Posted by: gdevi | September 29, 2011

English 328, Ice-Candy Man Study Notes

English 328

Dr. Devi

Bapsi Sidhwa, Ice-Candy Man (1988)

Study Notes

One of Pakistan’s leading diasporic writers, Bapsi Sidhwa was nine years old at the time of the partition of the Indian subcontinent into India, Pakistan, and East Pakistan (later Bangladesh) in 1947. Like Lenny Sethi, the child protagonist of IceCandy Man, Sidhwa was also troubled by polio as a child, though she went on to complete her education from Kinnaird College for Women in Lahore, Pakistan. Married at nineteen and with three small children, Sidhwa was an active spokesperson for women’s rights, and represented Pakistan in the Asian Women’s Congress in 1975. Sidhwa’s other novels include The Crow Eaters, The Bride, and An American Brat, the last novel an exploration of the Pakistani diasporic experience in the Unites States, where she currently resides. Sidhwa’s literary accolades include the highest national honor for arts in Pakistan, Sitari-i-Imtiaz (1991), and the Patras Bokhri award for The Bride (1985). She is also the recipient of the National Endowment of the Arts grant (1986, 1987), Bunting Fellowship from Harvard, Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Award, Bellagio Fellow in Italy, and the Premio Mondello award from the Italian government. Sidhwa’s works have been translated into Russian, French and German. Sidhwa has been a writer-in-residence and teacher at Mount Holyoke College, Rice University, the University of Texas, and Columbia University.

Zoroastrianism/ Parsis

Parsis (from Pars, or Persia, Iran) follow the teachings of their spiritual leader Zoroaster (Zarathushtra), who founded the religion in Iran between 7-6 BCE. One of the oldest Indo-Iranian religions, Zoroastrians worship an invisible god, Ahura Mazda, who though unmanifest in the world, is represented through fire and light, the source of goodness. Zoroastrianism was the main religion in Iran before it fell into disintegration and non-practice when Iran was first conquered by Alexander III of Macedon, and later on with the Arab conquest of Iran in 7 AD. Parsis, worldwide number about 100, 000 with the majority of Parsis living in India and Pakistan. Parsis first arrived in India in the port of Diu on the western coast after the Arab conquest of Iran. As the Parsi elders recount it in Ice-Candy Man, they asked the Indian king if they could land ashore, and the Indian king sent them back a glass of milk, indicating that India was a prosperous and homogenous culture and did not want any outsiders. The leader of the Parsis then stirred a spoonful of sugar into the milk and sent it back to the Indian king, signaling that Parsis would blend with India, the way sugar blends and sweetens milk. The Indian king invited them to stay, the story goes, and the early Parsi settlements were established in the state of Gujarat. As promised to the Indian king, Parsis do not proselytize, nor can you enter the religion or community through conversion. You have to be born a Parsi.

As a Parsi, Sidhwa was afforded an unique perspective into the Hindu-Muslim riots of the Partition that mutilated her hometown Lahore and its people. One of the leading motifs in the novel is the concept of Parsi “neutrality”; if your community is not directly part of the conflict, what is your role? What is your responsibility to your neighbors? As you can tell from the novel, Sidhwa answers this question with an existential finality through the larger-than-life character in the figure of Lenny’s godmother who singlehandedly rescues the beautiful Ayah from the brothel where the riots deposit her. You can’t remain neutral on a moving train.

Here are study questions to keep in mind as you work through the novel:

  1. How do nationalist movements produce particular gender-specific violence against women? Discuss with examples from the text.
  2. How does the novel portray the relationships between the various women characters? How do the women characters negotiate their power and powerlessness in the midst of the war? How do the roles of women change? Discuss with examples from the text.
  3. What role does social class play in the changing roles and responsibilities of women during war time? Do all women experience war conflict the same way and to the same degree? Discuss with examples from the text.
  4. What is the thematic significance of the story of Papoo’s child marriage to the main narrative about the war?
  5. What are the direct and indirect ways in which war creates disruptive violence in the lives of women and civilians in general? Discuss with examples from the text.
  6. p. 252: “The confrontation between Ice-Candy Man and Godmother opened my eyes to the wisdom of righteous indignation over compassion. To the demands of gratification—and the unscrupulous nature of desire. To the pitiless face of love.” In a novel largely concerned with war, this novel is also about the destructive and creative dimensions of love.   Discuss the various love relationships explored in the novel, between masters and servants, parents and children, and men and women. What are the thematic, political and gendered implications of the Ayah’s firm rejection of the Ice-Candy Man?
  7. What is the narrative, thematic and political significance of the role of the Godmother in this novel? Discuss with examples from the text.
  8. What is the political significance of the points-of-views used to narrate this story—that of a child, that of servants?
  9. What role do particular religions play in the novel? How does Sidhwa present the various mystic poets extensively quoted by the Ice-Candy Man?
  10. How do the personal and the political intersect within the plot structure of Ice-Candy Man?

Continue reading. We finish the novel on Tuesday. I am at a Women’s Studies Coordinator’s meeting at IUP all day Friday. If you have any questions, please wait till Monday to check with me. Thanks.


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