Bapsi Sidhwa: author. essayist. playwright.

Book: Cracking India

Bapsi's Niece

Paperback: 296 pages
Publisher: Milkweed Editions
Date: January 23, 2006
ISBN-13: 9781571310484

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The 1947 Partition of India is the backdrop for this powerful novel, narrated by a precocious child who describes the brutal transition with chilling veracity. Young Lenny Sethi is kept out of school because she suffers from polio. She spends her days with Ayah, her beautiful nanny, visiting with the large group of admirers that Ayah draws. It is in the company of these working class characters that Lenny learns about religious differences, religious intolerance, and the blossoming genocidal strife on the eve of Partition. As she matures, Lenny begins to identify the differences between the Hindus, Moslems, and Sikhs engaging in political arguments all around her. Lenny enjoys a happy, privileged life in Lahore, but the kidnapping of her beloved Ayah signals a dramatic change. Soon Lenny’s world erupts in religious, ethnic, and racial violence. By turns hilarious and heartbreaking, the domestic drama serves as a microcosm for a profound political upheaval.

Also been published as Ice Candy Man. Film Earth was adapted from the novel. Earth won the Grand Prize at the Deauville Panasian Film Festival in France. The London magazine TIMEOUT hails Earth as one of the top ten films of 1999.

Ice-Candy-Man republished in England (June 2016) by Daunt Books.


I have many teachers. My cousin shows me things.

"You want to see my marbles?" he asks, and holds out the prettily coloured glass balls for me to admire and touch -- and if I so wish, to play with. He has just returned from Quetta where he had a hernia operation. "Let me show you my scar," he offers, unbuttoning his fly and exposing me to the glamorous spectacle of a stitched scar and a handful of genitals. He too has clever fingers. "You can touch it," he offers. His expression is disarming, gallant. I touch the fine scar and gingerly hold the genitals he transfers to my palm. We both study them. "I am also having my tonsils removed," he says. I hand back his genitals and look at his neck. I visualize a red, scalloped scar running from ear to ear. It is a premonition.

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Film Adaptation

Film Earth was adapted from the novel Cracking India (also titled Ice-Candy-Man) by Bapsi Sidhwa.

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  • 1991: Recipient of LiBeraturepreis for Ice-Candy-Man (Cracking India) in Germany
  • 1999: Cracking India was listed among the 200 best books in English by The Modern Library

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Study Guide

Download Cracking India Study Guide by Milkweed



Sara Suleri Goodyear, Professor of English Yale University
"The novel deftly makes the plight of Lenny’s maid, Ayah, the crux of the partition tale. The lovely and desirable Hindu Ayah becomes the victim of her religion, as the little child Rana becomes the victim of loss. In both cases, we read a testimonial, with the poignancy of loss presented to the reader with the chilling recital of fact."
Introduction by Sara Suleri Goodyear

Shashi Tharoor in New York Times Book Review:
"The author's capacity for bringing an assortment of characters vividly to life is enviable. Ice-Candy-Man is a novel in which heartbreak coexists with slapstick ... and jokes give way to lines of glowing beauty. In reducing the Partition to the perceptions of a polio-ridden child, a girl who tries to wrench out her tongue because it is unable to lie, Bapsi Sidhwa has given us a memorable book, one that confirms her reputation as Pakistan's finest English language novelist." (A New York Times Book Review Notable Book of the Year)

Richard Ryan in Washington Post, Book World:
"Bapsi Sidhwa has turned her gaze upon the domestic comedy of a Pakistani family in the 1940s and somehow managed to evoke the great political upheavals of the age ... and I am particularly touched by the way she has held the wicked world up to the mirror of a young girl's mind and caught so much that is lyrical and significant ... a mysterious and wonderful novel."

Marc Kaufman in Philadelphia Inquirer:
"Much has been written about the holocaust that followed the Partition of India in 1947. But seldom has that story been told as touchingly, as convincingly, or as horrifyingly as it has been by novelist Bapsi Sidhwa, seeing it through the eyes of young Lenny ... there is great humanity in this novel."

Deidre Donahue in USA Today:
"Bapsi Sidhwa's Ice-Candy-Man is like foraging through a tableful of discounted Swatch watches, and finding a gold illustrates the power of good fiction: a historical tragedy comes alive, yielding insight into both the past and the subcontinent's turbulent present."

Edward Hower in New York Newsday:
"Bapsi Sidhwa is a writer of enormous talent, capable of endowing small domestic occurrences with cosmic drama and rendering calamitous historical events with deeply felt personal meaning. Her Ice-Candy-Man is a lively, compelling novel, ambitiously conceived, skillfully plotted and beautifully written."

