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ISSN: 0974-892X


Jul '19 & Jan '20



Lenny’s self-alienation under partition discourse in Bapsi Sidhwa’s Ice Candy Man

Dipasree Roy, Department of English, Contractual Whole-Time Teacher, Dum Dum Motijheel Rabindra Mahavidyalaya



Ice Candy Man is Bapsi Sidhwa’s attempt in presenting the journey of Parsee girl with her inabilities and physical weakness to fight the atrocious war of partition. Using Lacanian psychoanalysis as a major tool I shall delineate how Lenny strives to establish her subjective identity even under the threat of partition discourse. Apart from Lenny it is also an authoritative text where Sidhwa being a Parsee co-relates with the character of Lenny. In relating with Lenny she sublimates her constant threat of castration evolved from the patriarchal system, both as a female author and belonging from a subaltern community.

Keywords: Partition, Patriarchal system, castration, subaltern.


In a male dominated society where the entire population of the Indian sub-continent is going hay way under the harrowing shadow of partition Bapsi Sidhwa gives us an original and often gruesome story narrated from the experience of an eight year old Lenny in her most celebrated works Ice Candy Man. Sidhwa belongs to the Parsee Community, her experiences, traumas of belonging to a minority community has overshadowed the novel. Sidhwa’s characterisation of Lenny is often found similar to her own self. The novel is set on the backdrop of 1947 partition. Sidhwa lived in Lahore with her parents and she sets her novel on the sufferings and trauma of each individual living in Lahore in 1947. The Hindus and Muslims were fighting on making Lahore their own, the Hindus wanted it to be in India and the Muslims wanted it to be a part of Pakistan. Sidhwa in one of her interview with Alok Bhalla points out that the Muslims of Lahore wanted the Hindus to vacate not because of some communal tension but because they thought that they could take away the market and replace the Hindu ‘baniyas’1, it was majorly greed that contributed for the division. But in all this fight the Parsees took a neutral side, neither did they support the Hindus nor the Muslims. Bapsi Sidhwa was born in Lahore, then in India but the partitioning generated a diaspora, post 1947 she became a part of Pakistan, later in her life she shifted in the USA as a part of Western diaspora. Ice Candy Man is Sidhwa’s attempt to present the situation that the Parsees faced during the partition, but her characters belong to different religions and cultures. Her narrator Lenny grows up in an atmosphere of hidden hostilities. Sidhwa remembers2 as a child she was never a part of any communal discussion, but she overheard few such heated conversations in her house. Even the burning of Shalmi in 1947, as presented in her novel was a real event; she has found that the burning took place not because Shalmi had only Hindus nor was the city walled with Muslims, rather she finds that: “Hindus and Muslims were distributed across the city so as to form a mosaic” (Bhalla,225). Further she admits that this burning, greed, trauma and violence must have been experienced by the people of East Punjab and Delhi.

Sidhwa’s novel Ice Candy Man has been a multifaceted one, with various intermixing of voice, communities and culture. Ice Candy Man with the singular voice ofLenny constructs a diaspora not only outside but within each mind. Lenny is an eight year old girl who passively observes and delineates the story in her own way. Lenny’s journey is not easy one, she belongs to the Parsee community, she is born in the atrocious times of partition, adding to it is her polio that has affected her leg and made it crippled. In the beginning of the novel she being affected by polio is under the treatment of Col. Bharucha who has plastered her leg with hot mould, due to which she is all in pain. Her crippled leg stands as the metaphor for the Parsee community. Polio cripples the children of their natural ability to walk leaving them handicapped all their life. Parsees can be seen in the same light. The Parsees were conquered by the new Islamic powers and Iran came under the new rule forcing the Parsees to leave their own country and settle to India and other places in the world. Polio is a dangerous virus brought by the British as Col. Bharucha quotes in the novel: “If anyone’s to blame, blame the British! There was no polio in India till they brought it here!” (Ice Candy Man, 16). Thus Parsees remain crippled and dominated forever by the foreign forces that lead to the continuous diasporic experiences. Through the passive observance of Lenny, Sidhwa voices the subaltern community of Parsees, the women under partition as well as the children and their development under the communal violence. This chapter concentrates on the character of Lenny both as a narrator and character as presented by Sidhwa. Lenny’s journey in the novel can be seen under the light of psychoanalysis. Lenny being a girl in her formative years encounters both threats of being a girl as well as being under partition. According to Jacques Lacan growing up of a child into an adult involves the process of subject formation, the formation of the ego under the constant vigilance of the superego. In order to become the subject Lacan considers one has to undergo a series of inevitable loses. Lenny being a girl experiences similar loses in repetitive order, her lack of being a normal child makes her a castrate, later her ayah, Shanti leaves her which comes as a shock of her life and after that she falls under a direct gaze of her cousin. But all these events come with a greater castration reality for Lenny and moreover for Sidhwa, both belonging to Parsee community which has previously suffered the same fate.

