‘Train to Pakistan’ is the first novel of Khushwant Singh (KS). It was titled ‘Mano Majra’ but it is better known by the title of ‘Train to Pakistan’. This novel is based on the Hindu – Muslim – Sikh riots of 1947 which followed the partition of India, when India was divided into two countries when ‘India made its tryst with destiny’.
This novel gives vivid accounts of the massacres of Hindus and Muslims, especially on the border towns of India. Train loads of dead bodies used to arrive from Pakistan to border station of Atari. They were filled with corpses of men, women, children and oldies. On the bogies of those trains filled with corpses Pakistanis wrote – Gift to India from Pakistan. These events lead to mass killings of Muslims in India. People were killed without mercy. Men were killed with swords and spears while their women and sisters and mothers and daughters were ruthlessly gang-raped and then their breasts were slashed with spears while their children were killed in front of them and women left to bleed to death.
Similar was the fate of Hindus who were coming from Pakistan. Hundreds of thousands of people were killed in this insanity that followed in the communal riots of 1947.
This novel is based on that dark staunch naked barbaric bitter and dirty truth of Indian Independence, which we call DIVISION. After all, not everyone got what they wanted.
The main character is Mano Majra, the border town where in the story is based. I have not officially studied literature so I don’t honestly know weather it is correct to call a town a character of the story but I will do so. This town receives the train filled of corpses not once but twice and that leads to subsequent departure of all Muslims from this town. (This is talked about in second heading of this review).
Bhai Meet Singh is the bhai (caretaker) of Gurudwara of town. He is a short and fat person who is generally dressed in his dirty underpants.
Hukum Chand is the magistrate who is specially appointed to Mano Majra and other nearby towns. He comes in his American car but he later resigns to the heavy communal tension in the town.
Juggut Singh or Jugga is a local badmash (bad) character who has to go to the police station once a week. He is six feet tall, broad and stocky man, probably the strongest man of the area. Malli is a dacoit with his gang and Jugga and Malli are arch rivals of each other.
Iqbal is a mysterious character. Through out the novel I was not able to clearly understand weather he is a Muslim or a Sikh. But he is foreign educated person and people of Mano Majra respect his for that and call him Babu Sahib (Respected Sir).
Imam Baksh is the mulla of Mosque of the town. He is half blind due to cataract and his only daughter Nooran is the love of Jugga (in physical sense, predominantly) who carries in her womb two months old child of Jugga.
These are some of the main characters, worth mentioning. Some other come and go.
Story is pretty simple. It is about the sacrifice of one man to save a few hundred lives while insanity prevails everywhere. It is the story of one man wrestling with his thoughts and debating with himself weather it is correct to stand in front of 50 armed men waiting to kill hundreds of their own species, to stop because what they are going to do is immoral.
Iqbal debates with himself. The dialogue that he has with himself during the end of story is great to read. The protagonist talks about religion and the limited and constipated perception that it has in India. He talks about the
irony of proving one’s Sikhism to stay alive in an insane asylum that India had become that time. He talks about the uselessness of talking logic and morals in front of people who have become bloodthirsty. They will rather thrust a sword in your stomach and proceed and call you a traitor rather then listen to the morality you are talking about.
Iqbal is the person who sacrifices his life to save a train full of Muslims who are refugees in their own motherland and are going to Pakistan while an army of lunatic men armed with all sorts of modern and traditional weapons waiting to kill and rape and abduct those innocent muslims going to Pakistan, a land where they will be called ‘Muhajir’ (refugees) and will be seen with an eye of disgust because they came from India, and will again become refugees in a country that was made for them. So much for the irony of ‘tryst that India made with its destiny’
The novel gives detailed accounts of the haunting scenes of train load of butchered Hindus arriving from Pakistan with their ravaged women and stabbed children. It gives food for thought and makes one think; weather what happened was right or wrong.
I tell you one thing, it is very difficult to determine that who started the communal riots of 1947 and upto what extent the morals and religions of both sides permit the killings but one thing is for sure, that 1947 took away a lot from us, both India and Pakistan, something that can never be returned.
This is one novel that is depressing, sad, vivid and thought provoking to read. It is more of a documentary as said by the author.
But is the bitter dark dirty barbaric naked insane and bloody truth of something that every Indian and Pakistani can very hardly forget.
I hope you all read it.
I will not sign off happy reading this time folks, this book needs to be read.
And it is going to be very tough to enjoy it, This is so full of truth.
Do Read it,