Train to Pakistan

I have not read much of Khushwant Singh. Frankly speaking, I like the crispy flavor of his writing but most of the times it is only this crispiness that I get from his book, no protein or vitamins of life. So, I mostly avoided it till I bumped into his “Train to Pakistan”. I don’t know how much value it carries as a novel, but what strikes me is the underlying prophecy of all times told in the backdrop of the most inhumane times of our subcontinent: the partition.

A small village, on the border of India and Pakistan, with a history of peaceful co-existence of Sikh and Muslims, is thrown into a series of most unusual happenings during partition. A case of dacoity, a murder, arrival of a new educated socialist in the village is accompanied by the surge of Sikh refugees who lost all their belonging and most of their ladies on the way and a train carrying thousands of dead bodies from Pakistan. People who lived happily together for generations couldn’t make out what they were going through. Police is keen to send the Muslim villagers to Pakistan because they suspect something brewing among the refugee Sikhs; some plan to wash the Muslims out. The original Sikh community of the village assures the Muslim cleric “Chacha, it’s on our dead body that they’d be able to touch you people.” And the old blind cleric says “Why should you sacrifice everything for us?” They sit together in the dark rainy night, with the dead bodies carried by the train being burnt by the police, and can’t make out what to do!

At last, comes the police and declares the expected: all the Muslims should vacate the village NOW. And all they can only carry is their bare minimums. The pang of leaving everything behind, all your life, memories and friends; all your belongings: both material and emotional! In a flash of second, your land becomes somebody else’s and you become to some alien lands! And you start a journey which you never know will ever end up or not, even if it ends, how many of you will be able to make it there. And how much destruction, death and hunger are waiting on the way!

But wait, the journey has not yet started. And before they can start their journey, the refugee Sikhs hatches a murder plan for them. They will be killed while in the train. The Granthi (Sikh Priest) of the village knows it and says “It’s my duty to warn people about the bad, I can’t restrict them from doing it.” The educated socialist who is still in the village also called it quit because he was not sure about whether his sacrifice would be noticed by anybody, police didn’t want to interfere; they didn’t have much time to give attention to all these incidents.

And when nobody bothered to do anything, a badmash (somebody whose name has been registered as culprit in police station), a notorious dacoit from the village stood up to save his fellow-villagers lives by sacrificing his own.

It’s a story of the time of no religion, no humanity and no morale, but it is also about how even a small sparkle of humanity in such mad times can transform the pitch-black night into an aura of thousand suns. Even one human standing tall in the middle of injustice all around can make the vast difference. A prophecy that holds good for all ages.


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