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Bapsi Sidhwa has been acclaimed as a feminist post-colonial writer who deliberates the issues of cultural difference and the status of women in Indian and Pakistani society. She is a feminist and realist. One comes across in her women characters the intensity of emotion, the gentleness of love and boldness of one’s beliefs. They grapple to overcome the woes of time and escape from the shackles of fate in whose hands they are often mere puppets. Sidhwa’s women ultimately emerge victorious in their struggle for survival and honour.
The Ice-Candy-Man is a kind of feminist discourse set in the backdrop of partition. The story is narrated through an eight year old crippled girl, living in the thick of, from the rising restlessness among the Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs during the Partition of the Indian sub-continent. The central character of the novel is an eight year old girl named, Lenny, with a crippled leg.
The novel encompasses several female characters with different dispositions.
The novel is a chronicle of partition that examines the issues of socio political environment and the impact of this environment on the lives of people and how it leads to the ruin of partition victim Ayah and the way she encounters ordeals and sufferings. The women were ruthlessly abused and left morally and physically wounded and the men decapitated or inhumanly murdered. Bapsi Sidhwa observes the victimization of women in society and gives equal space to communal violence on both sides of the indo-Pakistan border.
The pathetic fate of Lenny’s ayah in the midst of Lahore’s communal hysteria, the stories of rape victims, the portrayal of Lahore’s red light area, the Hira Mandi where women venture out on the streets at three o’clock in the evening as if they have just stepped out of their bed, amongst the half-naked men at flower stalls and hawkers crudely joking at them; and the sad incident of child marriage of her servant’s ill-treated adolescent daughter Papoo, who is deliberately given in marriage to an elderly and cynical dwarf, who come to know of his own marriage in a delirious condition, and is left in a state of stupefaction throughout the overbearing incident; are all entwined into the narrative to make an appalling account t of women’s lives.
Sidhwa highlighted incidents of rape and violence that was unleashed on women in the wake of partition. They are always tormented by men and Sidhwa has lent a feminist touch to her character that moves forward inspite of several obstacles. Sidhwa discerns that women in patriarchal society are beset with several limitations and constraints. She asserts that women are left to live on the periphery and are deprived of their rightful equal position with that of men.
Lenny’s mother is typical of a traditional, serving wife. Marriage is followed by displacement for a woman where she has to adjust with new a new space and culture. Women are compelled to give birth to baby boys. The novel plays a significant role in Bapsi’s oeuvre interweaving her Pakistani identity, with her Parsi roots, lending voice to the vital issues in her work: the destiny of the bereaved and wretched of the earth; the assault of vengeance and violence to which the women of rival communities are exposed to at the hand of religion and nation. It also presents the Parsis’ moral stand when encountered with the religious and racial preidicaments of their Muslim, Sikh and Hindu neighbours. Lenny’s mother and electric-aunt are engaged in guiding the refugees from India and those leaving Lahore, by furnishing them with illegal ration petrol and other facilities, and saving abducted women and uniting them with their families or sending them to the Recovered Women’s Camps. The kidnap of Ayah leaves them confounded; however, they continue the job of tracing her, in whatever position, and rehabilitating her.
The study of Ice-Candy-Man reveals the fact that women characters are intense and forceful and can lead an independent life. They are not subdued. In the male-dominated society, females are treated as second rate citizens. All the virtues are attributed to males whereas imperfections with females. On the contrary, in Ice Candy Man female characters represent all the strong qualities. The central character of the novel is a young girl, who is disabled. Through this character, Bapsi proceeds to prove that women can be resourceful despite their disabilities. She authors the story of partition. It is usually assumed that writing is typical of males, on the other hand, women have to confine themselves to the household tasks. Sidhwa accords more importance to the feminine viewpoint by making Lenny, the narrator. Simon de Beauvoir observes that mothers should be held responsible for infusing a feeling of meekness in women.
