A story that connects each Indian and Pakistani to its past to feel that we weren’t always the way we are now. A confrontation which couldn’t be undone, the brunt of which India and Pakistan is still facing. ‘The Partition’. . The author’s very debut novel though written in the year 1956 still carries credence enough to stand and contest the latest bestselling novels of the recent years. In the beginning it depicts an interesting and peaceful picture of a rural place in the borders of Punjab and Pakistan called Mano Majra that would compel today’s reader wondering on the survival of ancient people in absence of mere resources like ‘watch’.
People of Mano Majra actually depended on the morning and evening trains to sleep, wake and eat, trains were the time-tellers to them. The story gives an idea that it’s been written with a focus to highlight the turbulent situation during partition but featuring the lifestyle of Mano Majra and a tiny love story in the backdrop keeps balm-ing the painful wounds both to the writer and reader as well.
Khushwant Singh in this book reveals the unerasable outbreak of our country’s history that’s haunting both India and Pakistan till date. With millions of men killed, women raped and children burnt, it’s been more than half a century old now. Thus, it carries an ability to move every patriotic nerve of the country lovers. His powerful writing doesn’t allow the reader to ponder over the gory inhuman incidents of murder and slaughter for a long time as the mood of the story took sudden turns to bring back the reader’s composure.
The presumably highlighted characters like Lalaji the Hindu moneylender, Juggat Singh alias Jugga one of the notorious elements mostly in and out of the prison, the Muslim priest and the Magistrate cum Deputy Commissioner Hukum Chand, simple priest of Sikh temple, Iqbal, the communist party worker whose religion remained disclosed till the end, none of them proved to be a monopolist. Rather played acceptably till the end while Jugga’s strong dialogue delivery, aggressiveness, mood swings and indigenousness in the end give him a saviour’s title.
Khushwant Singh sketches his characters with a sure and steady hand. Train to Pakistan highlights the political complications after sudden taste of independence while the author made sure not to be judgemental over the people behind mass murders, rapes, robbery and violence, he didn’t blame anyone. Instead he emphasised on those innocent people who were absolutely ignorant of what’s and why’s of the happenings, while they were brutally killed or separated from their own people for reasons they didn’t knew, they were bewildered, victimised and torn apart.
Things change for the worse when an east-bound train makes an unscheduled stop at Mano Majra, the wagons full of corpses. The most heart-rending passage in the book is when the government makes the decision to transport all the Muslimfamilies from Mano Majra to Pakistan. It’s a must read for every Indian and Pakistani to know the hard truth of the begged independence away from just the politics, Britishers, Gandhi and Nehru gaatha. This gimmick book has been reprinted and translated into many languages since its publication in 1956.
Another reason for its publicity was also the author’s boldness and exposed writing in terms of the women characters including a little teenage girl in the story. Compared to the conservative era of 1950s, it’s considered as an intrepidly courageous step in the world of writing for Indian writers and readers. Khushwant Singh since then went on to become a famously truculent, humorous, and eccentric columnist and editor, but this is one book infused with his compassion and humanity or say inhumanity.