In 2000, one of the few films that moved me to tears was Deepa Mehta's "1947 : Earth" Coming from the South of the Vindhya's, the Partition was something mentioned in passing in text books. We did not know any affected families and hardly anyone down South spoke about this bloody episode in India and Pakistan's shared past.
According to Richard Symonds 1950, The Making of Pakistan, London, ASIN B0000CHMB1, p 74 "at the lowest estimate, half a million people perished and twelve million became homeless"
"1947 : Earth" brought this part of our history to life and I wanted to read the book which spawned the movie. (Everyone knows that books are better than the movies they inspire) This was on my "To Read" list for almost 4 years before I bought the book and it took me another 3 years to read it. Even reading the book itself took over a month, because it induced strong feelings of despondency, depression and immense sorrow.
The problem with history books is that they tend to dehumanize history, apart from the fact that history is interpreted by the writer for his/her own convenience. Bapsi Sidhwa's - Ice Candy Man manages to avoid both these cons. The story is semi fictional but it is also based on her own experience and that of Rana Khan.
The entire story is told through the eyes of Lenny Sethi (Sethna in the movie) from the time she is 7 to early teenage. Lenny is a Parsi girl. Her religion and age does play a pivotal part in the story telling because most of the events around her do not affect her or her immediate family directly, although it affects the lives of everyone else around her. As Ralph Crane puts it "It may be that the atrocities of 1947 are best seen through the innocent naive eyes of a child, who has no Hindu, Muslim or Sikh axe to grind. . . Lenny is free both from the prejudices of religion and from the prejudices against women and the constraints she will be subject to as she grows older."
Lenny's naivety is brought home often, like when she comes to know that her mother and Electric aunt are acquiring petrol and immediately jumps to the conclusion that they are the ones responsible for setting all the fires in Lahore.
Sidhwa's characters are extremely well etched from Ayah, to masseur, to Ice Candy man, to Imam Din to Mucho, to cousin, to Godmother to Hari (later Himmat Ali). All these characters play an important part in Lenny's life. Each of their religions takes centre stage as matters escalate. And the rich detailing of each character makes the reader commiserate with the plight of each of the "victims".
Her imagery is excellent and brings each scene to life. Visualising Rahul Khanna, Nandita Das and Aamir Khan in the roles of Masseur, Ayah and Ice Candy man simply helped the process.
An extremely touching and poignant story. Khushwant Singh (A Partition survivor himself) says this book deserves to be ranked amongst the most authentic and best books on the partition.
I would highly recommend this book to everyone. It would help one start to comprehend at what cost our Independence was achieved and August 14th/15th can no longer be viewed by most as "just another dry day"
Also published at DesiCritics