Ice Candy Man Major Character Analysis

Bapsi Sidhwa

Ice Candy Man

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Ice Candy Man Major Character Analysis

Lenny Sethi

As the protagonist of the novel, Lenny Sethi tells the tale of her childhood in the city of Lahore. Stricken with polio, Lenny endures an operation, leg braces, and casts, and receives a private education provided by a tutor. She does not interact with the world as normal children, like her brother, Adi, and her Cousin, do. She spends an inordinate amount of time in the adult world of her Ayah, as Ayah takes Lenny everywhere she goes. Interacting with adults, and watching their behavior, allows Lenny to grow up with more knowledge of the world, as it changes around her, than other children have. Her unique viewpoint allows the novel to transcend her childhood concerns in the depiction of life in Lahore.

As members of a tiny minority ethnic and religious group, the Parsee, her family and Parsee friends escape much of the violence and death surrounding them during the partition of India. However, Lenny’s young life is overshadowed by the gruesome lessons of religious intolerance, the wrestling for political power that leads to mob rule, mass killings, and the betrayal and murder of family friends.

Preoccupied with her own life, as a child would be, Lenny’s experiences of the violence and the political upheaval of the Partition thrust her into the adult world and force her to cope with the realities of the world at a very young age. Throughout the novel, Lenny also learns to manipulate people and situations to her advantage, particularly in manipulating her brother and cousin with her limp. She does not need to limp after prolonged treatment and massage of her right leg, which was damaged by her contracting polio as an infant, but she takes advantage of people’s pity and the attention her damaged leg gives her at every turn.

Ayah

A young Hindu woman, age 18 at the beginning of the novel, named simply “Ayah”—the Urdu word for “nursemaid”—works as “Lenny Baby” and Adi Sethi’s nanny. Because Lenny is disabled and does not attend school, the closeness between them grows until Lenny loves “her Ayah” as she does her mother, father, and the rest of her family. Ayah takes Lenny everywhere she goes, and she therefore introduces Lenny to an adult world. Her extreme beauty, which she takes entirely for granted, make her a target of men’s desire, drawing a coterie of characters to her daily trips with Lenny to the park. Lenny reports:

The covetous glances Ayah draws educate me. Up and down, they look at her. Stub-handed twisted beggars and dusty old beggars on crutches drop their poses and stare at her with hard, alert eyes. Holy men, masked in piety, shove aside their pretenses to ogle her with lust. Hawkers, cart-drivers, cooks, coolies and cyclists turn their heads as she passes, pushing my pram with the unconcern of the Hindu goddess she worships. (12)

Ayah’s cheerful and proud demeanor is punctured by the ruination of her beauty and her life as a captive dancing girl, or forced prostitute, imprisoned by the Ice-candy-man. Until Godmother intervenes to save Ayah and send her home to her family in Amritsar, which remains in India after Partition, her life is hopeless. Even after her rescue, Ayah is never the same again. Her previously light-hearted and joyful approach to life has been drained out of her.

Ice-candy-man 

The Ice-candy-man is the novel’s antagonist. However, Sidhwa only slowly reveals his role as the Partition of Lahore into Pakistan, with a Muslim-majority culture, becomes reality. The Ice-candy-man pursues the beautiful Ayah. Charming, charismatic, and a liar, the Ice-candy-man makes his living through multiple avenues, including selling popsicles and pimping Ayah as a dancing girl/prostitute—as a Hindu woman imprisoned and sexually abused by Muslim men. The Ice-candy-man’s transformation reveals his role as a con-artist, changing occupations and personalities to achieve advantage.

Masseur

The beautiful, graceful Masseur also pursues Ayah. As tensions grow between Hindus and Muslims in Lahore, Ayah draws closer to Masseur, who is Hindu, as Ayah is herself. Their connection draws the overt attention of the Ice-candy-man, who obsessively stalks Ayah around Lahore. Eventually, Masseur is found dead on the sidewalk outside the Sethi home by Hari and Lenny. Masseur becomes just one more victim of the animosity between Hindus and Muslims in Lahore.

