Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 437
"Cracking India" is a deep and complex story, with themes of sexuality, division, and female strength weaving throughout.
The main interactions with a diverse group of people in Lenny's life come from the attentions paid to her beautiful nanny, Ayah. The novel starts with Lenny as a four-year-old, already observing the near desperation of the men to touch Ayah with any part of their body possible, even their toes. She learns from the power she sees Ayah holding over men: "I learn of human needs, frailties, cruelties and joys. I also learn from her the tyranny magnets exercise over metals" (29). The openness with which Lenny contemplates her own sexuality is important, because it is not often that a disabled character is represented a sexual being. However, in "Cracking India," the sensual importance of Ayah's interactions with diverse men on the edge of Indian Partition play a strong role, and they influence Lenny's own burgeoning sexuality.
Greater still is the theme of division. "Cracking India" is really the story of the bloody war between a community torn apart by religious differences. Lenny narrates, quite poignantly, this theme: "It is sudden. One day everybody is themselves—and the next day they are Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian. People shrink, dwindling into symbols. Ayah is no longer just my all-encompassing Ayah—she is also a token. A Hindu" (101). These differences really impact Lenny's life. Although she is not herself a part of the warring factions in India, her primary caretaker is, and through Ayah, Lenny is subject to witness the same division in her community.
The last theme I want to mention is female strength. The entire novel is narrated by a female character, so obviously some feminine influence can be seen throughout the story. As their neighbors are persecuted, kidnapped, and murdered, Lenny's mother and aunt work to smuggle gasoline to help their friends escape. They work to free kidnapped women, and it is Lenny and her grandmother who free Ayah and return her to her family in India, against her husband's wishes. Lenny's grandmother is a very strong presence from the start: "The intensity of her tenderness and the concentration of her attention are narcotic. I require no one else" (17). The "intensity of her tenderness" is a key phrase, as it highlights the common female stereotype of soft emotions as something intense and positive, rather than weak. Overall, the duality of patriarchal oppression with the undertow of intelligent and strong women presents an idea of women who reject the labels and wars men create and instead use their feminine traits to strengthen themselves and lift themselves out of submissiveness.