As the protagonist and narrator of the novel, Lenny Seth tells the tale of her childhood in the city of Lahore. She is a five years old girl in the beginning of the novel and eight years old in the end of the novel. She belongs to Paris family, who leads a comfortable life with the four members of her family before the partition of India in 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 behaviour, allows Lenny to grow up with more knowledge of the world. Lenny’s observation is very different from ordinary children. Her unique viewpoint allows the novel to transcend he children concerns in the depiction of life in Lahore.
Lenny as a girl “child” is the most significant female character in this novel. In the literature of partition in English, she is the only prominent girl-child narrator, besides Attia Hosain’s ‘Laila’ in sunlight on a broken column. As a girl-child she addresses the issues of children’s forced marriage to old and morally degenerate men and the gender bias to which girl children are subjected even by their own families.
Lenny is the child narrator in the novel. Lenny is like the persona, voicing the urge of the author, that Chaucer has adopted in his “Prologue to Canterbury Tales”. This persona acts being the part of the reader’s consciousness. This device of narrator has been extensively used in modern fiction.
The fact that the narrator of the novel is Lenny, a native, vulnerable, and easily influenced young girl who is constantly learning from what she sees and who, as a child, manages to eavesdrop on many contexts and conversations, allows us to have a complete perception of the events and to connect with different characters. She is so transparent and sincere with what she experiences that we can easily perceive the reality of what is going on. Bapsi Sidhwa herself has explained in many interviews that she chose a child to be the narrator in “Cracking India” in order to write about such an emotional topic as the partition in a fairer way. Her purpose was to provide a scope of objectivity, unbiasness and to avoid an air of propaganda.
Bapsi Sidhwa wanted to show the narration free of ethnic and religious bias. So, she adopts a child’s truth-infected tongue which also creates space for idyllic romances. 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.
The narrator, who is recovering from polio, announces at the outset: “My world is compressed.” Sidhwa works this self-imposed limitation to her advantage by placing the privileged and spoiled Lenny in an adult world, which she apprehends and reports in a naive manner. She takes in account her own limp in leg caused by polio and uses it as an armour against the pretentious world through the voice of Lenny.
The figure of Lenny, as a narrator and as a main character, is also relevant because of her connection with Bapsi Sidhwa’s childhood, which gives to the story a strong sensation of reality. Bapsi Sidhwa revealed that even through she had to create some distance between Lenny and herself, there is a lot of her own childhood experience in the book: “partially I took things directly from my own experience, but the rest is created.” Like Lenny, Sidhwa was a young girl that lived in Lahore when partition of India and Pakistan took place. Besides, she also suffered from polio.
Lenny refuses to see her body as being ‘dis-abled’; on the contrary, she sees her body as ‘more-abled’ as Lenny herself expresses. “having polio in infancy is like being born under a lucky star. It has many advantages.” Lenny’s disabled body allows her extra attention, affection and love from not only her own mother but Ayah and Godmother, and especially from Ayah’s admires. “I take advantage of Ayah’s admirers. ‘Massage me’! I demand, kicking the handsome Masseur. He loosens my laces an unbuckle the straps gripping my boots. Taking a few drops almond oil, from one of the bottles in his crust set, he massages my wasted leg then my okay leg.” Ice Candy Man provides her with ice candies and the zoo keeper tells her tales of the wild lion and promises to keep her safe from the fierce zoo lion.
However, her body also brings her pain as well as pleasure as Lenny explains, I switch awake to maddening pain………. I become aware of the new plaster cast on my leg. The shape of the caste is altered from last time. The toes point up. The pain from my leg radiates all over my small body.” Lenny’s bodily pain runs parallel with emotional pain she experiences on sub-continent partition. Lenny’s bodily pain therefore links her to the national trauma. Just as her Paris doctor informs her mother it was the British to be blamed for polio in the sub-continent, Lenny feels a bodily link steeped in pain with political situation of her country.
Lenny also discovers certain changes in her body after sexual maturation, but unlike her cousin she feels too possessive to show to anyone. “Two little bumps have erupted beneath my nipples. Flesh of my flesh, exclusively mine……. Only I may touch them. Not Cousin, Not Imam Din, Not Adi.” Thus, her skinny, sallow and wiggly-hired body becomes desirable as her cousin wishes to marry her when she grows up, “I’ll marry you……. a slight limp is attractive”, say a Cousin.
Her relationship with her cousin, allowing clandestine forages into physical intimacies, shows her mental independence. During their walks to the bazaars and gardens she irreverently points out boys and men to her cousin whom she finds attractive. She sums up her attitude neatly when she says, Maybe I don’t need to attract you. You’re already attracted.” Cousin angrily complains to Godmother, “she loves approximately half of Lahore……. Why can’t she love me?”
Lenny as an observer and commenter sees partition events as ‘bloody and dimmed anarchy’. She observes “The whole world is burning. The air on my face is so hot…… I start screaming: hysterically sobbing. How long does Lahore burn? Weeks? Months? Her own city is burning. ‘The moonlight settles like a layer of ashes over Lahore’. She feels very sad on India’s partition, “India is going to be broken. Can one break a country?”
Lenny makes some very funny observation on Ghandi-with his weaving and talking about his digestive problems-and says that Ghandi is “an improbable mixture of a demon and a clown.” Later the Lenny shows high regard for Jinnah as a more reserved and serious politician. “He is past the prime of his elegant manhood. Sallow, whip-thin, sharp-tongued, uncompromising.”
As Lenny is polio-infected, the question of education to the female child is also touched upon in this novel, in a male-domineering world. Her lameness is allied to her femaleness to deprive her of a proper education. The doctor tells her parents, “She is doing fine without school, isn’t she?” says the doctor. Don’t pressure her……. nerves could be affected. She doesn’t need to become a professor. He turns to me. Do you want to become a professor?… she’ll marry-have children-lead a carefree, happy life. No need to strain her with studies and exams, he advises: thereby sealing my fate.”
Lenny has been brought up firmly on the path of truth, and it is her truthfulness that spells doom for Ayah. Her betrayal of Ayah is the last act of her childhood. She works with her family to rescue Ayah from the captivity and sexual exploitation of the Ice-Candy Man. When Lenny finally sees her again, she is forced to realize that her old Ayah is dead although Ayah submits herself to Lenny’s embrace.
To conclude, 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 forces 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 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.