Student Question

How does Bapsi Sidhwa use humor to balance the war scenes in "Cracking India", and what is its effect on the setting?

Expert Answers

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When the author describes the Partition of India into India and Pakistan, which is a traumatic and violent situation, her account is laced with dark humor. For example, the author describes the process of Partition as "Playing English gods under the ceiling fans of the Faletti's Hotel--behind Queen Victoria's gardened skirt--the Radcliffe Commission deals out Indian cities like playing cards" (page 150). The author's dark humor emphasizes the capriciousness and ridiculousness of the way in which India was partitioned. The narrator, a girl named Lenny, says, "I am Pakistani. In a snap. Just like that" (page 150). The humor that the author uses and often places in the mouth of her innocent narrator emphasizes that the context of the novel is also nonsensical and darkly funny in some ways. For example, the British members of the Radcliffe Commission divide up India as if it were a stack of playing cards, and they designate Lahore, where Lenny's family lives, as part of the new country of Pakistan. Lenny's humor is funny because it emphasizes the nonsensical nature of what the British are doing in India.

Even horrific war scenes in the novel have a kind of dark humor to them. As Ranna, a Muslim boy, is fleeing Amritsar and Sikhs are on a deadly rampage in his town, his aunt greets him by saying, "Who is this filthy little beggar?" (page 216). When he wonders where his aunt and mother are, a Hindu soldier tells him, "Don't you know? Your mother married me yesterday" (page 219). Again, the sarcastic and dark humor that this character encounters as he flees death and destruction serve to emphasize the nonsensical nature of what is happening in India and Pakistan. These interjections of humor enhance the sense that the setting of this novel, which takes place during the Partition of India, is filled with absurd actions and nonsensical violence. 

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