Analysis

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 495

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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.

Form and Content

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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 525

When India gained independence from Great Britain in 1947, the subcontinent was divided into separate nations: India, the Hindu homeland, and Pakistan, the Muslim homeland. To carry out this political solution to long-standing religious conflict, millions were forced to move, and this mass migration soon turned into slaughter. While exact numbers are not known, it is estimated that hundreds of thousands died. Those who survived also suffered—becoming refugees, losing fortunes and homes, succumbing to hunger and disease. Countless women were raped, then punished anew when their husbands and families rejected them as polluted. Much of the bloodshed and anguish took place on the Punjabi plains in northern India, a rich farmland intersected by five rivers. Lahore, a major city in the Punjab once known as “the Paris of India,” was given to Pakistan. Because of the city’s strategic position, it turned into a massive refugee camp and the site of some of the worst partition violence.

This is the historical background for Cracking India. The novel’s first-person narrator is an eight-year-old named Lenny. At first consideration, this young girl from Lahore might seem to be a strange voice to tell such a story, for at the outset she admits, “My world is compressed.” Taking full advantage of this limited view, however, Bapsi Sidhwa relates through the eyes of her child narrator the partition story from a domestic standpoint and, more significantly, from a feminine view. Lenny’s naïveté, her privileged position, and her religious background lend her version of partition a quality that other novels about this tempestuous period in Indo-Pakistani history lack. The momentous events leading to partition and the aftermath are constructed incrementally through the child narrator’s point of view, as she repeats overheard adult conversations, tells of strange sights, and sometimes even misrepresents or misinterprets situations which are later explained.

Protected by her family’s wealth and stability, Lenny herself is not directly affected by the chaotic conditions. She lives in a safe and predominantly woman’s world, spending most of her time with either Ayah or the elderly woman she simply calls Godmother. To Lenny the world of men remains shadowy on the personal level, except for her encounters with her cousin, who is exploring his newly discovered sexuality. Those men on the national level who make the decisions for millions of people remain incomprehensible. As she understands the situation, remote and calculating men create the climate for violence, and ordinary men carry out the acts. Women, she learns, are often the victims, as is the case with Ayah and the women who have been raped, then placed in the rehabilitation quarters next to Lenny’s family home. On the other hand, she witnesses her mother’s display of strength when a gang threatens their home, and she learns about the risk taken by her mother and Electric-aunt when they smuggle gasoline to Hindu friends fleeing Lahore. Godmother also serves as a feminine ideal; she is a powerful personality who can face wrongdoing head on and correct matters. All in all, Lenny grasps an important truth: Women do not resort to violence to solve problems; men do.

Context

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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 327

In this retelling of the partition story, the role of women emerges paramount: first as victims, then as saviors. Historical reports show that during the rage of partition violence, women were paraded naked through the streets before mass rapes; their children were thrown into the air and caught on swords as they watched; and their bodies were mutilated, their breasts chopped off. At the same time, women like those portrayed in Cracking India performed heroic deeds and possibly brought some order to the chaos. How often this story has been repeated in place after place, century after century. Although nonstrident in tone, the novel focuses squarely on the victimization of women and on their resilience.

Much of Cracking India was drawn from personal experience. Sidhwa grew up in a Parsi home in Lahore during the 1940’s, suffered from polio as does Lenny, had her own “ayah” (nursemaid), watched the horrors of partition unfold, and must have realized, like Lenny, that in her shaken world she would find the greatest solace among women.

Cracking India is widely admired in Asia and abroad. It was named a New York Times notable book for 1991. During the same year it received Germany’s Liberatur Award, a prize given annually to a non-European woman writer. In 1994 Sidhwa was one of nine authors to receive the Writers’ Award of $105,000 from the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund. This prize acknowledged all of her work, which includes three other novels: The Crow Eaters (1980), a comic novel about Parsi life in colonial India; The Bride (1983), a powerful story of a Pakistani girl’s subjugation and rebellion; and An American Brat (1993), an account of a Pakistani immigrant to the United States who struggles to blend dual cultures and thereby to discover herself.

That Sidhwa, Pakistan’s only internationally recognized novelist, repeatedly examines the role of women in a patriarchal society makes her not only a significant figure in women’s literature but a singular one as well.

Bibliography

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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 305

Afzal-Khan, Fawzia. “Bapsi Sidhwa.” In International Literature in English, edited by Robert L. Ross. New York: Garland, 1991. Provides a detailed biography of Sidhwa. The chapter on Sidhwa focuses on The Bride and Cracking India (referred to by its original title, Ice-Candy-Man. The writer takes a strong feminist view and through a detailed discussion of the two novels concludes that they both stress the “anti-victim stance that Sidhwa advocates for women.”

Collins, Larry, and Dominique Lapierre. Freedom at Midnight. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1975. Presents a clear, readable, and detailed account of the events leading to the 1947 partition of India and the aftermath. Excellent background reading for Cracking India.

Jussawalla, Feroza, and Reed Way Dasenbrock, eds. “Bapsi Sidhwa.” In Interviews with Writers of the Post-Colonial World. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1992. Sidhwa recalls her life in Pakistan, including her partition experiences during childhood. Discusses the subordinate place of women in Pakistan and the way those conditions influence her fiction, which she does not see as “overtly feminist.” Talks about how she views the art of writing and what role a postcolonial novelist plays in the international literary picture.

Ross, Robert L. “Revisiting Partition.” The World & I 7 (June, 1992): 369-375. Focuses on Cracking India. Also looks at Sidhwa’s work in general. Provides historical background material on the partition of India: examines the narrative voice of Lenny, the novel’s thematic aspects, and the role of Ice-Candy-Man; and discusses the novel’s adept use of history.

Tharoor, Shashi. “Life With Electric-aunt and Slavesister.” The New York Times Book Review, October 6, 1991, p. 11. Tharoor, a major Indian novelist himself, praises Sidhwa’s ability to illuminate the immense tragedy of partition through the portrayal of a few ordinary lives, and discusses the book from that standpoint. Concludes that Cracking India confirms Sidhwa’s “reputation as Pakistan’s finest English-language novelist.”

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