Representation of Partition of India in Sunlight on a Broken Column, Ice-Candy Man, and 1947 Earth

Last Updated: 17 Apr 2020
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Partition of India, which is almost overlooked in traditional historiography with India’s Independence and Birth of Pakistan, led to one of the largest and bloodiest migrations in the history of the world. Sunlight on a Broken Column, Ice-Candy Man and 1947 Earth are all set in the same time p and portray Partition in quite different ways. Different as in not only different from each other, but also different, more significantly, from the way it is portrayed in traditional historiography. Traditional historiography merely gives facts and figures without examining all its social, political, economical, cultural and psychological effects.

Also, it is largely governed by national biases and hence, tends to sweeps under the carpet anything that projects a negative image of the nation or raises a finger at its pet ideologies. Hence, it not only fails to give a true picture but is also, incapable of examining “why? ” or linking the past with the present as in bringing out the relevance of it as of now. The above three texts, to a lesser or greater extent do precisely that, as in question the traditional historiography. And, I think that’s where their merits lie.

Sunlight on a Broken Column which focuses chiefly on how it was an era of changes and change whether it be for good or for bad cannot occur without pain examines the causes of partition most effectively. Not only was it the end of colonial rule, resulting into a power struggle between Hindus and Muslims (with Muslims having ruled over India for centuries before British and the Hindu dominated Congress gaining power after them) but, it also marked the end of feudalism which is very significant as in it brings to light the power struggle that occurred amongst Hindus and Muslims themselves.

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A society based on class (feudal lords) was being replaced to that governed by caste (Congress, Muslim league). That is, change or reversal of Power roles occurred not just at a political level between Hindus and Muslims or British and Indians (as in colonial India) but, also at a social level amongst the Hindus as well as amongst the Muslims themselves. To quote from the text: “For times had changed sadly since the integration of the Princely States, and Their Highnesses were left with itles, no states, reduced incomes and unchanged habits and tastes, To play polo, entertain, race, drink, flirt or fornicate with the proper air of aristocratic nonchalance needed co-operation between those who had the means and those who had the titles. ” Also, psychologically, it brings out the conflict between modernity and tradition as in the Laila, "I felt I lived in two worlds; an observer in an outside world, and solitary in my own….

Because on one hand was the very strong urge to cling to all that was Indian as in not imported or forced on by the British while, on the other hand was the need and desire to break free from the old, rotten customs. Or in other words, an individual’s cultural identity was being questioned. Which, on summing up gives a very different cause of the riots and the massacre, as in it was “A resistance to change that changed everything”.

That is, contrary to what we would like to believe, British might be one of the several reasons but, they are certainly not the only ones to blame. The causes were manifold and lay very much within India. Divide and rule policy of British was not the only reason. This fact is also brought out through Saleem’s character in the text. Saleem believed and blamed the divide and rule policy of British initially but, later his opinions changed he blamed the Congress leaders (very much Indian! ) instead and himself become a supporter of the Muslim League.

Partition did not occur all of a sudden but, it was a gradual process that occurred at all levels, most importantly, inside the minds of people! Talking about the implications, it happens to be the only text among the all three which talks of breaking up of families (or partition within them) due to the geographical partition of India. It also brings out the economical implication as in loss of property due to evacuee property being allotted to refugees by having to not only move out of the old zenana but, also sell it and the bitterness caused in Aunt Siara because of it.

Besides, by writing about the partition chiefly in the last section as a retrospect which has a very strong sense of nostalgia running through it she emphasizes the fact that the past won’t ever return but, won’t ever be forgotten as it’s effects are everlasting and especially for those who suffered in partition (loss of near and dear ones etc) tomorrows will always be yesterdays. But, on the negative side it is very much a Pro India, Pro Gandhi novel, a very very strongly biased text. For eg, it kind of patronizes the Muslims who stayed in India while, calling those who left “traitors”.

Also, the novel manipulates the readers’ sympathies towards the characters very effectively which in turn are linked to the ideologies they stand for. For eg, in the arguments between Kemal and Saleem one tends to clearly sympathize with Kemal, same with Laila vs Zahra and also, Laila vs Nadeera (towards the end). And, most importantly, Asad who is portrayed as someone to be looked up to and respected stands for the Gandhian ideology. The novel ends with a kind of moral preaching by Asad, and Laila, a confused person who follows no particular ideology accepting him and embracing his ideology.

