The Crises of Hindu Identity and Patriarchal Wounds in Ice-Candy Man

Reading Time: 13 minutes

Continuing with the theme of partition, Basudeb profiles the crises of Hindu identity and patriarchal wounds in Ice-Candy Man. Through the eyes of an eight-year Parsee girl living with her parents, at Lahore, Bapsi Sidhwa, a Pakistani woman novelist aims at delineating an atmosphere of love and laughter. The novelist also shows how the atmosphere of darkness and gloom arising out of the communal violence during the time of the Indian partition vitiates the interrelationships among the people of the city, belonging to different religious communities. The eighth-year old girl Lenny cannot understand how India can be partitioned. The identity crisis is that of the Ayah. Read more in the weekly column, exclusively in Different Truths.

Bapsi Sidhwa’s Ice-Candy-Man is posed against the Indian partition in 1947.Through the eyes of an eight-year Parsee girl living with her parents, at Lahore, Bapsi Sidhwa, a Pakistani woman novelist aims at delineating an atmosphere of love and laughter. The novelist also shows how the atmosphere of darkness and gloom arising out of the communal violence during the time of the Indian partition vitiates the interrelationships among the people of the city, belonging to different religious communities. The eighth-year old girl Lenny cannot understand how India can be partitioned. She asks her cousin:

There is much disturbing talk. India is going to be broken. Can one break a country? And what happens if they break it where our house is? Or crack it further up on Warris Road? How will I ever get to Godmother’s then? (Ice-Candy Man, p.92)

To Lenny the idea of the partition of India is absurd. In the wake of the partition, people both Hindus and Muslim at Lahore and in its surrounding villages led their lives in peace maintaining their religious identities. The religious identities of both Hindus and Muslims were complementary and the communal amity and friendship was one of the dominant features of the relationship between Hindus and Muslims. Lenny expresses her strong desire to accompany Imam Din, the cook of her house, when he decides to visit the village of his grandson Mohammad. The name of the village is Pir Pindo, ‘forty miles from Lahore as the crow flies!’ Din Imam wants to go to the village because he has uneasy feelings about the deteriorating relationship between Hindus and Muslims in cities. At first, every one of the house dismisses Lenny’s visit to Pir Pindo. Finally, Lenny’s mother agrees to let her go with Din Imam. The conversation between Din Imam and Pin Pindo village Chaudhry reveals how the communal goodwill and friendship prevails in the villages in the wake of the Indian partition, though cities are in the grip of the communal tension.

Several communal identities are the marks of the fabric of the Indian society. Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs in pre-partitioned India have their own identities but the partition violence engineered by the organised machinations of colonial as well as national Indian leaders simply flares up communal tension. Several communal identities are the marks of the fabric of Indian society but the partition violence simply creates and ignites the crises of identity of both Hindus and Muslims.

Let me refer to an event in Ice-Candy Man, which is an evidence of how people of different religions are made hostile to each other and resultantly the hostility creates a crisis of identity among those communities. Master Tara Singh represents Akali party in undivided Punjab. His appearance in the public place ‘outside the Assembly Chambers, behind the Queen’s Garden’ at Lahore is a mark of how he creates utmost bitterness between the two communities. The park where he gives his address is packed up with human beings. Even the eight-year-old Lenny with other members of her family assemble there to listen to what Master Tara Singh says. The first person narrator describes:

He gets down to business right away. Holding a long sword in each hand, the curved steel reflecting the sun’s glare as he clashes the swords above his head, the Sikh soldier-saint shouts:  ‘we will see how the Muslim swine get Pakistan! We will fight to the last man! We will show them who will leave Lahore! Raj  Karega Khalsa, aki rahi na koi!

The Sikhs milling about in a huge blob in front wildly wave and clash their swords, kirpans and hockey-sticks, and punctuate his shrieks with roars: ‘Pakistan Murdabad! Death to Pakistan! Sat Siri Akaal! Bolay se nihaal!’ (Ice-Candy-Man, pp.133-34)

The character of Ayah delineated by Bapsi Sidhwa in Ice-Candy Man is a symbol of how she has been pushed to a crisis of identity by the partition violence and under what circumstances her sense of religious identity leads her to take the decisive decision of leaving Lahore for Amritsar. Ayah is an acceptable person in this Parsee family; she is liked by everyone, even the cook, Din Imam and other servants of the house. She takes care of Lenny. Lenny is physically handicapped. She is a polio victim and is under the treatment of Dr. Bharucha. She limps while she walks. Ayah regularly helps her massage her leg. She takes Lenny regularly to nearby Godmother’s house, escorts her to her school or ‘takes her up Queens Road, past the YWCA, past the Freemasons Lodge’. Lenny is emotionally dependent on her. Ayah has a number of admirers. Lenny also sees and enjoys how Ayah is flirted by Masseur, Sharbat Khan and Ice-Candy Man when they come to their house. Ayah is a Hindu woman amidst the people of different religions in the house. A silent rivalry for winning the attention of Ayah goes on well between the Masseur and the Ice-Candy Man.

