Train to Pakistan by Khushwant Singh

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

About the Author:

Khushwant Singh (15 August 1915 – 20 March 2014) was India’s best-known writer, journalist, diplomat, lawyer, and politician. He was founder-editor of Yojana and editor of the Illustrated Weekly of India, The National Herald and Hindustan Times. He authored classics such as ‘Train to Pakistan’, ‘I shall not hear the Nightingale’ and ‘Delhi’. His latest novel, ‘The Sunset Club’, written when he was 95, was published by Penguin Books in 2010.

His book ‘Train to Partition’ is inspired by the Partition of India in 1947. His non-fiction includes the classic two-volume ‘A History of the Sikhs’, a number of translations and works on Sikh religion and culture, Delhi, nature, current affairs, and Urdu poetry. His autobiography, ‘Truth, Love and a little Malice’, was published by Penguin Books in 2002.

Publication Year: 1956

History:

The Partition of India was the division of British India in 1947 which eventually accompanied the creation of two independent dominions, India and Pakistan. The Dominion of India became, as of 1950, the Republic of India (India), and the Dominion of Pakistan became, as of 1956, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan (Pakistan). In 1971, the People’s Republic of Bangladesh (Bangladesh) came into being after the Bangladesh Liberation War.

The partition involved the division of three provinces, Assam, Bengal, and Punjab, based on district-wide Hindu or Muslim majorities. The boundary demarcating India and Pakistan came to be known as the Radcliffe Line. The partition was set forth in the Indian Independence Act 1947 and resulted in the dissolution of the British Raj. The two self-governing countries of Pakistan and India legally came into existence at midnight on 14–15 August 1947.

The partition displaced over 14 million people along religious lines, creating overwhelming refugee crises in the newly constituted dominions; there was large-scale violence, with estimates of the loss of life accompanying or preceding the partition varying between several hundred thousand and two million. The violent nature of the partition created an atmosphere of hostility and suspicion between India and Pakistan that plagues their relationship to the present.

Review:

The book is set in an isolated village Mano Majra where people from different religions like Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims co-exist in peace. The village stands as a symbol of ignorance and peace where people carry on with their daily chores whereas the country is in chaos due to the Partition.

People from different religions are migrating to their respective countries via different routes but mostly by trains. Communal violence and instability are rife except the remote village of Mano Majra where people have no idea about the outside world.

But, one day an incident takes places that jeopardizes the tranquility of the village and the harmony among the various religious groups is threatened that leads to suspicion, chaos, and animosity ensuing from the rift created among different communities.

The story is told from the point of view of three major characters: Jagga, an infamous robber, Hukum Chand, a magistrate who is responsible for maintaining peace in the village and Iqbal, a political activist and a mysterious identity who visits the village with a purpose of triggering proletariat revolution.

Despite having a slow pace, the book is very engaging. The scenic descriptions and the depiction of the daily lives of the people in the book are so vivid and detailed, it felt like I was present there and experiencing things myself.

I loved the use of symbolism to depict the events happening in the village. The disruption of the day-to-day activities like the train schedule shows the disruption of the rhythm of their daily lives. The author precisely captured the confusion and dilemma of the people faced with an unlikely situation.

The author, at various places, criticizes the different aspects of society like people’s moral codes, religious beliefs, inequality, corrupt practices, and points out the hypocrisy of the people. The situation in the village shows how easy it is to manipulate people on religious grounds.

“Since they abused and beat him without anger or hate, they were not human beings with names. They were only denominations one tried to get the better of. If one failed, it was just bad luck.” 

The ending just brought tears to my eyes. The author crisply depicts the complexity of human nature and points out the difference between one’s beliefs and actions. The book stays relevant even now as things haven’t changed much in today’s age. It’s a beautiful book worth reading.

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I'm an introvert, agnostic-atheist, insatiable reader, fitness enthusiast, daydreamer, music-lover, cat-adorer, eternal optimist with a touch of cynicism, curious soul, annoying preacher, OCD for cleanliness with a teeny affinity for messiness!

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