Godmother

Lenny’s godmother provides a stable environment and constant love and affection for Lenny, who refers to Godmother’s house as her “haven” (11).  Godmother also performs “miracles” (221-289). For example, she is the one who is able to effect the rescue of Ayah from her forced imprisonment and prostitution at the hands of the Ice-candy-man.

Cousin

Lenny acknowledges that her male cousin, the son of Electric-Aunt, is one of her most important teachers. For example, he teaches her about electricity, the male anatomy and male desire, and he is her first experience of sexual obsession. She becomes enamored of him nearly against her will, and that experience teaches her how helpless people can be to resist their passions. Cousin insists that he will marry Lenny and that he finds her limp attractive. However, when he is most interested in her, she is not interested in him. Though Lenny later refers to her marriage ceremony, she does not reveal whether Cousin is her groom.

Mother

Lenny’s mother, beautiful and intelligent but distant, loves her husband with her whole heart. This love is not returned: Lenny’s father is monosyllabic and sarcastic to his wife. However, she calls him “Jana,” a form of the word “jan,” or “life.”

Despite his tyranny of affection, for which Lenny believes her mother to be weak and dependent, Lenny’s mother acts boldly and courageously in her secret work after Partition. Along with women friends and relatives, Lenny’s mother raises money selling petrol on the black market to rescue women from sex slavery, prostitution, and forced marriages.

Along with Godmother’s power and influence in society, which eventually frees Ayah, Lenny’s mother demonstrates that women can wield power and change other women’s destinies.

Father

Lenny’s father, with his secure, well-paid office job, remains a beloved but distant character in her life. Lenny lives for the moments of fun and lightheartedness between her parents and within the family. Her father is mostly a serious figure; he thinks solemn thoughts and has a sober job with little time remaining for his silly wife or his even sillier children. His job is to protect and provide, which he does well. At one point, he brings a shotgun into the house for literal protection from mob violence. However, he does not often communicate directly with anyone in the family. His wife and Lenny, in particular, perform for him to gain his attention by inventing or exaggerating daily events.

Slavesister

The younger sister of Lenny’s favorite person, Godmother, Slavesister is also known as Mini Aunty. The constant bickering between Godmother and Slavesister enlivens Lenny’s many daily visits, typically after she finishes tutoring across the street at Mrs. Pen’s. Slavesister performs most of the daily tasks caring for the household, which also includes Godmother’s ancient husband, Oldhusband.

Ranna

Ranna is the great-grandson of the Sethis’ Muslim cook, Imam Din. He is about the same age as Lenny, who visits Imam Din’s family and the village of Pir Pindo many times. By the end of Partition, Ranna is an orphan, who is rescued by his Muslim aunt when they accidentally meet in a refugee center. Ranna’s tale of massacre and mayhem remains a symbolic tale for the overall level of violence, rape, and murder occurring during the social and political upheaval following the independence and Partition of India and Pakistan. Ranna’s story represents the massacre of Muslim country folk, just as the deaths, kidnappings, and rapes in the city of Lahore represent the atrocities visited upon those who are not Muslim.

Adi

Adi is Lenny’s younger brother, who is about 3 years old at the beginning of the novel. Lenny and Adi have a contentious and harmonious relationship in turns. Lenny remains jealous of Adi, particularly because he seeks no one’s favor but is the favorite of all. He also attends regular school, while Lenny is privately tutored. In addition, Adi’s good health, beauty, intelligence, and status as the son of the family provide him with additional outlets for his abilities and advantages over his older sister. Their sibling rivalry ebbs and flows as they are united during difficult times and argue during better times.

Colonel Bharucha

As Lenny’s doctor and the president of the Parsee community, Colonel Bharucha represents the epitome of a Parsee gentleman and intellectual. He is a voice of reason in the lead-up to independence, cautioning his people to side with no one and to keep a low profile. As they are a vulnerable minority group because only 200 Parsee live in Lahore, and only 120,000 Parsee exist world-wide, the Colonel understands the danger of the Parsee people’s predicament and believes this is the only way that they can survive. Most of the Parsee, including the Sethi extended family, survive in this manner.