Cracking India is a keen perspective on individual and popular experiences during the partition of India in 1947. The story is written from the point of view of a young girl (called Lenny) who has access to the interactions of a variety of people from different ethnicities, classes, and religions during a period marked by immeasurable violence.
The main storyline focuses on Lenny’s maid, Ayah, with whom she spends most of her time. During the early pages of the book, men flock around the desirable Ayah: “Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Parsee are, as always, unified around her,” Lenny tells us. However, we later discover that Ayah is horrifically betrayed by these same people she once counted as admirers and friends. Lenny plays her part in the treachery as well.
One of the most moving parts of the book is “Ranna’s Story.” There we learn of the unspeakable acts of violence in the boy’s village (it is a tale of carnage that occurred in several towns on both sides of the border) late in the book. By this time, Sidhwa has primed the reader for Ranna’s remarkably powerful story. Perhaps, the impact is more acute as we are given a brief reprieve from Lenny’s (often precocious) narration and the increasingly grating interactions between Godmother and Slavesister (a relation that is never fully explained in the book).
Bapsi Sidhwa artfully portrays the effect partition had on the lives of ordinary citizens as she reveals the extent of human capacity for brutality, compassion and resilience. While Cracking India depicts existence in a truncated India and a newly-emerged Pakistan as one that “has less to do with fate than the will of men,” we see the land’s ordinary people explain these events, and the mayhem that ensues in their own lives, as trajectories set by destiny. As Hamida, a fallen woman, explains to Lenny:
“It’s my kismet that’s no good… we are khut putli, puppets, in the hands of fate.”