Lenny and her misrecognition:
According to Karen Coats children realises even before they learn to talk, that speech act or the acquisition of language will give them complete mastery and power over an object. From this point the child strives to enter into the symbolic world of the ‘big Other’, as Lacan says that “desire is the desire of the other”3. The child wants his/her own identity, to have an “I”. In attaining this subjectivity the child loses its Real or “pure life instinct”. But the subject further seeks in order to recover its desire and thus he formulates an other- the lack that will contribute to its wholeness. This Lacan termed as the ‘object petit a’. Lenny’s journey encompasses a similar situation- that she is weak and has polio act both as her fear (the lack) and desire. At one time she found her lack of being normal to be quiet enjoyable. The attention she drew from her parents or even the visitors who consoled her were something she cherished. She found it much pleasurable as unlike the other children she would not be forced to be a good student- she admits- “so far I’ve been spared the idiocy- I am by nature uncompetitive- but the sudden emergence from its cocoon of a beautifully balanced and shapely foot could put my sanguine personality and situation on the line.”(Ice Candy Man, 9). She recognises herself to be different from other; her subjective identity is born out of this lack, she desires to remain in that state as long as possible. But this objective understanding of her lack rolls over. In Lucy Irrigary’s most celebrated work Speculum of the Other Women she points out that a little girl behaves in similarity with a little boy, keeping this view in mind we can delineate Lenny’s behaviour. Lenny too feels a similar lack as she too perseveres to enter the ‘big other’. 

Zizek further appropriates the vision by adding: “We mistake for postponement of the “thing itself”, we mistake for the searching and indecision proper to desire what is in fact, the realisation of desire. That is to say the realization of desire does not consist in its being “fulfilled”, “fully satisfied, it consists rather with the reproduction of desire as such, with its circular movement.”(Zizek, 7). Lenny’s desire for the other to rolls lopsidedly off in the opposite direction. Lenny slowly objectivises her lack in the form of her 18 year old ayah, Shanti. It is through her that she realises her wholeness- her lack of being a perfect lady is fulfilled by Shanti. Lenny’s observation primarily starts with Shanti’s admiring beauty, but this admiration makes Shanti the object of male desire. Lenny’s visit to the park with Shanti is always surrounded by various men belonging to various working culture. Each of them admires Shanti, specially Ice Candy Man and the Masseur. Lenny in connecting herself to Shanti is in a state of misrecognition, without her realisation she slowly transforms her objective gaze into a subjective identity. She blurs the distinction of the self and the object and Shanti becomes her alter ego. This is the point of time when she is both in desire of the object and in desire to be desire of the object- her ego-ideal and Ideal-ego is fused into a single identity. Lenny reaches its final momentum when her ayah decides to leave Lahore and go to Amritsar with the Masseur. Lenny in fits of anger starts crying and kicking the masseur as she finds Masseur the reason behind his alienation from ayah, she screams saying: “I don’t want another ayah...I will never let another ayah touch me!”, then she starts sobbing and kissing ayah; “wherever Masseur is not touching her in the dark”(Ice Candy Man, 158).

Lenny under Symbolic Castration:
In creating Lenny’s subjective identity she has to face much brutality in a very small age. Lenny encounters the burning in Shalmi, standing up in the roof of Ice Candy Man she could view the houses being burned down. one of the most atrocious vision she came across was the tearing down of a man as she narrates vividly the brutality that partition encounters: “My eyes focus on an emaciated Banya wearing a white Gandhi cap...The men move back and in the small clearing I see his legs sticking out of his dhoti right up to the groin – each thin, brown leg tied to a jeep.”(Ice Candy Man, 135).  This incident had a gruesome effect on the little girl; later in the novel she tears apart a life like doll with the help of Adi. This repetition of the same act shows how much agony is troubling her mind. Both the incidents surrounding Lenny is a metaphorical way of presenting how much pain each individual must have suffered when the country was partitioned as Gyanendra Pandey observes in Remembering Partition that: “it amounted to a sundering, a whole new beginning and thus, a radical reconstitution of community and history’ (Pandey,  7). Lenny’s development has to bear equal pain and sundering, the internal agony splits her being leaving her as lonely as ever.