Lahore goes gradually into the grip of communal tension with the passing of each day in 1947. Most of the Hindus and Sikhs leave for India. A trainload mutilated dead bodies of Muslims arrive at Lahore from Gurdaspur. Ice-Candy Man narrates his gruesome experience of the arrival of this ghost train to Ayah and all present in the house thus:

‘What’s it to you, oye?’ says Ice-Candy-Man raising his voice and flaring into an insolent display of wrath. ‘If you must know, I was! I’ll tell you to your face—I lose my senses when I think of the mutilated bodies on that train from Gurdaspur . . . that night I went mad, I tell you! I lobbed grenades through the windows of Hindus and Sikhs I’d known all my life! I hated their guts … I want to kill someone for each of the breasts they cut off the Muslim women . . . The penises! (Ice-Candy-Man, p.156)

Ice-Candy-Man is now determined to take revenge upon non-Muslims living at Lahore but at the same time, he is in love with Ayah, a Hindu woman. Most of Hindus and Sikhs have left for India. Those who have decided to stay at Lahore have circumcised and converted themselves into Islam. Hari becomes a Muslim and he is known as Himat Ali. At this crucial point of time, Ayah being frightened of an attack on her decides to leave for Amritsar. Masseur then assures her of her security saying:

‘You don’t need to go anywhere…. ‘Why do you worry? I’m here. No one will touch a hair on your head. I don’t know why you don’t marry me!’…. You know I worship you….’ (Ice-Candy Man, p.158)

 “I’m already yours,” says Ayah with disturbing submission. “I will always be yours”. The authorial hint here is that Ayah tells the Masseur all those words ‘with disturbing submission’. The significance of the phrase ‘with disturbing submission’ is that Ayah, being a Hindu woman has certain reservations in marrying Masseur though she is in his love. Security is an important factor but what is most important is that she loves Masseur, who is a Muslim. Here Ayah’s Hindu identity does not matter much. For the sake of her love for Masseur, she is now ready to assume a new identity giving up her former religious one.

Amidst the growing communal violence in the city, Masseur is murdered. The polio-ridden child, Lenny sees Ayah silently crying for Masseur. The sudden death of Masseur is Ice-Candy Man’s excellent opportunity for winning the heart of Ayah. One day Ice-Candy Man comes to Ayah and gives her a golden coin. At first, Ayah is reluctant to take that coin but the repeated requests compel her to accept that. In the absence of Masseur, Ice-Candy Man goes on wooing Ayah.

Lahore gradually becomes a city of burning of houses, owned by Hindus, looting and killing of remaining Hindus. The novelist describes:

The palatial bungalows of Hindus in Model Town and the other affluent neighbourhoods have been scavenged. The first wave of looters, in mobs and processions, has carried away furniture, carpets, utensils, mattresses, clothes. Succeeding waves of marauders, riding in rickety carts, have systematically stripped the houses of doors, windows, bathroom fittings, celling fans and rafters. Casual passers-by, urchins and dogs now stray into the houses to scavenge amidst spiders’ webs and deep layers of dust, hoping to pick up old newspapers and cardboard boxes, or any other leavings that have escaped the eye and desire of the preceding wave of goondas. (Ice-Candy-Man, p.176)

Lahore has become the city of fire and destruction. During this period of darkness, a procession of rioters, shouting Allah-o- Akbar gathers in front of the house of the Parsee family and demands the whereabouts of Ayah. By that time, Ayah hides herself in one secret corner of the house. The frenzied mob being convinced of Hari’s conversion into Islam asks Imam Din, “Where’s the Hindu woman? The ayah!” The rioting mob asks Imam Din to take an oath in the name of Allah and to say whether Ayah is at the house or not. Imam Din confidently replies that Ayah has left Lahore. The mob is about to disperse. Ice-Candy Man suddenly comes to Lenny and tells her that he will protect the life of Ayah even at the cost of his own life. The poor Lenny believes him and informs him of Ayah’s hiding either on the roof or in the godowns of the house. The information Ice-Candy Man collects from Lenny is quickly conveyed to rioters. The first person narrator comments:

Ice-Candy Man’s face undergoes a subtle change before my eyes, and as he slowly uncoils his lank frame into an upright position, I know I have betrayed Ayah. (Ice-Candy-Man, p.182)

