49 pages 1 hour read

Bapsi Sidhwa

Ice Candy Man

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1988

A modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, SuperSummary offers high-quality Study Guides with detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, and more.

Summary and Study Guide


The novel Cracking India (first published as Ice-Candy-Man in 1980), by Bapsi Sidhwa, explores the civil war that occurred during the Partition of India in 1947. The political and social upheaval engendered by independence and Partition included religious intolerance that led to mass violence, killings, mutilations, rapes, dismemberments, and the wholesale slaughter of infants, children, men, and women, along with the displacement of millions of refugees—Hindus fleeing to India and Muslims fleeing to Pakistan.

Told from the first-person perspective of Lenny Sethi, a Parsee child who is about 4 years old when the novel begins and approximately 10 years old at the end, the novel portrays the complicated and shifting political and social ramifications of the Partition of India into two countries: a Hindu-majority India and a Muslim-majority Pakistan. Lenny and her family attempt to quietly endure the partition that transforms Lahore, India into Lahore, Pakistan in August 1947.

Simultaneously, the novel operates as a coming-of-age novel delineating the parallel growth and formation of identity within the protagonist, Lenny, and the country, Pakistan. Both suffer severe growing pains, as Lenny’s child-like vision becomes a quickly-maturing voice reporting upon the violence she witnesses, the many friends who are lost, the friends who are betrayed by their former friends and neighbors due to religious differences, and the terrible human cost of dividing one country into two along brutally enforced religious lines. Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, and Parsees all vie for survival.

As a minority group, the Parsee people first seek alliance with other ethnic groups to help protect them, but then quickly resolve to stay on the sidelines of the growing battle, hoping to hide in plain sight. In fact, Lenny’s idyllic childhood, during the first third of the novel, serves as an idealistic backdrop, displaying the ethnic and religious harmony that existed in Lahore prior to the independence and Partition of India. Lenny’s pampered, secure childhood mirrors the peace that precedes the slaughter of Partition. This peaceful coexistence highlights the later terrors of religious intolerance. In this way, Sidhwa unfolds the macrocosm of the civil war through the microcosm of Lenny’s life.

Other parallels also link private life with the larger world. Lenny’s nursemaid, Ayah, attracts a multi-ethnic crowd of admirers that mirrors the complex ethnic compositions of both India and Pakistan. The breakdown of Pakistani and Indian society into violent ethnic and religious groups mirrors the breakdown of the previously harmonious relationships between ethnicities and religions in Lenny’s world.

The novel’s themes explore human understanding of being both a social insider and a social outsider depending upon a person’s caste, religion, ethnicity, and economic status. It also examines the experience of being handicapped; the effects of religious and racial conflicts; the subjugation of women through arranged child marriages and prostitution; obsessions with sexuality; and the dangers of politically-motivated violence. By using a child for the novel’s narrative voice and perceptions, Sidhwa confronts the histories of India and Pakistan and their social, historical, and political complexities with humor and compassion.

However, Lenny’s childhood contains many horrors once Partition occurs. These horrors culminate with the ultimate dreadfulness of her own betrayal of her beloved Ayah to the Ice-candy-man and his Muslim thugs. Even her family is confounded by her action; she can barely forgive herself.

The last third of the novel demonstrates the united efforts of Lahori women, across ethnic and religious lines, to repair some of the damage perpetrated during Partition and its aftermath. Since parents hide painful truths from their children, and Lenny has proven that she cannot be trusted, Lenny’s mother hides her own secret work, which involves dangerous, illegal trade on the black market to earn money used to rescue women from enforced prostitution and sex slavery. Lenny only learns about this work near the end of the novel, when her Godmother demonstrates her power and authority by locating and stealing Ayah back from the Ice-candy-man. Lenny’s mother’s work enables them to send Ayah back home to her family in Amritsar, India. Perhaps the novel’s most hopeful sign for the future of Pakistan is that these women come together to help one another, regardless of ethnicity or religion.