Set up in the historical background of partition in 1947 Train to Pakistan by Khushwant Singh is a masterpiece of literature.
The unresolved massacre and bloodshed is documented very emphatically yet cogent manner by the author. The then India, torn up in racial violence and hatred is miniatured in the little village Mano Majra, situated at the remote reaches of the frontier and only decorated with three brick buildings- house of Lala Ram Lal, the money lender, one Sikh temple, one Mosque.
Lala Ram was the only Hindu whereas all the land owners were Sikh and Muslims. The lands were owned by Sikhs where the Muslims worked as their tenants sharing the tilling. There were also some other communities whose religions and identities were controversial. But they lived happily sharing a common deity, ‘ the deo’. The villagers were ignorant of the world outside it and its happenings. They even didn’t know why the British left the country.
“We live in this little village and know nothing.”
They asked Iqbal about the British and the outer world.
Iqbal realized “Independence meant little or nothing to these people.” And Khushwant Singh excels his brilliancy in upholding this naked truth so amiably yet in a detached satiric undertone. Common people have no relation with political upheaval. Their condition remains the same even if the Kings and Queens exchange their thrones.
But the peaceful scenario of Mano Majra changed as the heat of the outer world reached even in this secluded hamlet. The harmony loses its track in conflict and bloodshed. The Muslims had to leave for refugee camp and later for Pakistan whereas Sikhs gathered under the shed of terrorism to take revenge on them.
Blood Soaked Memories:
The image of brutalities is scattered here and there like blood-soaked memories. A train full of dead bodies, vultures feasting on corpses, migration, floating bodies in the river like logs, gifting a new bride her husband’s cutaway penis, and rape of her by violent mob all are enough to colt the blood in ice. Khushwant Singh adroitly sketches the picture of horror and insanity aftermath the Partition.
Along with the story of hatred and violence, there was a parallel love story of Nooran, a Muslim and Jugga, a Sikh a former dacoit.
But the dacoits who killed the moneylender also nipped in buds their love that same night. Police took Jaggu who was absent that same night with Noor in his night rendezvous on the charge of dacoity.
Plot and Characterization:
Every character from this book is dynamic. I can relate to them in my surroundings. The highly intellectual yet supine Iqbal or the notorious thug Jugga or the arrogant bloodthirsty youth who mobilized the mobs in his plan of massacre all are true to life. The character of Nooran drew pity. Nooran, in love with Juggua and bearing his child, felt frantic when the summon came for her to go to Pakistan. She pleaded to Jugga’s mother of her hapless suffering with apprehension on her future and the future of her kid and requested her to send Jugga in her search.
Iqbal Singh is a character that also attracts much attention. Though he talks fire but lacks the fire within himself. Police caught him on a false charge mistaking him as Mohammad Iqbal. When he was freed from jail he did nothing to appease the situation. He decided to do nothing with the contemplation that his sacrifice would remain unknown m. So gulping a large amount of whiskey he fell asleep whereas Jugga offered his life to save the train.
Hukum Chand is a flesh and blood man who is portrayed with all the mundane vices and inherent goodness in this book.
It is not only a testament of tragedy but also of human benevolence. Jugga at the cost of his own life saved the train and its people so that they could go to Pakistan,
“The man shivered and collapsed. The rope snapped in the centre as he fell. The train went over him, and went to Pakistan.”
Slash of Satire:
Khushwant Singh with a detached observation sketches his story. He does not support any caste, creed or religion but just described the horror with utmost sincerity. The slash of irony towards the characters is so succinct and compendious that demands a salute for his pen. Iqbal the representative of intellectuals and Jugga the representative of criminals stood in polarized contrast in their thoughts. Though Meet Sing was reluctant to utter a prayer for him, brave Jugga proved his humanity. Again the persons who cried for the migrant Muslim neighbours assembled to kill them.
Satire mingles with comedy and irony gives a refined touch of scorn, intensifying the black humour of a dark period.
Cynicism imbued in humour lashes when at Iqbal’s impatient query to the people who are praising the colonial system and demonstrating the British official’s better behaviour than their owns,
“Why, don’t you people want to be free? Do you want to remain, slaves, all your lives?”
The lambardar said, “Freedom must be a good thing. But what will we get out of it? Educated people like you will get the jobs…will we get more lands or more buffaloes?”
“Freedom is for the educated people who fought for it. We were slaves of the English, now we will be slaves of the educated Indians- or the Pakistanis.”
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