Ice-Candy-Man by Bapsi Sidhwa
Name: Sudarshana Srinivasan (16 years)
School: Carmel Convent School, New Delhi
This book is about the partition of the Indian sub-continent in 1947. Said to be partly autobiographical, it is written by Pakistani writer Bapsi Sidhwa. The protagonist is an eight-year old Parsi girl, Lenny. Lenny is updated on all the happenings in Lahore thanks to her beautiful Ayah and her bunch of friends. Ayah is a Hindi and her friends are a mix of Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus. Among Ayah’s most ardent admirers are the Ice-Candy-Man and the Masseur who both vie for her favours.
The book begins on a normal enough note describing the life of an eight-year old in a fairly affluent household, with descriptions of her family. But, slowly Lenny begins to observe sinister changes. Slowly but surely, she becomes aware of the tension and mistrust growing among Ayah’s friends. Suddenly, there are spurts of communal violence reported. Everyday, Lenny wakes up to terrible incidents happening not too far from her young world.
The Masseur is murdered; there is a report that a train coming from the Indian side is full of dead people, all Muslims. Some of them are relatives of Ice-Candy-Man. Lenny watches as her neighbours leave Lahore to go to Amritsar, she learns of mass conversion of Hindus to Islam and finally, she sees the Ice-Candy-Man betray Ayah. And, before her eyes, Lenny is witness to the Indian subcontinent being violently ripped into two bleeding parts, India and Pakistan.
The book gives an account of what really happened in the homes, villages and towns, when Partition happened. Hearing about it in Lenny’s voice lends it a certain authenticity. Lenny does not take sides; she does not lecture or say who is right or wrong, or who is good or bad. She merely reports what she sees around her. An eight-year old’s clear, concise and unprejudiced narration rings true. It shows the partition being as traumatic for the Muslims as it was for the Hindus. It tells the story of innocent people caught in the crossfire and forced to take sides. It speaks of the horrible atrocities people descended to, irrespective of which caste, creed or religion they belonged to. Huge numbers died, were rendered homeless and worse, were scarred for life. The horrors of 1947 were so deep that is leaves the reader thinking, “No wonder as neighbours, we (India and Pakistan) still have so much distrust, resentment and hatred for each other.” Seen through her eyes, the events seem illogical, pointless and mindless. Through Lenny’s eyes, one of the most momentous and horrific period in the Indian sub-continent is brought to light in a lucid, unbiased and yes, at times even hilarious way.