Towards ‘the end’, there is the sense that the Gandhian Ideology wins. Perhaps coz she’s trying to imply that now it’s the only possible solution to the problem left. But, most importantly of all, the abduction of women is very marginally mentioned and ‘women’s recovery camp’ is only indirectly hinted to in an otherwise feminist text. Though, she does question patriarchal power system by the character of Sita. Unlike the Ramayana’s Sita, this Sita stays by her own personal choice with Ravana and questions Ram’s ideology by saying, “I think it is the sense of possession in a man that is hurt, not his sense of morality”.

But, it’s quite indirect not an obvious link. On the whole, through Sunlight on a Broken Column, Attia Hosain presents a more or less complete picture of Partition and fills up a lot many gaps in traditional historiography and though indirectly, questions almost all of its basic assumptions. Ice-Candy Man chiefly focuses on the basic animal instincts in men which are brought out effectively by the character of the Ice-Candy Man itself. He doesn’t come across as a positive character yet, Lenny likes him! Even after he abducts ayah and ill treats her, Lenny sympathizes with him.

She says she can see him as Godmother sees him treacherous, dangerous…. but, yet she considers him harmless! With the novel written in first person and the fact we see everything from Lenny’s perspective, this is significant. That is, we identify with Lenny who in turn identifies with ice-candy man (a royal bastard! ) whom we hate!!! A wonderful irony on human nature!! And, this perhaps can be seen as one possible reason for partition. Also, the novel is terribly biased against politicians. Sidhwa lashes out on politicians especially Indians though there is an indirect sarcasm at Pakistanis as well.

And, Ice-Candy Man is a kind of politician or rather the bridge between the common man and cold, calculating, icy politicians. Its portrayal of the suffering of women and ‘abducted’ women’s recovery camp in its full complexities unlike the other texts, is quite meritious. Ayah is abducted and converted into a prostitute; the women in Ranoo’s village are tortured like hell so, much that they prefer death to it. Hamida, is recovered but, her family refuses to accept her. Lenny just can’t bring herself to terms with it: “Hamida was kidnapped by the Sikhs”, says Godmother seriously.

On serious matters I can always trust her to level with me. “She was taken away to Amritsar. Once that happens, sometimes, the husband-or his family-won’t take her back. ” “Why? It isn’t her fault she was kidnapped! ” “Some folk feel that way-they can’t stand their women being touched by other men. ” It’s monstrously unfair: but Godmother’s tone is accepting. I think of what Himat-Ali -alias- Hari once told me when I reached to lift a tiny sparrow that had tumbled from its nest on our veranda. “Let it be,” he’d stopped me. the mother will take care of it. If our hands touch it, the other sparrows will peck it to death. ” “Even the mother? ” I asked. “Even the mother! ” he’d said. It doesn’t make sense – but if that’s how it is. It is. But, though it stresses on women’s suffering, it doesn’t quite question the patriarchal notions of power and treatment of women as passive victims. No where does it question the use of women's identities and bodies as symbols of community honor and 'tradition' that makes them targets of violence during sectarian conflicts.

It elaborates equally well on the women’s recovery operation and even accepts that it can’t wipe out the past or truly ‘recover’ them, but doesn’t quite question the purpose of it all. This is probably, because the only female character that emerges very strong is Godmother’s but, the power and authority that she exercises is very patriarchal in nature. Lenny’s mother is portrayed as a very feminine character but, she cannot save Ayah from Ice-Candy Man. Though towards the end she says, Give me the (mystic) wine that burns all veils, The wine by which life’s secret is revealed.

The wine whose essence is eternity. The wine which opens mysteries concealed. Lift up the curtain, give me power to talk. And make the sparrow struggle with the hawk. - Iqbal The sparrow or the women has to struggle with the hawk or the men in order to survive!! Apart from these, she highlights how religion had transformed (or probably still is) from being a faith or a belief to a weapon. “One man’s religion is another man’s poison. ” Also, unlike the other two texts, this isn’t staged in one country only, though indirectly (through Ranoo) but, it does go to India.

