Train to Pakistan written by Kushwanth Singh is a historical novel published in 1956. It is a novel which recounts the partition of India and its aftermath. Though most stories and reports of this time period have connection with the political development, this novel has very little of it and focuses on the local incidents of an imaginary town called Mano Majra. Kushwanth Singh was a lawyer and a politician. But he was better known for his witty journalism and books. He was diplomat too. Train to Pakistan was one of his well-known novels and was made into a film in Hindi in1998.
Setting of the Story
After the World War II Great Britain granted many of its biggest colony independence and divided it into India and Pakistan. It was divided at the request placed by Mohammed Ali Jinnah and the British thought it might dispel religious tensions by dividing the country into two based on religion. So Pakistan went carved out for the Indian Muslims. What ensued was the movement of people across the border; all in that belt had to leave their homes and all that they had to start life in the new country. Muslims from India went to Pakistan went to India and Hindus from Pakistan moved to India. Murderous bedlam ensued leaving scores dead on either side. The story is set in this background. However this is actually at the background and in the foreground plays the happening of the local people and its only towards the end the town falls a prey to the bigger plan but is saved.
The fictional town of Mano Majrais religiously diverse and is a border town. It is quite close to a railway bridge that connects India and Pakistan, yet the people in this town were blissfully unaware of the uproar around them. The majority in the town are Sikhs and Muslims and there are some Hindus too. Iqbal arrives into this town and Meet Singh thinks he is a Singh and calls him Iqbal Singh. The day before he arrives dacoits attack the town and run away with the booty. This is done by Malli and gang but as they speed away they throw some jewels into Juggut Singh’s house and this is to mislead the police. He succeeds in this but Jugga (Juggut Singh) escapes before he is caught. Jugga was a known criminal, but this was not his doing. Iqbal who has come from Delhi and who was against the British wants to do a grand gesture and ends being known as a ‘political agitator’. He is soon implicated in the murder of Lala Ram Lal the richest Hindu in that town.
Iqbal is arrested and so is Jugga. They share the same cell and both understand that they are jailed without doing any wrong. Malli is the one who murdered Lala Ram Lal and he is also arrested. Iqbal and Jugga are released. Meanwhile the town gets a whiff of what is happening around them. Muslims are asked to leave the town into Pakistan.Malli is released from jail to create further confusion. Malli tells in front of the villagers that Iqbal is a Muslim leaguer. Though they really are not troubled by it there is some kind of unrest among the Sikhs and the Muslims. The Muslims don’t trust the Sikhs and vice versa. Many Muslims have left Mano Majra and the others were ready to take the train to Pakistan. The belongings of the Muslims were to safeguarded by Malli who only ransacked their houses. The Sikhs plan to kill the Muslims travelling on top of the train to Paksitan by tying a rope over the railway bridge. This does not happen as Juggut Singhclimbs on the steel frame and cuts as the train arrives. He is shot at and he falls on to the track and the train runs over him. Jugga saves all the Muslims travelling by cutting the rope at the cost of his life.
The Partition of India and Religious Warfare
This is what the novel is all about. Mano Majra was a small town which was totally unaffected by the partition. When the magistrate Hukum Chand arrives he asks the sub-inspector what the situation was in Mano Majra. For this he replies that he is not sure whether anyone in that town knew that British had left the country and the country was divided into Pakistan and Hindustan. From such a town it transforms into one of hatred and this happens because of some locals and not because of any political movement. However the goodness of the people is what finally wins.
Jugga and Iqbal were arrested because of the corrupt police officers. Though Jugga was known criminal, all knew that he would not bring any harm to his own town. But he was arrested. Iqbal also was seen as a threat to establishment and so he also was arrested on the pretext of Lala Ram Lal. The release of Malli is the nadir of corruption. He was a hard core criminal, he was allowed to go free and create some mistrust amongst the people.
Iqbal an educated man from Delhi wanted to stir the feelings of the people of Mano Majra against the British but he does not succeed. He thinks the people there have ‘cobwebs’ in their heads and their old thought cannot be changed. His acts of heroism do not affect the people but he is branded as an agitator. Jugga is the actual hero. Though a criminal he makes sure that his community’s plan of killing their Muslim brethren is sabotaged and loses his life in the process.
Khushwant Singh’s purpose in this novel is to bring out the human element and offer a social understanding. The partition was a political move but the most affected were the people. Without taking the larger picture and by writing about the local happenings he has created an impact which a reader will not forget very soon. The reality statement as all know everything boils down to the individual- the community, society, country and the world. If the individual is right the world will be right.