Lenny then realises Ice-Candy Man outwits her and she has betrayed Ayah. Rioters then find her out and carry her off. Crisis of Muslim identity reveals itself when Muslim rioters are found organising processions of naked Hindu women with communal slogans, in Chaman Nahal’s Azadi. The Ayah episode temporarily ends here. However, Lenny becomes very much upset with Ayah’s abduction. As an eight-year old baby, she continues searching and making enquiries to all possible sources to know how and where Ayah is. After a couple of months, it is known that Ayah is now at Hira Mandi and she is dancing girl there. Hira Mandi is a red light area at Lahore. They also come to know that Ayah is under the custody of Ice-Candy Man, who is a Hira Mandi pimp. Godmother has made up her mind to meet Ayah at Hira Mandi. Lenny shows her willingness to accompany her to meet Ayah there.  In one evening, Godmother and Lenny reach Hira Mandi and they find that Ayah is apparently happy. In their conversation with Ice-Candy Man they come to know that Ice-Candy Man is very much happy to take care of Ayah. What is important is that Ice-Candy Man has a serious concern for Ayah, whom he loves. The conversation between Ice-Candy Man and the Godmother in the presence of Lenny is relevant to the context:

‘What if she refuses to leave me? Says Ice-Candy-Man, as if dredging from a deep doubt in his chest a scrap of hope. ‘I have been a good husband . . . Ask her. I’ve covered her with gold and silks. I’d do anything to undo the wrong done her. If it were to help to cut my head off, I’d cut my head and lay it at her feet! No one has touched her since our nikah.

‘When did the marriage take place?’  Asks Godmother, unmoved.

‘In May’

‘She was lifted in February and you married her in May? What were you doing all that time? …

‘Why don’t you speak? Can’t you bring yourself to say you played the drums when she danced? Counted money while drunks, peddlers, sahibs, and cutthroats used her like a sewer?

Suddenly Ice-Candy Man clenches his hair in his fists . . . He tugs his hair back in such a way that his throat swells and bulges like a goat’s before a knife, and in a raw and scratchy voice he says: ‘I can’t exist without her.’… ‘I’m less than the dust beneath her feet! I don’t seek forgiveness …’ (Ice-Candy Man, p.250)

Ayah is determined to return to her relative’s house at Amritsar and she does it finally deserting Ice-Candy Man. Her crisis of identity makes her feel that she is not welcome in Pakistan, a separate land for Muslims only. This event is very significant for more than one reason. First, why does Ayah decide to go to Amritsar knowing fully well that her relatives in India may not receive her?  She knows well that the Hindu society will not accept her.  That it is an unpalatable reality may be established by the address of Mahatma Gandhi in a prayer meeting on 7 December’1947:

It is being said that the families of the abducted women no longer want to receive them back. It would be a barbarian husband or a barbarian parent who would say that he would not take back his wife or daughter. I do not think the woman concerned had done anything wrong. They had been subjected to violence. To put a blot on them and to say that they are no longer fit to be accepted in society is unjust. 

Gandhiji made an appeal to all in once again in the same month:

Even if the girl has been forced into marriage by a Muslim, even if she had been violated, I would still take her back with respect. I do not want a single Hindu or Sikh should take up the attitude that if a girl has been abducted by a Muslim she is no longer acceptable to society…. If my daughter had been violated by a rascal and made pregnant, must I cast her and her child away? ….Today we are in such an unfortunate situation that some girls say that they do not want to come back, for they know that if they return they will only face disgrace and humiliation. The parents will tell them to go away, so will the husbands.1 (Debali Leonard, p.33)

My purpose in referring to Gandhiji’s appeal to the nation is to underline that during the time of Indian partition the rehabilitation of the abducted women in the Hindu or Sikh communities becomes a serious social problem. Ayah is well aware of Hindu society’s taboos on accepting woman, abducted or raped by Muslims. Defilement of woman’s body is tantamount to the defilement of the Temple or Gurudwara. The religious culture of the Hinduism is that woman is a Mother. A Hindu is comfortable even to visualise his country as Mother or Goddess. Ayah is familiar to all these religious values of woman in Hindu or Sikh society. During the time of Indian partition, so woman becomes the soft target of Muslim rioters. Ice-Candy Man knows fully well that an eight-year old Lenny will not lie if he asks her Ayah’s whereabouts. He is one of Ayah’s admirers. He experiences that the trainload-mutilated bodies of Muslim women arrives at Lahore from Gurdaspur. In a fit of communal frenzy, he manages to help Muslim rioters at Lahore to carry Ayah off. Ayah is abducted, raped, and finally situated at the red light area of Lahore. Ice-Candy Man at the same time loves her and so he marries her after letting her undergo traumatic experiences of the defilement of her body from March to May of the year 1947. Before Ayah is carried off, she agrees to marry Masseur with ‘disturbing submission’. Masseur is a Muslim. At that time, religion does not matter much to her. However, after her abduction she changes her mind. Ice-Candy Man has already married her and shows his all-out concern and love for her, still she is determined to go to her relatives at Amritsar inviting total uncertainty about her future. My contention here is to   show that at this stage of her life Ayah is in the crisis of her Hindu identity, so she wants to leave for India. Now, India is associated with her own identity. She is a Hindu woman and she has no space in Pakistan – a separate land for Muslims.