Also, there is an indirect mention of Bengal as in Gandhi’s fasting stops riots from reaching Bihar (though Sunlight on a Broken Column too deals with partition at the Bengal border and that too more directly). Besides, at a domestic level, it shows breaking up of families due to death of some members in riots, as in Ranoo’s family. Socially and culturally it well portrays division of people into Hindu, Muslim, Sikh and hence, the colours in the park are gone. As for biases, it is clearly a Pro Parsee, Pro Pakistani novel.

Parsees emerge miraculously unaffected by everything on the contrary they are the ones who at times set things right. Lenny’s mother and aunt help their neighbors get petrol, Godmother manages to get Ayah released from the captive of Ice-Candy Man within a fortnight, which had it not been for her would have been consigned to the ingenious bureaucratic eternity of a toddler nation greenly fluttering its flag – with a white strip to represent its minorities. And, though Sidhwa makes a desperate attempt to sit over the fence it collapses in the dinner table scene n epigraph when she blames the British.

And, it is very much governed by Political Biases. It is clearly pro Jinnah, and lashes out on Gandhi without quite justifying. On the whole, it brings out the power dynamics and links it well to the basic human tendencies. 1947 Earth focuses on the loss of innocence through the transformation of Dilnavaaz from a common man to a sadistic, cold blooded criminal. It too highlights the basic animal instincts in men. Dilnavaaz says, “Santabibi, yeh sirf Hindu aur Musalman ki baat nahi hai. Yeh to kuch hum sab he andar hai. Hindu, Musalman, Sikh hum sab haramzadey hain. Sab janwar.

Chidyaghar ke us sher ki tarah jissey Lenny baby itna darti hain. Kaisey pada rehta hai is intazar main…. ke pinjra khuley aur jab pinjra khulta hai to Aalah he malik hai. ” And, then he asks Shantabibi to marry him saying, “tumhara sath hoga to yeh janwar hai jo yahan merey andar woh kaboo mein rahega. ” And when she doesn’t marry him, he abducts her which, brings out the fact women are made victims of men’s hatred and jealousy. Also, it is brings out the psychological implications of the partition very well. The sense of insecurity and fear runs through out the movie.

For example, the car scene, the surrounding by the mob at the end etc. Besides, it shows Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Parsees all equally affected. And, even questions though indirectly as to what religion is when, Lenny’s father comments on the marriage and conversion of Papoo to Christian saying, “good move, anyways, Hindu Gods don’t count much for the happenings in Lahore this days. ” Most importantly, unlike the other two texts, it links it very well with the present and brings out the relevance wonderfully. At the end, what happened to Ayah isn’t clearly stated, Deepa Mehta leave a question mark there but, says, mainey apni Ayah ko us din ke baad kabhi nahi dekha , 1947 ke us din ke bad jab mainey apni Ayah ke sath apney vajud, apney dil ka ek hissa hamesha ke liye kho diya tha” Dissmissing the question on her fate as whatever it was, was obviously tragic and hopeless and instead linking it to our identity and finally, questioning the audience with the song, “Ishwar, Allah…. ” Because, more than 50 years have passed since partition, and yet the riots haven’t really stopped! Partition was more than anything birth of Hindu-Muslim hatred which will probably never die.

As for demerits, it’s a pro India, pro Hindu novel. It’s silent politically, but, openly blames the British without really examining the causes. It is also silent on the women’s recovery operation. Besides, it doesn’t talk of the partition on the Bengal border. But, on the whole, Deepa Mehta has packed a lot in the 3-hour movie and brought the relevance of the partition literature well. Looking at all three texts, simultaneously, I personally, feel Sunlight on a Broken Column questions the traditional historiography at almost all levels unlike Ice-Candy Man and 1947 Earth.

So, going by the criteria of questioning traditional historiography, it portrays the Partition of India best. Though even 1947 Earth and Ice-Candy Man do it but, to a lesser extent. 1947 Earth highlights the massacre and suffering and stresses more on the psychological impact and relevance as of date but, it doesn’t question that many or even that far the assumptions of traditional historiography. Ice-Candy Man on the other hand focuses on the ill-treatment of women very well, but, it doesn’t quite question the patriarchal power system and its assumptions.

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Representation of Partition of India in Sunlight on a Broken Column, Ice-Candy Man, and 1947 Earth. (2017, Apr 13). Retrieved from

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