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Violence as a form of repression as well as a form of resistance through Bapsi Sidhwa’s “Ice-Candy-Man” and Deepa Mehta’s Earth: 1947

Chapter 1: Introduction

In this paper we are presenting a compare and contrast between Parsee diasporic writer Bapsi Sidhwa’s “Ice candy man” (1988) and   Indo-Canadian film director Deepa Mehta’s Earth: 1947 which based on the same novel.  The dominant themes of the novel are the themes of partition.  Sidhwa’s “Ice candy man” written from the viewpoint of an eight year old girl, Lenny, shows human suffering in a society divided not only because of one’s religious affiliation but also gender. The narration shows that women’s bodies have historically become territory in which men act out their aggression.



Bapsi Sidhwa’s “Ice candy man” (1988) and Deepa Mahta’s  Earth:1947 both  focuses on  woman’s narrative and her sense of the traumatic experiences, violence that women have suffered and the  socio- political stance taken by women of    different religious  and economic background.  In both the novel and the film it has been shown how during the time of partition women were doubly victimized they were the victim of the violence caused between Hindu and Muslims. Women were raped, killed, sold, tortured, forced to take prostitution betrayed by their friends and neighbor, the people whom they trust and depended on. But the same event that crumble all the relation of men and woman, the same event made the women of this novel united and shows form of resistance.

Thesis Statement

In this paper we have tried to look at violence: as an agent of separation at the same time as an agent of bonding and resistance.


This paper has conducted its queries through the lens of feminism and theories of deconstruction. The   “rape metaphor “in particular has been taken from Sara Sulari’s essay “The Rhetoric of English India”. 


We have used secondary sources such as journals, essays, and information found on different websites to form our argument.



 Chapter Two: Comparative Reading       

2.1 Violence and female body

 Ice Candy Man and 1947: Earth shows how women’s bodies were used to victim and re victimize them. In both cases, a particular form of violence (rape) was inflicted on women not only to degrade them, but also to humiliate the community they belonged to. As  result, they were abandoned by their own people as well, becoming victimized by both parties of the riot.

 i. Ayah’s body as a symbol of the nation

Bapsi Sidhwa and Deepa mehta shows how women are dehumanized solely based on their body- both in love and chaos.  In the novel, Lenny gives an account of how men –from beggars to holy men to British soldiers- gaze over Ayah’s beautiful body. This attention however, dehumanizes Ayah as a person and she is reduced into just a body. For this characteristics- Ayah’s body becomes a symbol of undivided India –luring both insiders and outsiders with its bounty of treasures. In 1947: Earth, the greedy male gaze towards Ayah’s body and its symbolic connection to the physical territory of undivided India is beautifully captured at the park scene where male admirers from three different religious communities (hindu, muslim, shikh) sit circling around  Ayah. Unconsciously, her sari slips from her chest, exposing her breasts partially (10:33). All the men at the scene are taken aback by this accidental wardrobe malfunction and they kept looking at her breasts with silent lust and desire. Ironically, these three communities fight for dominance over each other as well as possession of India tears the country apart.

ii.Ayah‘s  rape

 Both the novel and the movie maintained Ice candy man’s contribution to ayah’s rape. However,the reasons that drove Ice candy man to betray the woman he loves/ once loved are portrayed from two different points of view. In 1947: Earth , Ice candy man was aware of Ayah and Masseurs mutual attraction. Despite that and her sisters’ horrible murder by Hindus- he proposes marriage-which she politely refuses. It’s after he accidentally (and quite voyeuristically) watches Ayah having sex with Masseur, he reaches his bursting point. Once another man marks his territory over her body by penetration- ayah loses her pedestal and stoops down to a fallen woman. Women’s worth was and still is measured, judged and persecuted by the exclusivity of her vagina in  patriarchal societies like undivided India( in the now divided parts as well). This is the reason why he hands the woman he once loved to his frenzied brethren who drags her towards her impending doom.

