throughout the novel, Lenny appears as a courageous and bold girl who is not ready to succumb to the communal frenzy. She is inquisitive, daring, demanding and lively. Sidhwa has given a feminist touch to the character of Lenny who moves forward in life despite various hindrances and obstacles. As she observes the lives of various women around her, she understands the limitations associated with women's lives in patriarchal soci­ety. She is shocked to see men betraying and sexually assaulting women and exploiting them. Sidhwa as a writer encourages women to transgress the line of marginalization. She states in an interview:
As a woman, one is always marginalised. 1 have worked among women to create an awareness of their rights and protested against repressive measures aimed at Pakistani women and minority com­munity.
Lenny's mother is another interesting female character of the novel. As a servile housewife, she limits her life to the four walls of her home. She reticently follows her husband, who is the deci­sion-maker of the family. Lenny's mother is a representative of those traditional women who as subordinates never express their desire to establish themselves as better human beings. Sidhwa seems to illustrate through. Lenny that men have to dilute their ego and women have to eschew the image of weaker sex or de­prived femininity. Mindsets need to be changed in order to es­tablish equality between the sexes. The patriarchal society should perceive women beyond the roles of daughters, wives and mothers. Traditional male fantasies have created a particular im­age of women to suit their interests—submissive, servile, docile and self-abnegating. These fantasies have become alive, as women have been meticulously trained by the patriarchal/social system to assimilate them. A big transformation is required at the social level, which will acknowledge women as human beings with souls, desires, feelings, ambitions and potentials. Simulta­neously women should utilize their potentials beyond their do­mestic life to assert their individuality. The novel Ice-Candy-Man projects through Lenny's mother that women should have a purpose in life besides domesticity which should be developed by them to the best of their abilities. Women need to liberate themselves from the constraints of 'womanliness' which will erase the existing discrepancies regarding their marginalization. Lenny's mother exhibits a change in her personality by the end of the novel. She becomes acquainted with the political changes occurring in the country during India-Pakistan division. She emerges as a social worker. Along with -Lenny's Electric-Aunt, she helps the victims of 1947 riots. She provides people with pet­rol who wanted to cross the border and helps the raped and ex­ploited women. Lenny's mother shows a lot of similarity with Bhabani Bhattacharya's female character Monju in So Many Hungers. Monju appears as a fuller and maturer woman by the end of the novel. In the beginning she projects the womanly traits of being happy and content with her life and family. But gradually, with the passage of time, the pathetic incidences of Bengal famine and pictures of human life transform her. She learns to think beyond the realms of her own life and as a human cannot remain blind to and detached from the miseries and trau­mas of others. With a soul to feel and a mind to think it is very difficult to shut oneself behind the door when people are screaming for help and rescue. Similarly Lenny's mother could not resist herself from helping the victims of 1947 riots.
Sidhwa exposes the patriarchal practices of the society which marginalize their growth and development and also repre­sents women's psychology that has been toned by centuries of conditioning.
Hence, we can conclude that Sidhwa as a writer has a con­structive approach towards women's predicament. Women may not just fill a place in the society but they should fit in it. By leading a contented life they paralyze their lives but if they de­sire they will have courage to break through their their plight and af­ford opportunity for betterment.

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