Last Updated September 5, 2023.
Numerous positive and negative meanings of “cracking” help shape the author’s presentation of the multifaceted aspects of the partition of the Indian sub-continent at the end of British colonial rule. “India” encompasses the entire territory that became two nations in three geographic areas. Through fiction, Sidhwa emphasizes the personal cost to all the individuals affected by the partition. This cost was paid by many people who did not actively participate in the political process or the widespread violence that accompanied it but were excluded from the decision-making or chose peaceful routes. Particularly through the main character, Lenny, the reader sees how privilege and subjugation were intertwined, especially for women.
Bapsi Sidhwa uses the metaphor of “cracking” throughout the novel. This word is commonly applied to eggs and mirrors; in British slang, the adjective means very good; and it can mean solving a problem. Through this title, the author encourages the reader to evoke the cliché of cracking eggs to make an omelet, the cracked mirror to mean increasing self-awareness, a positive appraisal of India while it was Britain’s most important colony, and the solution to the code that was colonialism.
During the period when Britain was moving toward ceding colonial control of the large area called India, the subsequent allocation of power and territory was hotly debated. The people of diverse ethnicities and religions who had lived under colonial control for centuries had been prevented from claiming a national identity: while they were British subjects, they were not British. As India was not a country, but a colony, neither were the people Indian by nationality.
In the novel, we see how Lenny experiences an identity shift as she must learn her new Pakistani nationality. The crack in India ultimately created Pakistan as a separate country, rationalized by primarily Muslim religion, but its people were not physically united—with east and west widely separated—and in large measure did not feel united. The young Lenny experiences this as a shrinking of identity, as people change suddenly from being themselves to “dwindling into symbols.”
As the characters develop, Sidhwa clearly shows that the cracks are not neat cleavages such as India versus Pakistan, Hindu versus Muslim. Rather, class and gender positions that have been affected by colonialism also shape the effects of partition. As a child, Lenny has no frame of reference for doubting that privilege will protect her. Instead, she is thrust into making adult decisions in order to help her nanny, Ayah, along with dealing with the generalized violence that surrounds them.
Sidhwa also effectively places female agency at the novel’s center and thus destabilizes the predominant interpretations of the independence movement (or more precisely, movements) as operating at the level of diplomacy, in which the primary actors were all male. Moving the reader into the intimate spaces of female interaction, including a child’s-eye view of women manipulating men to achieve their goals, expands our understanding of a watershed historical moment.