Unlike the movie, in the novel ayah and masseur’s relationship is not portrayed in a sexually explicit manner. Moreover, Ice candy man was born in a brothel, so pre-marital sexual relationship is not as taboo to him as it was/is to most sub-continental men. Yet, he lets Ayah be gang raped, makes her a prostitute, pimps her to be a dancer. According to Godmother, the only reason he marries her is to restrain her from going back to Amritsar to her family with Lenny’s mother’s help ( Sidhwa,page 250).All  of his evil / overly obsessed plans becomes successful because he uses Ayah’s body to entrap her. Once ayah is raped, her family or her long lines of admirers are not likely to taint their honors by giving her shelter. Ice candy man permanents her fallen state by making her a prostitute and a dancer- leaving her no option but to live with him and eventually marry him. He keeps her like a princess ( according to him) by wrapping her “body” with gold and silk  – and thinks finally she is all his. He is content by possessing her body, providing comfort  and ornamentation for her “body’- but completely fails to see how that body is all drained out of spirit. Sidhwa and Mehta take two different routes to reach the same destination –dehumanization of women by body politic.


 iii. Rape victims of riot /“Fallen Women”

In Ice Candy Man, Sidhwa describes the heart wrenching scenario of Rana’s village where all the men and children were killed instantly, but women were kept alive and raped over and over again .  These rapes were not originated from lust or carnal desire, rather from the idea of degrading  the weaker “other” (women) to leave impact on the stronger “other”(men).  By raping, mutilating and impregnating women, the purity of the bloodline of a particular community can be tampered.

However, rioters of opposing force are not alone in the act of degradation of women. In Rana’s village, plan for women during attack was – “they will pour kerosene around the house and burn themselves”( Sidhwa, page199). While suicide is considered an unforgivable sin in every religion- these kind of mass suicide (especially in women’s case) is viewed as an act of martyrdom.  Whether survival is more important than being raped is a matter of debate , this attitude towards  women shows the bitter truth- a raped women has no place in their family. Women who survive the riot were either killed or abandoned by their husbands –and finds shelter in camps of raped women, or in brothels. Lenny describes the condition of these women –“At night we hear them wailing,their cries verging on the inhuman.” (Sidhwa, page 212).


 Mehta shows the rape victims camp, but skips Rana’s tale in 1947: Earth. As the film captures the tale of only one locality within the time frame of 2 hours, the horrifying tale of violence comes in a minuscule, yet powerful manner. In the film, Lenny and cousin talks to an unnamed little boy who tells them about discovering the body of his naked mother. While Rana’s tale goes on for a whole chapter,  the unnamed boy was on screen for a few minutes. Yet, their story conveys the same message. The anxiety of Ice candy man for his sisters is portrayed without any dialogue and the horrifying discovery of” two bags full of women’s breasts”, is the single sentence that tells what happened to then .None of these horrifying accounts were visually present on screen, yet it was presented with words, sounds and silence.

While Sidhwa gives a vivid, graphic description of violence on women during and after the riot, Mehta uses sound effects, minimalistic dialogues and actor’s expressions – leaving all the graphic details on audience’s imagination. Both of them captured the saddest truth – these women were innocent victims, who did nothing to cause the riot, and they were abandoned by their loved ones for being raped on which, once again, they had nothing to do.


2.2 Female bonding and resistance

Surprisingly, violence united the bond of women, whereas it destroyed most of the men-men/ men-women bonding both in the novel and the movie. Some of them got to evaluate the intensity of their mutual trust (Lenny), some became stronger (Lenny’s mother), some bonded over shared pain (camp of fallen women) and some refused to be a victim anymore ( Ayah) with support of other women (Lenny’s mother and Godmother).

i.Lenny’s everlasting guilt

 Ayah and Lenny’s relationship is much more than of a helpless child and a caretaker-  Ayah becomes Lenny’s De Facto elder sister. Lenny plays the younger sister part well by keeping Ayah’s endeavors secret from her family.  This is the reason why Lenny becomes traumatized after Ayah was caught because of her truthfulness as she viewed it as the ultimate betrayal. Though nobody including Ayah herself never accused her, she loses faith from herself. “How could anyone trust a truth inflected mouth?”(Sidhwa, p 243). The movie shows Lenny as a ripe old woman, still reflecting over her unintentional betrayal. At time of riot when men were slaughtering people they grew up with in cold blood, Lenny’s everlasting  guilt over something she was tricked to do shows the intensity of their mutual trust .

