Echoes from English Class: Train to Pakistan

A medium for Highschool students pour out their vivid thoughts on the books assigned in their respective English classes, whether it be completely trashing it or applauding it, or something in between.

Train to Pakistan is a highly acclaimed post-independence novel by Khushwant Singh. It is set in the summer of 1947, when millions migrated, finding themselves in the “wrong” country on the basis of religion.

The sub-continent is said to have witnessed the worst communal violence of all time after partition. Where, as an outcome of communal riots, Hindus and Muslims alike were killed, their properties looted, women raped and children tortured.

The story is set in a small village called Mano Majra where Sikhs and Muslims have lived together in peace for hundreds of years. It also happens to be on the border of India and Pakistan. The story unfolds as the inhabitants of Mano Majra experience the effects of partition.

What makes the novel more unique than other novels about partition is, it does not just explore communal violence and the horror of migration, but it also explores the moral transitions and the psychological reasoning of the main characters.

Mano Majra is untouched by religious hate until one day; at the end of the summer, the “ghost train” arrives, a silent, incredible funeral train loaded with the bodies of thousands of Hindus from Pakistan, bringing the village its first taste of the horrors of the civil war.

Train to Pakistan is the story of this isolated village that is plunged into the abyss of religious hate. It is also a story of a Sikh thug and a Muslim weaver’s daughter whose love outshines religious boundaries and ravages of wars.

Juggut Singh, the protagonist of the novel, the infamous budmash of the village, is accused of the murder of the local money lender is. Soon, the sensible character of Iqbal Singh, who’s an activist with a high educational background is introduced. There’s also the good-natured Meet Singh who tries his utmost to prevent bloodshed by preaching the words of God but in vain. Later on, we see the oh-so-powerful magistrate Hukum Chand, his hands ironically bound by his own power.

We’d not expect any complexity in these characters at the beginning of the novel and yet at the end, they leave us dumbfounded.

The novel zooms into the personal backgrounds of each of these characters from the general overview of the ongoing horrors. The events start picking up pace after the arrival of the corpse train and the ending is what makes this novel absorbing and moving, and most importantly thought provoking.

The way Singh constructed each character and framed each event that led us to that heart-shattering ending is truly praiseworthy.

This novel ends with questions that cannot be answered with a simple yes or no. Is it possible to co-exist with people of different religious beliefs? Is religion a force good or bad?

These are questions for which the answers lie between the shady grey area between black and white.

But most importantly, the novel reinforces faith in humanity.

Singh turned a novel in the backdrop of violence and hatred into one that shows us how love and sacrifice can save lives, and that’s what makes this novel worth reading even 62 years after it was first published.

 

Edited by Nalin Mahajan

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