Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Pakistani Identity of Bapsi Sidhwa

In Bapsi Sidhwa's Ice-Candy-Man, the narrator, Lenny, muses about the absurdity of the Partition of the sub­continent: "I am Pakistani. In a snap. Just like that." Never­theless, despite her narrator's musing over the absurdity of Parti­tion, Sidhwa's Pakistani perspective is evident in her writings. Sidhwa is perhaps the first Pakistani writer to receive interna­tional recognition—apart from Zulfikar Ghose. As a Pakistani writer, Sidhwa feels it incumbent upon her to explain her Pakistani background to those unfamiliar with her milieu. Because she is a Parsi, she attempts to explain this heritage as well.

Sidhwa is not alone in her need to explain her heritage, but shares with other Third-World writers, particularly those writing in a non-native language, the compulsion to explain her culture to an audience unfamiliar with that culture. Thus The Crow Eat­ers" as well as The Bride' and Ice-Candy-Man are firmly rooted in a historical-political consciousness and concern directly or in-directly, the Partition of the subcontinent and the creation of the newly-independent states of India and Pakistan. The Bride, her first written novel, though published after the success of The Crow Eaters, begins some years before Partition and, for the earlier part of the novel, describes the communal tension during Partition, a train massacre, and the displacement consequent upon Partition. It is only after describing the turmoil of Partition and its aftermath, that the story of Zaitoon and her adopted fa­ther, the hill-man Qasim, is developed. The Crow Eaters ends just before Partition, with Faredoon Junglewalla, the protagonist of the novel, pronouncing, in his inimitable fashion, upon the bickering politicians who are going to cut up the country. Ice-Candy-Man, tighter in focus than the other two novels, concerns wholly the turbulent events of Partition as they affect the lives of a Parsi family and the people who come into their lives. When Ice-Candy-Man was published in the United States in 1991 the title was changed to Cracking India, focussing on the Partition rather than on the eponymous character.
Unlike the Indian writer of today who has a long literary heritage and does not have to make new beginnings, Sidhwa was writing in what was essentially a vacuum. Hence it was neces­sary for her to establish her political credentials, proclaim her cultural allegiance.
Sidhwa establishes her political identity in two significant ways: first, by focusing on the worst Indian atrocities committed in the Punjab, and secondly, by reappraising the character of Jinnah and attempting to improve this image by suggesting that the British were less than fair to both Pakistan and Jinnah. Sidhwa's political stance is clearly depicted through her treatment of Par­tition—which it may be noted, is a focal point in each of her books. Even The Crow Eaters which ends before Partition, refers to it. Ice-Candy-Man narrates what takes place in Lahore during the traumatic events that accompanied the division of the sub-continent. And Sidhwa's first book, though inspired by the murder of a tribal woman, begins with the gruesome account of a train massacre during Partition. In The Bride, Sidhwa combines her feminist concerns with a compulsion to explain the culture of Pakistan to audiences unfamiliar with that culture. It is this com­bination that gives the novel its structural weakness but also its perceptive insights.
Though The, Bride fails to come up to the level of either 'The Crow Eaters or Ice-Candy-Man, its failure stems from the same motives that make Ice-Candy-Man a success: to familiarize her audience with the writer's cultural, political milieu. In Ice-Candy-Man to which she came via The Crow Eaters, she is both Parsi and Pakistani at the same time. She returns to the Parsi world she had described so well in The Crow Eaters and focuses as she had in the second half of The Bride, on the fate of a young woman. By narrowing her canvas, she succeeded in writing a book which, even if not as successful as The Crow Eaters—this was, remem­ber, the first of its kind—shows an exceptional literary talent. Furthermore, by blending the humour of The Crow Eaters with the theme of Partition and a feminist perspective, Sidhwa reveals herself as a writer of the first rank.
In Ice-Candy-Man Sidhwa describes Partition through the eyes of the young Lenny. The story of the growth of Lenny and her awakening into sexual awareness merges with her awakening into history. Sidhwa's humour blends with horror and pity as she tells the story of Partition through the perspective of a child. Lenny's comprehension of the events of Partition is told through the story of what happens to her beloved Hindu Ayah. When the story begins, Ayah is sur­rounded by many admirers, Hindu and Muslim. Among these many admirers is the Ice-Candy-Man after whom the novel is named. As Partition nears, Muslims and Hindus become ene­mies. Some Hindus in an attempt to save themselves become Christians. Some Hindus leave Lahore. Ayah is Hindu, but, pro­tected by her Parsi employers, she assumes that she is in no dan­ger. Unfortunately her charms lead to her abduction by a group led by the Ice-Candy-Man. Ice-Candy-Man keeps Ayah, re­named Mumtaz. Ayah begs to be rescued and she finally is by godmother—in a departure from The Bride where the rescue of Zaitoon was effected by a man.
Sidhwa makes her Pakistani identity unmistakably clear in Ice-Candy-Man where she sug­gests how Partition favoured India over Pakistan. The Hindus are being favored over the Muslims by the remnants of the Raj. Now that its objective to divide India is achieved, the British favour Nehru over Jinnah. Nehru is Kashmiri, they grant him Kashmir.
They grant Nehru Gurdaspur and Pathankot without which Muslim Kashmir cannot be secured.
True, Lenny is not Sidhwa, but as Laurel Graeber points out, "Bapsi Sidhwa has attempted to give a Pakistani perspective to the Partition of India." As a Pakistani, Sidhwa feels it incumbent upon herself to de­fend Muhammad Ali Jinnah. The reference to Jinnah is made aptly in the context of the Parsi fam­ily that is the focus of the novel. Lenny comes across the picture of an "astonishingly beautiful woman" and is told that it is the picture of Jinnah's wife.
Sidhwa, however, rises above petty nationalism. Ice-Cancly-Man does not stress the Two-Nation theory behind the creation of Pakistan. In other words, she does not stress the belief of Pakistani Muslims of the necessity of Partition and the creation of Pakistan. In fact, Ice-Candy-Man suggests that religious and cultural differences are artificially created and deliberately fos­tered. Through Lenny's perspective, Sidhwa shows how relig­ious differences were deliberately exploited on the eve of Parti­tion.
Sidhwa describes the destruction of the Muslim village of Pir Pindo Lenny visited earlier during happier times. The villagers had been warned to leave, but they do not, and Ranna describes the mass murder that takes place. Sidhwa does not narrate this incident through Lenny but through Raana:
Ranna saw his uncle beheaded. His older brothers, his cousins. The Sikhs were among them like hairy vengeful demons, wielding bloodied swords, dragging them out as a handful of Hindus, dart­ing about the fringes, their faces vaguely familiar, pointed out and identified the Mussulmans by name. He felt a blow cleave the back of his head and the warm flow of blood. Ranna fell just inside the door on a tangled pole of unrecognizable bodies. Someone fell on him drenching him in blood.
Sidhwa took up the story of Ranna and retold it in a short story "'Defend Yourself against Me." In this story Sidhwa also sug­gests that though the past cannot be forgotten, it can be forgiven. Let not the crimes of the fathers be visited on their sons—but then the sons must be conscious of their fathers' sins and ask for forgiveness.

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