Ice Candy Man by Bapsi Sidhwa Book Review

This is a book I call an absolutely must read for Pakistani readers especially for those based in Lahore. Although it seems to be the writer’s own story of her childhood and what she observed and witnessed in Lahore in the years leading up to partition and post partition melodrama. The narration begins with early 40s when she is 4 years old and concludes somewhere two years after the birth of Pakistan when refugees from each side were being exchanged.

The story is narrated by Lenny living on Waris Road in a neighborhood surrounded by Salvation Army, police training academy and her godmother’s house nearby. Being a victim of polio and somewhat handicapped in walking, she is looked after by a Hindu Aya and carried or strolled along to different places. The Aya being a blooming youth of eighteen is desired and harassed by male servants, hawkers, and acquaintances like the masseur, the ice candy man and their circle of friends. The group is a mix of Hindus, sikhs and Muslim who are supposedly friends and hang out together.

Lenny,s world consists of her parents, her younger brother, circle of aunts, uncles, cousins, her godmother with her sibling family friends, and group of servants employed in her home and at her father’s business. In the backdrop of pre-partition drama, her family within the Parsi community remains neutral but in the forefront of affairs. Lenny follows the conversations among the circle of friends which convey the emotions and divisions building among masses based on religius differences. She eavesdrops on the conversation and among guests of her parents which include British and Indian (Sikh)officials making every effort to provoke and pitch Hindus , Sikhs, amd Muslims against each other. Furthermore she closely observes Gandhi on the stage in a public rally with his bizarre preoccupations and advocacies on cleansing of women’s guts, and his hypnotic eyes betraying ominous signals.

The dramatic turn of events leading to gruesome violence in east punjab, in Lahore as witnessed by Lenny along with indifference of the leaders are very disturbing to the reader. The tenous drama is mixed with spontaneous humour in conversations and expressions among circle of parsi community, her family and friends.

I have read several accounts of partition in novels and books written by various Pakistani and western writers. This book fills in all gaps and doubts in my mind that violence during partition was instigated to force displacement of people to bring them on the right side draw lines and implement the divide and rule policy of the colonial powers. The narration cleverly illustrates how religious and cultural demographics of Pakistan were skillfully engineered and crafted during the partition melodrama.

Thee book has been made into a film titled Earth, produced by Deepa Mehta. But watching the film is nothing like experience of reading the book. Without having read the book, it would be difficult to follow the film.

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