Lenny’s subjective identity suffers as Lahore is declared as the part of Pakistan and the Hindus are now endangered. The irony of the situation grows intense when Jinnah declares as Lenny and her cousin listens in the radio: “You are free. You are free to go to your temples. You are free to go to your mosques. . . . You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the State . . . Pakistan Zindabad!’ (Ice Candy Man, 144). With the declaration of a new nation everything started changing for Lenny. Her ayah who was supposed to flee to Amritsar with had a set back with the death of the Masseur. Soon a mob proceeded to the house of Lenny, they asked for the Hindu ayah but they were informed that she has departed to Amritsar the night before. It is only with the arrival of the Ice Candy Man that Lenny was reassured that things will take its normal course and they will be saved from the angry mob. But this is the time when she faces the final blow of the ‘big other’, her notion of that things are the same as they were earlier is crashed with a blow. She is taken into confidence by the Ice Candy Man and friendly look of the man compelled her to speak the truth that ayah was inside the house, within a few second the friendly look of the candy man changed into hostility and Lenny realized that her misinterpretation of the looks of the candy man has caused a blunder. Thus her inability to realize the true import of the ‘big other’, leads to the greatest disaster in her life. Her ayah was dragged out by the mob relentlessly as she narrates: “The men drag her in grotesque strides to the cart and their harsh hands, supporting her with careless intimacy, lift her into it.”(Ice Candy Man, 183). After this incident Lenny had cursed herself, she being only a child never realized what could be the result of an ignorant truth. Lenny now stands guilt driven, she holds herself entirely guilty of ayah’s abduction. She says: “For three days I stand in front of the bathroom mirror staring at my tongue. I hold the vile, truth-infected thing and slick as a fish it slips from my fingers and mocks me with its sharp rapier tip darting as poisonous as a snake. I punish it with rigorous scourings from my prickling toothbrush until it is sore and bleeding.”(Ice Candy Man, 184). Lenny is struck under the signifier of language, language as a mediator of meaning always suffers the gap between the signifier and the signified. This is the truth of symbolic castration and Lenny fall victim to it.  

Sublimation of Bapsi Sidhwa’s authorial other in Lenny:
Bapsi Sidhwa in writing the novel and drawing the character of Lenny establishes a new identity both as author and as women. Sidhwa’s childhood memories are akin to the incidents faced by Lenny. Julia Kristeva in her essay Powers of Horror states that sublimation is a process of negotiating the authorial angst born from the deep scars of one’s childhood. Bapsi Sidhwa has experienced such disheartening pain and agony of partition that her artistic endeavour works as the only mediator in mediating her pains. It is this “artistic endeavour”, that the artist with his creativity can transform the Freudian ‘death drive’ into the poetic language. Lenny’s dream of the Nazi’s approaching towards her house to break asunder is a clear evidence of Sidhwa’s inherent fear, her troubled alienating self. She belonged to a community that has already encountered such separation and the repetition of the similar threat must have been equally agonized her mind with the fear of locating herself into some identity. We belong to a monolithic structure of society, the symbolic order forces every individual to remain in a structure, yet the same big Other castrates us to an endangered existence. Such is the import of the patriarchal order. Lenny stands as her mirror image, her agony of remaining under the patriarchal order shapes into a novel. Writing is the only way that Sidhwa enters the realm of symbolic. Language is her weapon that will negotiate her pangs of belonging to a subaltern class. Sidhwa takes the dominant position and colonises the male centred writing through her authorial stance. It is through the character of Lenny that she tries to save her death in the symbolic order. The authority over the partition discourse in the form of the novel will ensure her an escape from the death drive.

Ice Candy Man stands for the narratorial voice of Lenny who becomes the voice of not only Women but also the children, her role is doubly bound. She is a representative of Parsee diaspora as well as the authorial voice. The novel is multifacetous with the portrayal of people from all the castes and the women who are victims of the partition or the women who are victims of the very social system. Lenny is only a child who strives to understand the true meaning of partition, though her understanding of the birth of a new nation is not clear enough. Her misinterpretation of this fact is what results into her tearing of the doll. Her failure to save her own ayah too works as a force in realizing her weaknesses. The novelist and the narrator both suffer the angst of searching a singular identity, their lack of establishing one is the resultant of the partition discourse. Apart from the problem of identity the complete meaning of nationalism and daispora too remains unknown, Sidhwa criticizes the fact that partition is not only a communal conflict; it is a war to cleanse the minority population4. Thus a process to establish a monolithic culture, free from the difference of ethnicity, a world of sameness yet the fear to become hybrids.

End Notes:



Works Cited

Bhalla, Alok. Partition Dialogues: Memory of a Lost Home. New Delhi: OUP 2007.

Coats, Karen. Looking Glasses and Neverlands: Lacan, Desire and Subjectivity in Children’s Literature. Iowa City, IA: University of Iowa Press 2004.

Kristeva, Julia. Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection. Trans. Leon S. Roudiez (ed.), Trans Roudiez, Thoma Gora et al. Oxford: Blackwell 1980.

Pandey, Gyanendra. Remembering partition: violence, nationalism and history in India. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2001.

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

Zizek, Slavoj. How to Read Lacan. New York: W.W.Norton and Company 2007.