The Miami Herald:
"Set against the partition of India, this fast-paced, seriocomic saga tracks the daily peregrinations and capricious thoughts of Lenny who unwittingly learns that people and events are not as 'transparent' as she had thought "

J. Sudrann in Library Journal:
"The originality and power of Sidhwa's splendid novel on the partition of India and the subsequent communal violence derived from her choice of protagonist: Lenny, an eight-year-old Parsee girl from Lahore, a spectator living in the midst of, but apart from, the rising tensions among Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh ... Throughout, the novel sustains the vitality of Lenny's world with a series of wonderfully comic scenes. Highly recommended for all libraries."

Kirkus Reviews:
"Sidhwa's luminous present-tense prose, is laminated with the magic of childish wonder ... She manages to do justice to the complexity of racial, ethnic, and religious violence that accompanied the partitioning of India ... Richly layered, both realistic and magically evocative, as well as topical: a novel that brings to triumphant life in an India that 'has less to do with fate than with the will of men.'"

Peter Robertson Booklist:
"The novel's politics are effectively juxtaposed against a lush, sensual center, as the author's prose lingers on the hot, dry Lahore streets ... A novel to savor."

Publishers Weekly:
"Lenny's honesty is compelling, and the reader, like many in the story, cannot help but trust her. She is alternately thrilled and frightened by the events she dutifully records, and so, in the end, is the reader."

Carol Fleming Lumpkin in Houston Chronicle:
"Ice-Candy-Man is a multifaceted jewel of a novel. Lenny is as striking a creation as Harper Lee's Scout who plays a similar role in To Kill a Mockingbird ."

Dinyar Godrej in New Internationalist:
"Sidhwa is a superb storyteller, sprinkling the book with tersely-captured vignettes, which increasingly knit together into a story of passion and betrayal, 'the unscrupulous nature of desire' and 'the pitiless face of love'. It's a great, thronging bazaar of a book, bustling with riches."

Leslie Woolf Hedley in Bloomsbury Review:
"Sidhwa, a Parsee living in Pakistan, is a rarity even in swiftly-changing Asia -- a candid, forthright, balanced woman novelist. Her twentieth century view of Indian life can only be compared to V. S. Naipaul's. Sidhwa is among the most invigorating Indian writers."


Shirley Chew in Times Literary Supplement (TLS):
"Sidhwa's Ice-Candy Man, is a bold experiment in narrative strategies and time, in which the unspeakable horrors of communal violence are told mainly from a little girl's point of view."

Tariq Rehman in World Literature Today:
"Without a word of protestation or preaching and without histrionics, Sidhwa has written one of the most powerful indictments of the riots which occurred during the Partition."

Sylvia Clayton:
"In this rich, original novel Sidhwa contrives, without fake naivete, to tell the story through the eyes of a sharp, inquisitive 8 year old girl Lenny, who has a crippled foot and is cared for by a beautiful young Ayah. Lenny is established so firmly as a truthful witness that the mounting unease in Lahore, the riots, fires and brutal massacres become real through the child's experience. The colossal upheaval of partition, when cities were allotted to India or Pakistan like pieces on a chess-board, and their frightened inhabitants were often savagely uprooted, runs like an earth tremor through this thoughtful novel."

John Mellows in London Magazine:
"With skill and sympathy, and a delightful sense of humour, Bapsi Sidhwa shows the small girl Lenny growing up in comfort and tranquillity. The book's many characters all come to exuberant life, exhibiting the odd tastes and unpredictable behavior of real individuals."

Anatol Liven in The Literary Review:
"Sidhwa's Rabelaisian language and humour are enormously refreshing, especially in the context of modern Indian fiction, which has tended rather towards the prim and stilted. In Ice Candy Man, as in her previous novels, she succeeds in transmitting into English much of the spirit of Punjabi language and culture, which is nothing if not earthy. But her prose is also both delicate and precise in its imagery and descriptions, with words chosen as carefully as pieces of inlay in a marble wall."

The Oxford Companion To Twentieth-Century Literature in English:
"Like all Sidhwa's work, the novel contains a rich undercurrent of legend and folklore. It combines Sidhwa's affectionate admiration for her own community with a compassion for the dispossessed. Her own childhood memories give the novel further depth and resonance."

Elaine Feinstein in the London Times:
"Bapsi Sidhwa is new to me, and something of a discovery. She is writing here about the hatred and terror which accompanied the partition of the Indian subcontinent. The opening sections of the novel set a mood in which continuity is taken for granted, and unfamiliar terrain and complex social relationships are suffused with the melancholy charm of awakening sexuality.....The girl's beloved Ayah is a Hindu and it is one of the most poignant moments in the book when the girl, trusting the Ice-candy Man, betrays her hiding place. It is as if her childish innocence is as powerful as a devil, and she cannot help telling the truth."

"Ice Candy Man is extremely taut, highly sensitive and its heart-rending realism is best brought out with the familiar elements. The treatment, much to the fulfillment of the reader, is not only delightfully different but also inimitably exclusive.....Sidhwa's somewhat Joycian insight into child psychology and keen observation of child behavior is what makes the book so compelling and virtually unputdownable."