Lenny understands that marriage of a girl is the primary duty of the parents. Freedom and individualism are synonymous to men. As a child, she is brought up in the shade of her mother’s affection and father’s protection but the story of Ice CAndhy Man’s love for Ayah shatters her notion of love. The confrontation of Godmother and Ice Candy Man makes her realize the perceptiveness of truth and tolerance. She notices women being sexually assaulted and men behaving like animals. Women including Ayah fall a victim to men. Lenny was horrified to find the human mind amoral. Men exercised their superiority by physically attacking women. Though Sidhwa employs the medium of English in writing, she succeeds in giving voice to the marginalized sections of human society, by challenging the histories and presumptions of modern Pakistani society and presenting an opposing-voice to the authoritative patriarchal narrative which has muffled women’s voice to a great extent.
Yet, her severe attack on a range of widespread views is tempered by her direct and sardonic humor. She uses it as an instrument to denounce without causing much resentment in her novels. Sidhwa presents an unconventional stance to the dominant narrative by unsettling the roles given to female characters, thus reconstructing women’s understanding of history and belonging. Her women characters reject to accept the traditional roles allotted to them by the conventional society. Sidhwa expresses the agony and exploitation experienced by the victims with regard to modesty and integrity, who are left to suffer in silence and whose outcry is ignored. In the colonial context, women symbolizes both her power and weakness at the same time mustering and enfeebling her ambit of control.
The support for women education and freedom were based on the argument that educated women make better wives and mothers; nevertheless are always reminded that they are not supposed to cross their boundaries and seize power from men. The implication is that the lot of women should be educated but should be protected from becoming ‘decultured,’ as an outcome of too much education. The patriarchal notion of men controlling and looking after the family was copied by the colonial state which modeled itself to seemingly serving the colonized subject. But now the domestic lexicon stretched beyond the association between the state and subject, it undertook the responsibility of voicing racial and cultural connections as well. The colonizer became a patriarchal archetype undertaking the duty of protecting the backward, rudimentary, unruly civilization. The colonizer takes the central position and the colonized man held the need to proclaim and reinforce his power within the domestic lexicon. This ensued women to renew their acquiescence, even though she was allowed limited freedom and education. It is at this point that her silence becomes obvious.
One of the highly discussed issues of post-colonial theory is the practice of ‘sati,’ the custom of the immolation of the widow in her husband’s pyre, in the traditional patriarchal society. Though the debate centers round the woman, there is no place for her individuality – the widow herself is not considered, her suffering and affliction. Inspite of their disparities and mutual enmity, the colonial and native patriarchies conspired together to allot a ‘place’ to native women whose possibility of liberty alarmed them. Those who ventured to violate the codes of suppression were targeted and ultimately silenced. The lack of ‘space’ to express her opinions is due to the subservient position she holds in the patriarchal society. She finds it difficult to go against the social stratum which rules the system.
The secondary position of women to men in all aspects of life in a predominant patriarchal civilization is typical feature which results from a female embodiment of the male dominance. Over the years, the feminine in society has come to be associated as docile, non-resistant, reticent, sensitive and traditional. Such ideas are augmented in the insignificant and subservient descriptions of women, in esteemed writings in literature, supplementing men’s wishes and endeavours. Such works indirectly addressed to male readers, seek women to discern against themselves, making her ‘the other,’ an ‘inside outsider much similar to the colonial subjugation of the man on the sub-continent. Sidhwa’s women characters in The Crow Eaters, The Bride and The Ice-Candy-Man are all traditional figures of compliant nature.
However, she is meticulous to sketch an extension and fulfillment of their rights as residents of a common planet. Thus, Sidhwa has underscored the process of change that has already been initiated round the globe in an attempt to affirm women’s rights and position through The Ice-Candy-Man. Though the Ice-Candy-Man appears to be male-oriented, the novel discusses women’s lives presented through a woman’s perspective.
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