restricted access 19. Cracking (Mother) India
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303 Cracking (Mother) India | by tanja stampfl 19 In her 1991 novel Cracking India Bapsi Sidhwa narrates the terror of Indian Partition from the point of view of eight-year-old Lenny.1 Many critics have paid special attention to Sidhwa’s (and Lenny’s) privileged position as a Parsi, a member of a minority community that remained neutral in the national struggle. Feroza Jussawalla, for example, has explained how “Parsis have kept themselves apart. In Cracking India, this is a strength because the Parsis are then not implicated in the Hindu-Muslim struggles” (261). This advantage is not only rooted in religion, however, but pertains very much to class, since Lenny belongs to a well-to-do family. And it this distinction that Ambreen Hai has criticized most strongly, accusing Sidhwa of silencing the poorer (and darker) Ayah while privileging the voices of the more wealthy family members. While both critics’ arguments are valid, this essay will take these interpretations a step further and offer a reading of Cracking India that emphasizes the multiple narrative planes of the text and its place in Indian culture. I argue that Bapsi Sidhwa’s novel is a critique of traditional female allegories as Sidhwa revises acts of nation building through her exploration of textual mothers. I therefore read Cracking India as a critique of the concept of Mother India (Bharat Mata) and an investigation of female nation building. The strength of Sidhwa’s novel lies in its many textual and metaphorical layers concerning the figure of the mother, namely, mothers, mothering, and 304 tanja stampfl Mother India. While biological mother-daughter bonds are mostly dysfunctional in the novel, women on a communal level take up the pieces and begin to unify and heal broken bodies and a cracked country, creating a new motherland that transcends the concept of Bharat Mata. Thus, the figure of the mother in Cracking India is central to the main discourse since it functions on historical, mythological, sociological, and literary levels. Starting with its title,2 CrackingIndia immediately draws attention to the role of the allegory. In his seminal article “Third-World Literature in the Era of Multinational Capitalism,” Fredric Jameson has argued that all Third World texts are to be read as national allegories: “The story of the private individual destiny is always an allegory of the embattled situation of the public third-world culture and society” (69). While this assertion constitutes a “sweeping hypothesis,” as Jameson himself has acknowledged, figures such as that of the Ayah in Sidhwa’s novel do invite such allegorical interpretations . Firstly, Ayah is an occupation (nanny) and not a personal name, which reduces the character to a type. Secondly, as the 18-year-old Ayah attracts British, Hindu, and Muslim suitors, so do Great Britain, Nehru, and the Muslim League vie for a young India that is full of promises. Lastly, the Ayah becomes the most central victim of Partition violence in the novel, thereby symbolizing the suffering of the nation as it is divided. The question arises, however, whether a purely allegorical reading as Jameson proposes it limits the interpretation of the text. In fact, a direct parallel between Ayah and the new nation of India3 ignores the many other voices in the national discourse and the role of women more generally. On a more textual level, therefore, Ayah’s role as a surrogate mother for Lenny suggests a link between the allegory of India and the figure of the mother. Interestingly,themothersinthisnarrativehavearatherdistantandcomplicated relationship with their daughters, while the mother figures,4 women who perform acts of mothering, develop a strong bond that overcomes religious and ethnic enmities, thus rebuilding and creating a new nation. The mothering figures in Lenny’s life inspire love and trust, while Lenny ’s biological mother leaves her daughter unsure and confused. In order to foreground the central role of the mothering figures in her life, Lenny describes Ayah and her godmother in detail right at the beginning of the novel. Of Ayah, Lenny says that “the covetous glances Ayah draws educate me,” (12) hinting at a duty that has been traditionally associated with the mother.5 It is Ayah who introduces Lenny to the outside world by pushing the little girl in her pram, and through Ayah Lenny experiences most personallytheviolenceandhatredofPartition .AsAyahperformstheroleofthe 305 cracking (mother) india motherly educator, Godmother offers the motherly love and affection that Lenny needs: “The bond that ties [Godmother’s] strength to my weakness, my fierce demand to her nurturing...