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Linking Young Minds Together
     Volume 2 Issue 118 | May 10, 2009|


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Book review


Author- Bapsi Sidhwa
Reviewer- Sameeha Suraiya
'Can one break a country? And what happens if they break it where our house is? Or crack it further up on Warris Road? How will I ever get to Godmother's then?’

WHEN something as momentous as the Partition of 1947 is told through the eyes of a sharp, inquisitive eight-year-old, things are bound to be different. A fast moving tale of wit and wisdom, the atrocities of '47 is perhaps best seen through the precocious Lenny, a Parsee girl living in Lahore, someone who is free from the prejudices of religion. Sidhwa's evocation of a Lahore childhood is as sweet and enticing as the popsicles that the hero of her novel sells.

Bapsi Sidhwa is Pakistan's leading diasporic writer. In the four novels that she has produced in English, she draws vastly from her own experiences. Sidhwa witnessed the bloody Partition of the Indian subcontinent when she was the same age as her heroine. What is also similar is being a member of Parsee community, she too held much religious distance, which accounts for the very neutral resonance that comes into play.

At the centre of a world in turmoil is Lenny, a spectator living in the midst of, but apart from, the rising tensions among Hindu, Muslim and Sikh. Lenny has the privilege of detachment. Her narration starts in her fifth year and continues till her eighth birthday. She remembers the pre-partitioned Lahore, her house on Warris Road, where most of the events will unfold. It was the time when religion was not a divisive force nor was anyone pigeon-holed into one category or the other because of it. She remembers how she used to find refuge in her godmother's 'one-and-a-half room abode' and succeeded in getting away from the 'gloom' and the 'perplexing unrealities' of home. Her honesty is compelling as she depicts each of the people that makes up her small world. Condemned to speaking the truth, Lenny's ironic tragic flaw contributes to rip apart the people who had lived all their lives in perfect harmony.

Lenny's own family is not directly affected by the riots but has a strong emotional compact with some of the people who are. It includes her household staff-- her very dear Ayah, an eighteen-year-old dusky beauty, Imam Din the genial cook, Hari, the high-caste Hindu, Moti, the outcaste gardener and of course the various suitors that approach Ayah in what are some of the most humorous scenes that lend relief from the mounting tensions that spark outside Lenny's little world. Interestingly enough Sidhwa gives each one of Ayah's suitors different religious and cultural backgrounds as well as political affiliations, hence providing the reader with a more realistic setting. Earlier in the plot, through Lenny's eyes we are shown the Ice-candy-man as a keen popsicle vendor who stalks Ayah. He is a pretentious Sufi, with copper wiring wound around his neck and chest, who claims he is Allah's telephone, a poet reciting Urdu verses to woo the woman he loves to later becoming a fanatic leader of a mob. It is in the brilliant characterizations where the power of the novel lies. Each of the characters, as seen through Lenny's observant eyes, brims with exuberance, so that long after you have finished reading, they would, in your imagination, continue with their feats.

'Ice-Candy-Man' combines humour with heartbreak. It relates political events in the most simple and most humanly meaningful terms, with comedy and anguish, through the eyes of a child who is alternately thrilled and frightened by the events she dutifully records, and so in the end, is the reader.

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