Train to Pakistan by Khushwant Singh – A Review

Partition that has left many scars in the hearts of several Indians and those tragic  days which still haunt the new India, the memories of that tragic period still makes people shiver,  are brought alive through a great novel by Khushwant Singh. This story is set across during the time when India was butchered into two nations of India and Pakistan. This book was first published in 1956 when the horrendous memories of the holocaust were still afresh in everybody’s minds. The present edition released on the occasion of its 50th anniversary includes the heart-rending photographs contributed by Margaret Bourke-White (who is?). The Images provided by her go very well go with the inner sense of the story and show the intensity of the Partition and the exodus of over a million immigrants, the largest in human history. It is well known that the Partition was carried out upon instigation of the British and based on communal lines. While  the politics behind this tragic incident is what is most talked about,  , this piece of fiction by the author has attempted to bring forth the sufferings faced by commoners.

The story primarily revolves around a fictional village located along the borders, named by author as Mano Majra. The story begins with a vivid description of how the village was like. It is followed by a dramatic incident that took place there one night. Ram Lal, the village money lender is killed by a neighbouring village’s dacoit, Malli. Now the story shifts to its main characters Juggut Singh, Iqbal and Hukum Chand. Juggut Singh is arrested as murder suspect by the police. He is portrayed as local badmaash of the village who loves only daughter of half blind mulla of the village named as Nooran. On the other side, Iqbal, a social reformer, is a visiting commie in disguise who wants to mobilize support for the socialist party of India. Then we come across the character of Hukum Chand who is the village magistrate.

The descriptions of various characters in the story are presented in great detail that may allow the reader to form picture of what all happened. The village is portrayed to be a peaceful and harmonius place until the seeds of hatred and suspicion were sown . The story can be viewed from different angles. If it was a love story between a Sikh boy and Muslim girl, it was also a story that depicted the brutalities suffered by the people generated as a result of partition. Not just this, it also tried to show how people viewed famous personalities like Mahatma Gandhi in some way or the other. The bravery of Juggat Singh is brought about in the story, when he attempted to save several innocent lives and his lady-love, Nooran too. The crisis began when the horrifying train with corpses entered the village. Moreover the brutally mutilated bodies evoked the furies and drove the Hindus of Mano Majro to shoo away the Muslims who were till then their good friends and kin-like. Various situations that lead to one incident from another and the author weaves a heart-wrenching story in the backdrop of Partition.

The story by Khushwant Singh even being a work of fiction is very close to reality in terms of the scenes that are created. The story has a tone that is quite depressing and touches the core of the heart. This book is a must read for all those who want to get a glimpse of what had happened as consequence of one of the most saddened episodes of not just of  the history of the subcontinent but also in human history.

Reeti Mahobe