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Train to Pakistan: a truly wonderful novel

May 30, 2009

Yesterday, after my morning internet regime, I decide to start reading books again. So I head straight up and into the cupboard that has all the books. Mainly, I was searching for Adventures of Feluda by Satyajit Ray. I did find it; but I found several other books, including this one – Train to Pakistan.

I glance at the book and notice the author: Khuswant Singh. Of course I have heard of him. I had a Hindi lesson by Khushwant Singh (If I remember right it was top class comedy and satire; not quite sure if I did have) and the lesson and poem I had in 12th and 11th standard respectively in English (At least the lesson was there for sure).

I check out the summary at the back. Here’s the summary verbatim.

“ “In the summer of 1947, when the creation of the new state of Pakistan was formally announced, ten million people – Muslims and Hindus and Sikhs – were in flight. By the time the monsoon broke, almost a million of them were dead, and all of northern India was in arms, in terror, or in hiding. The only remaining pases of peace were a scatter of little villages lost in the remote reaches of the frontier. One of these villages is Mano Majra.”

It is a place, Khuswant Singh goes on to tell us at the beginning of this classic novel, where Sikhs and Muslims have lived together in peace for hundreds of years. Then one day, at the end of summer, the “ghost train” arrives, a silent, incredible funeral train loaded with the bodies of thousands of refugees, 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 the story of a Sikh boy and a Muslim girl whose endures and transcends the ravages of war. ”

Although, you might think the storyline is something similar to a nice Bollywood masala movie (which was what even I thought “this was not going to be anything great; but let’s read for the author”), you ought to know that the story first was released in 1956; when the country was only falling into place after the partition. Of course, it became evident that this was addressing a serious issue soon and I was absorbed in the novel so much, I projected finishing it in a day (which I did). So I decide to just read it; since it had a interesting back-drop: the partition

The story’s main characters are Juggut Singh (a local hereditary dacoit), Nooran-his love interest, Imam Baksh – Nooran’s father & village mosque’s mullah (head), Meet Singh – Sikh’s religious head in the village, Hukum Chand – a magistrate, a sub inspector, Iqbal – social worker, Maali (a local dacoit), Banta Singh – the village headman sort of person.

The story, as the extract suggests, is set in times of partition, in a village close to the Indo-Pak border. What was usually a peaceful village, where people of all religions co-existed, soon was torn apart by the train that arrived carrying several dead people; killed due to the communal riots prevailing at that time.

I’m not going to put the complete synopsis here. Please go read the book: it’s really good. The book got very dry and dragging in the middle I must say; mainly because it’s a bit predictable how the novel’s going to turn now and i kept getting distracted because it didn’t have the elements i like: action, plot, twists etc. But, nevertheless, I enjoyed the emotions that are portrayed so well in this novel. Even when the Muslims were being evacuated from the village, both the communities tried in vain to somehow prevent the separation of the brothers and sisters of the other community; and the feeling of separation that was inherent in the minds of the Sikhs after their Muslim brethren had left the village was portrayed picture perfectly by the author.

If I want a longer entry I certainly will have to add a synopsis; which I do not intend to do. But this in short is the story: it’s a struggle of a magistrate and a sub – inspector to keep alive the remaining Muslims in the villages close to the border and transport them safely to Pakistan. Although, yes the theme does talk about the enduring love of the Sikh boy and the Muslim girl and yet you may think that the storyline what i have said does not feature it (so did I when I nearly completed the novel) but as they say “it’s not over until it’s over” and “as good as isn’t good enough”, the climax does feature this enduring love’s demonstration. And it’s this demonstration that struck me as the true theme of the story. Of course, you’ll never realize it (I didn’t even when I had finished the novel; until I read the last part again) and please don’t read this novel with any of these in mind. Read it with no premonitions at all. But please do read this fantastic novel. I assure you that you may feel it’s boring as the novel progresses; but I assure you that the novel’s true idea is made clear in the climax only. It’s truly then that “Train to Pakistan” begins it’s journey – both literally and figurativelyJ.

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From → Novels

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