Another significant interpretation of the Ayah episode in Ice-Candy Man is that in a patriarchal society “a man’s honour lies between the two legs of a woman….But what is ‘honour’? It is a male concept, and its inescapable association with possession – literal and metaphysical turns the noble accouterments of the ideal inside out. Matching male honour is female ‘shame’.” (“Murder with a Special Name” The Telegraph, Calcutta, 29 June 06, p.9, Column, 6) Therefore, the defilement of woman’s body is the defilement of man’s honour. In this context, Debali Mookerjea-Leonard’s observation on ‘Women and the Partition’ is very much relevant:

The Partition riots of 1946-47 and the destabilization of community alliances that they entailed also treated women’s bodies as a site for the performance of identity. According to the same patriarchal logic that resulted in the mass rape of women from the “other” religious community (Muslim), the “purity” of Hindu and Sikh women became a political prerequisite for their belonging in the new nation.(In the communal violence surrounding Partition, Hindu and Sikh women sometimes committed suicide or were murdered by male kin, and these acts – designed to thwart the rival community’s (Muslim) aims to dishonour the nation by violating its women – were lauded as self-sacrifice by the women’s family.) 2 (Debali,p.34)

The Ayah episode reveals not only the crises of Muslim identity but also the patriarchal wounds inflicted upon her. In any patriarchal system that depends on heterosexuality, woman’s body is Man’s honour.  Pakistan is the emblem of Muslim identity while Hindustan of Hindu identity. This is the perception of both Hindus and Muslims during the time of partition violence in 1946-47. Women are soft targets. By disdaining Hindu woman’s body, the identity of Pakistan is asserted and vice versa. The return of trainload-mutilated bodies of Muslim women from Gurdaspur in Bapsi Sidhwa’s Ice-Candy Man is an expression of the crisis of Hindu identity and the abduction of Ayah in the same novel registers the crisis of Muslim identity. At the same time, this episode shows how determined Ayah is in asserting her Hindu identity as well as her identity as woman when she makes up her mind to leave for Amritsar. What we find in Ice-Candy-Man is found in Chaman Nahal’s Azadi. When the refugee convoy reaches Narowal, a small town, very close to Indian border, a ghastly event takes place. This town is dominated by Muslim people. Suraj Prakash informs Arun that the Muslims have decided to parade naked Hindu women in the town that afternoon. The authorial narration of this terrible event arrests readers’ attention:

They could have attacked the camp, but that required time, and they wanted to do something quick, something today. A number of abducted Hindu and Sikh women were in their custody. Many of the kidnapped women disappeared into private homes. . . . The rest were subjected to mass rape, at times in public places and in the presence of large gatherings. The rape was followed by other atrocities, chopping      off the breasts and even death. Many of the pregnant women had their wombs torn open . . . . It was some of these women, recently brought to Narowal that the Muslims of the town decided to parade through the streets. The local authorities, the police and the military, did not interfere when such gatherings were organized. They only restriction they placed this time was that the procession should not be taken to the refugee camp; they did not want an outright clash….  (Azadi, p.258)

Hindu and Sikh women are the soft targets of the Muslim rioters. By humiliating Hindu and Sikh women, Muslim rioters assert their separate identity that manifests itself through the formation of Pakistan. The same patriarchal logic that we find in the Ayah episode in Ice-Candy-Man operates here again. Woman is a commodity owned by male members of society. Defiling of woman’s body is a mark of establishing one community’s domination over another community.


Bapsi Sidhwa, Ice- Candy Man, New Delhi: Penguin Books, 1989.

Chaman Nahal, Azadi, New Delhi: Penguin Books, 2001

1) Quoted from Debali Mookerjea-Leonard, “Quarantined: Women and the Partition,” Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and The Middle East,Vol 24, No1,.p. 33

2) Ibid., p.34

©Basudeb Chakroborti

 Photos from the internet.

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Basudeb Chakraborti is a retired professor of English and Faculty Dean, University of Kalyani. He founded the Department of English in Sikkim Central University (2013). He taught in the USA and India. He wrote more than 100 articles in different literary journals in India and abroad. Among his books, Thomas Hardy’s View of Happiness, Some Problems of Translation: A Study of Tagore’s Red Oleanders, Indian Partition Fiction in English and in English Translation, etc.