What are the main themes in Bapsi Sidhwa's novel Cracking India?

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Cracking Indiais a 1991 novel written by American–Pakistani novelist Bapsi Sidhwa, originally published in 1988 as Ice Candy Man . It tells the story of Lenny, an eight-year-old disabled Parsi girl who describes her life during the Partition of India in 1947 and explains how the violence and...

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Cracking India is a 1991 novel written by American–Pakistani novelist Bapsi Sidhwa, originally published in 1988 as Ice Candy Man. It tells the story of Lenny, an eight-year-old disabled Parsi girl who describes her life during the Partition of India in 1947 and explains how the violence and the chaos affected her and her family.

Sidhwa incorporates many socially relevant themes such as religion, morality, intolerance, and human nature. However, she also presents Cracking India as a story about love, family, hope, and redemption. Many analysts agree that Sidhwa has created an interesting symbiosis of female victimization, oppression, and female empowerment. The majority of of the female characters are often mistreated, raped, and even tortured; however, there are also strong female characters such as Lenny’s mother and Lenny's aunt, who essentially dedicate their time to saving and taking care of the women who were hurt and abused.

For instance, the two of them manage to save Ayah from the clutches of the Ice-Candy Man who has kidnapped the beautiful eighteen-year-old Ayah and forced her to be a prostitute. Interestingly enough, Lenny unconsciously and naively betrays Ayah's trust, as the Ice-Candy Man manipulates her into telling him where Ayah is hiding so that he can forcefully take her with him. Thus, trust, dishonesty, and selfishness are also important themes of the novel.

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In Bapsi Sidhwa’s Cracking India, the adult protagonist, Lenny, narrates her childhood, which was defined by bouts with polio that left her leg deformed. Lenny also describes her life as a member of a wealthy family during a time of political unrest in India which saw the rise of Mahatma Gandhi and ultimately led her father to move their family to Pakistan. This narrative takes place with the backdrop of British imperialism present.

Two key themes through the narrative are religious tension and domestic violence.

Lenny’s family is accustomed to religious diversity and lives among Parsee, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, and Christians. Lenny is young, so she doesn’t fully understand the increasingly hostile tensions between the different religious groups, but her family moves from their neighborhood because they no longer feel safe there. As Gandhi’s rise attracted more supporters, the Christian-dominated Brits tried to maintain their imperialist grasp. Ultimately, the partition of India in 1947 separated British India into the Union of India and the Dominion of Pakistan, largely based on Hindu and Muslim religious lines.

While Lenny is treated well by her family, their housekeeper routinely beats her eight-year-old son, Papoo, which Lenny’s family look down upon. Furthermore, Ayah runs off with the Ice-Candy-Man, and later in the narrative, Lenny and her mother see the damaging effects of the Ice-Candy-Man’s violence toward Ayah: Ayah feels trapped in her marriage and helpless to improve her condition.

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One common theme in Bapsi Sidhwa's Cracking India is corruption, violation, and the folly of man. In the novel, Ice-Candy Man (who may serve as a metaphor for the horrific ways humans may act in times of strife), descends into blatant immorality. While initially seeming like a positive male figure in the eyes of Lenny, Ice-Candy Man eventually becomes a cheat, a scoundrel, a sexual predator, and an otherwise unwholesome character. There is a duality in his selling sweet treats and his immoral and repulsive behavior as he morally erodes during the Partition of India.

One of Sidhwa's intentions in Cracking India seems to be expressing the moral compromising that many men will undergo during times of horror (in this instance, during the Partition). It similarly serves as a metaphor for how an entire country is affected on both large and small scales; Ice-Candy Man sexually violates women as the nation of India is betrayed and violated by its fiendish government.

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One of the main themes in this novel is the absurd way in which the Partition of India was carried out in 1947 to create India and Pakistan. The main character, Lenny, lives a privileged life in Lahore, so she finds herself suddenly becoming Pakistani as India is divided into India and Pakistan. The Partition process is accompanied by ethnic violence, and ethnic and religious strife is also one of the themes of the book.

Another main theme is the treatment of women and the intersection of gender and class. Ayah, Lenny's beloved nanny with whom Lenny spends most of her days, is a seductive lower-class woman who exercises a great deal of sexual power in a society that often demeans women. In fact, Ayah's suitors are Muslim, Hindu, and Sikh, showing the power of her seduction to smooth over ethnic divides. It is through Ayah that Lenny, from a wealthy family, learns about the ways in which women in other classes live. Ayah is abducted and raped, and she is forced to marry a man she does not love as a result. Pappoo, a girl from a poor background who is beaten by her mother, is also forced into a loveless marriage, and her story is a contrast with that of the cosseted Lenny. Women in the lower classes live very differently than Lenny does. 

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