Good books often give wings to the imagination of young writers, thus helping them to transport their readers to a world very different from the real, brutal world we live in. But sometimes, some stories, some real stories are pushed beneath the facts and informative pages of a history book—lost and hidden from the generations to come. Though we learn about these events and score good marks in a history paper, we fail to delve into the depths of the pages and dig out the dust-ridden, true stories still haunting the past of many such families who fell victim to those massacres.
Khushwant Singh was one such survivor of the horrendous Partition of India, 1947, born in Hadali, now in Pakistan. Not only an author, he was a lawyer, a diplomat, a journalist as well as a member of Parliament from 1980 to 1986. He was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 1974, which he returned as a sign of protest against the siege of Golden Temple by the Indian Army. He was awarded the Padma Vibhushan in 2007. Singh died in 2014 at the age of ninety-nine years.
In his book “Train to Pakistan”, he weaves his own experience beautifully, into a story set in Mano Majra, a fictional village on the border of India and Pakistan, harbouring both Sikhs & Muslims peacefully for hundreds of generations. Then, with the murder of the local Hindu moneylender and the arrival of a train from Pakistan carrying the dead bodies of Sikhs, years and years of brotherhood falls apart and hostility brews between the Hindus and Muslims; forcing the latter to leave their lands, homes, cattle, and everything else behind and board a train to Pakistan.
Singh builds up all his characters with finesse and perfect detailing, sometimes using ordinary events of day-to-day lives to reflect the inner conflicts of his characters’ minds. For example, when the District Magistrate Hukum Chand notices two geckos fighting each other and falling on the bed, metaphorically representing the Hindus and Muslims at loggerheads, he jumps out of bed in fear and disgust; thus reflecting his guilt and moral conflict of not taking a stand for the good of the people even with so much power in hand. On the other hand, while the well-educated, social worker Iqbal Singh keeps on pondering whether to lay down his life for the greater good, the uneducated, rogue, gangster Juggut Singh, who has fallen in love with Nooran, a local Muslim girl, tries to redeem himself for all his past actions by sacrificing his own life and saving his fellow Muslim villagers from dreadful deaths; thus exposing another moral paradox of our society— Are learned men truly educated or do they always fall short of action in times of need?
Singh refuses to take any political side and instead, presents us the stark reality of the horrors of partition from a humane point of view. As we flip page after page, we realise that neither Sikhs nor Muslims were innocent! Men were killed on both sides, women were raped on both sides and children were orphaned on both sides. From the many gruesome & explicit accounts of murder, death, rape and torture, we, as readers realise with a heavy heart that it has always been the common people who have suffered and paid the price for the actions and decisions of those in power.
Train to Pakistan is a historical book which does not fail to impress the readers with its detailed and beautiful illustration of a dark age in our Indian History, while at the same time questions our religious bigotry, our society as well as the principles and morals of the decision-makers of our country.