Weekly Mail:
"The brilliantly created Indian characters in this novel are made with a real face, that turns at times into a mask of horror and others into a peal of laughter.....Of all the marvelous people brought to life in this novel there is one who signifies resistance to change and used the chaos around him for his own malicious ends. And so in the end there is one person who comes out unscathed and no wiser from the brutal pain of Indian independence: Ice-Candy-Man."

Third World Quarterly:
"As the ambiguities and contradictions residing in the political situation in the Punjab are explored in the course of Lenny's narrative, so examples multiply of Sidhwa's talent for fusing broad humor and trenchant criticism, concrete observation and imaginative insight, the realities of everyday existence and the abstractions of politics and religion."

"The novel is about the slow awaking of the child heroine both to sexuality and grown-up pains and pleasures and to the particular historical disaster that overwhelm her world... compulsively readable."

The Times:
"A powerful and dramatic novelist."

New Statesman:
"An affectionate and shrewd observer... a born storyteller."

Irish Times:
"A fluent, fast moving narrative of wit and wisdom."

New Statesman:
"A born storyteller, an affectionate, shrewd observer... she writes with authority and flair."


Madhu Jain in India Today:
"Sidhwa's humor comes in pungent one-liners and her style is highly visual."

Khushwant Singh in The Tribune:
"Ice-Candy-Man deserves to be ranked as amongst the most authentic and best on the partition of India ... Sidhwa has blossomed into Pakistani's best writer of fiction in English."

Githa Hariharan in Economic Times:
"Sidhwa captures the turmoil of the times, with a brilliant combination of individual growing-up pains and the collective anguish of a newly independent but divided country. Sidhwa's work - particularly the dehumanizing effects of communalism she movingly reveals in Ice-Candy-Man - is painfully relevant to our present day India."

Geeta Doctor in Parsiana:
"Sidhwa's evocation of a Lahore childhood, seen through the eyes of a precocious child called Lenny, is as sweet and enticing as the popsicles that the hero of her novel sells. It is a passionate account of Partition told through the cooling mists of Parsee humor."

Khushwant Singh:
"Bapsi Sidhwa has blossomed into Pakistan's best writer of fiction in English. (Ice-Candy-Man) is much the most sensitively written, comic-tragic account of how a little girl aged four saw relationships between Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs slowly turn sour and then by the time she was eight, erupt into a pillage and mass slaughter of innocents on either side. Ice-Candy-Man deserves to be ranked as amongst the most authentic and best on the partition of India."


Anita Desai in Dawn and Milkweed:
"Bapsi Sidhwa deals with the partition of India, a subject as harrowing as the Holocaust. Before our disbelieving eyes, she performs the remarkable feat of bringing together the ribald farce of Parsee family life and the stark drama and horrors of the riots and massacres of 1947.

"She has achieved the impossible through one masterly stroke, creating a child's world of home and games in the park amidst a motley company. At the center of this world is the child, Lenny. For all that she bears the bitter burden of history on her eight-year-old shoulders, Lenny is not allowed to become merely the embodiment of an abstract idea. Sidhwa's triumph lies in creating characters so rich in hilarious and accurate detail, so alive and active, that long after one has closed the book, they continue to perform their extraordinary and wonderful feats before our eyes."

SHE magazine:
"If you wish to relive the Lahore of the '40s and '50s, go no further. In Ice-Candy-Man the tale is told with skill and craftsmanship unrivaled in the Sub-continent."


(Published by Picador in London June 1999)

Bapsi Sidhwa - Ice-Candy-Man
From the lap of her beautiful Ayah, or clutching her skirts as Ayah is pursued by her suitors through the fountains, cypresses and marble terraces of the Shalimar Gardens, little Lenny observes the clamorous horrors of Partition. It is 1947. Lenny lives in Lahore, in the bosom of her extended Parsee family: Mother, Father, Brother Adi, Cousin, Electric-Aunt, Godmother and Slavesister. Working for them, or panting after Ayah, are Butcher, the puny Sikh zoo attendant, the Government House gardener, the favoured Masseur, the restaurant-owning wrestler and the shady Ice-Candy-Man - Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Hindus, friends and neighbors - until their ribald, everyday world disintegrates before the violence of religious hatred.

No other novel catches as this one does India’s centuries-old ways of living with religious difference before Partition. Lenny is inquisitive and notices everything: clothes, smells colour, the patina of skin, sex everywhere, and eyes - olive-oil-coloured, sly eyes, fearful eyes. In writing which is often lyrical, always tender and clever, with a nuance here, a touch there, Sidhwa shows us the seedbed of the Partition massacres - an abused Untouchable, the ritual disemboweling of a goat, a priest shuddering over the hand of a menstruating woman. This laughing, gentle tale, told through the eyes of innocence, is a testament to savage loss, and a brilliant evocation of the prowling roots of religious intolerance.

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