ii.Transformation of Lenny’s mother

Lenny’s mother has the most uncharacteristic transformation in both the novel and the film. She transforms from a somewhat vain housewife into a protector and rescuer. Both in the novel and the movie, she dotes on her daughter, and forms the idea of identity in Lenny. In the movie, she explains how Parsees are supposed to be invisible like sugar in milk. Yet, when riot breaks out, she tries to help her neighbors. The most incredible moment for her was when she faces the mob that attacks her household. On that moment, she lets go of her Parsee invisibility, which is a strong form of resistance as well. This scene is also described in the novel -“Mother, voluptuous in a beige chiffon sari, is alert.In charge. A lioness with her cubs. Ayah, with her haunted nervous eyes, is lioness number two.Our pride in veranda swells as Moti’s wife and five children joins us.” (Sidhwa, page 178). Her role is more wide spread in the novel than the movie because her role of a rescuer begins after the riot ends; the movie ends much before that.


iii.Bonding over violence

The camps of fallen women show sisterhood or solidarity among women who are not related by anything else but violence.  These women are rescued and placed into jail like camps where they cries together at night, then comforts each other. Lenny’s new nanny Hamida who previously was in one of those camps still feels for those women even after getting shelter at Lenny’s house. Unlike their male counterparts, women who survived riot came closer because of their double victimization –by both the opponents and their own community. Even those who weren’t victimized like Lenny’s mother and Godmother, they comes in rescue.Lenny’s mother hires Hamida as the new nanny inspite of her social stigmas.  She and  Godmother rescues ayah and successfully sends her back to her home. However, the movie ends before the rescuing parts although it shows the supportive bonding of the rape victims.

Ayahs resistance

Although Ayah marries Ice candy man, she never forgets or forgives  what he had done to her. She gets away from Ice candy man at the very first chance she gets. Even when Godmother asks her to reconsider, she leaves; without knowing whether her family will take her back or not.  Even after Ice candy man tries to win her back with his daily dose of shayery and flowers, she doesn’t sway. It shows the amazing strength Ayah develops after going through such a horrific period that made a realist out of this once romantic young woman. With the help of other women she finds the courage to get away from ice candy man.


Chapter three: findings and conclusion

Analysis of findings

One of the main differences between novel and the movie is the different ending. More importantly, the rise and resistance of the female characters comes on focus after the riot, which the movie doesn’t show. The differences found are analyzed bellow-

i. Several characters and subplots are omitted from the movie:

 As movies have temporal limitation, it is not possible to convert a whole novel into a screenplay without any change. Other than that, a novelist and a director have independent visions about their works, and they frame it on their own way. The screenplay sets on a nuclear family in a close knit community –that’s why many characters are omitted to keep the plot less cluttered.

ii Movie ends without any resistance or redemption

While the novel ends with Ayah’s resistance and Ice candy man’s madness, the movie ends with ayah’s kidnap without revealing exactly what happens to her afterwards. The screenplay focuses on how a tight- knit community falls apart in the name of nationalism and communal loyalty. It ends at a tragic note to keep the story compact within one major theme, while the novel deals with several themes. Another important point to be noted is that when Deepa Mehta made  1947:Earth (1998), Indian cinema was glorifying nationalism without including the historical, less romanticized factors. Earth is a counter narrative to all these “guts and glory” movies .

iii. Absence of Godmother

In Ice Candy Man, Godmother is the most influential figure with equal control over home and outdoor matters.  She is the ultimate source and facilitator of resistance in the novel. However, the film doesn’t have the character of Godmother.

Godmother’s not being in the movie is as important as her being in the novel – she is the source of power and resistance who could have rescue ayah. However, the screenplay doesn’t want Ayah to be rescued, so Godmother was not needed.  Moreover, Mehta kept Parsees completely meek who talks in a roundabout way to avoid conflict in presence of other communities. The outspoken Godmother’s presence doesn’t go with that.




Considering the presence of certain characters in the novel, yet the absence of these characters in the film, the way the film ends abruptly, leaving the audience to grapple with the horrible fate that was to befell ayah, to ponder over the sad tale of friends turning on friends; because they are also victims of situations they don’t control and  how whenever political, religious conflicts break out women suffer the worst possible fate, is very different from the way the novel develops toward an end where the victimized women find a solidarity in each others’ suffering, rise up in resistance  and this very act of resistance help them to rise above whatever misfortunes they have suffered and form a bond among themselves that transcend boundaries of religion, caste and class, helping them to heal the scars and hope for a better tomorrow.








Works Cited

Anne Masson, D. M. (Producer), & Mehta, D. (Director). (1998). 1947 : Earth [Motion Picture].

Sidwa, B. (1988). Ice Candy Man. India: Pengine Books.

Suleri, S. (1993). The Rhetorics of English India. University of Chicago Press.



 Written and submitted by Jessica Islam and Anwesha Mamtaz


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