Train to Pakistan is a historical fiction written by the most renowned novelist and writer of 20th century Indian English Literature, Khushwant Singh. This novel was published in 1956. It recounts some unforgettable and painful events during Partition of India in August 1947. It is pathetic how the situations described in the novel remain unchanged even after seven decades of India’s independence.
Train to Pakistan takes place in Mano Majra, a fictional village on India-Pakistan border, where the people living were predominantly Muslims and Sikhs. These communities in the village live in peace together. Eventually the Muslims in the village were forced to move to Pakistan in a mass on account of the consequences of partition.
In short, Train to Pakistan is a book about people who plunged into the abyss of religious hatred.
Khushwant Singh’s intelligence and interesting narrative style is revealed in Train to Pakistan which makes the readers desperate and restless to know what happens in the next page.
John Gabree about Train to Pakistan: “A powerful and affecting novel capturing both the sweep of the cataclysmic events of 1947 and the intimate details of village existence.”
TRAIN TO PAKISTAN | PLOT SUMMARY
Train to Pakistan takes place in Mano Majra, a beautiful village where people from different religions – Hindu, Muslims, Sikhs and some Christians – lived in harmony. The narrative interchanges among Jugga, Hukum Chand and Iqbal. Train to Pakistan surrounds around Juggut Singh (alias Jugga) and his struggles to reclaim peace in his village.
Nearby the village was a railway station located on the Satlej river where the train to Pakistan or from Pakistan stopped. A beautiful pond with full of water surrounded by trees at the end of the village glorified it and the people of the village. The whistling sound of the Lahore mail train was a treat to the ears of hard-working people of Mano Majra. At 10.30, the passenger train from Delhi was steamed in. By this time, the villagers settled down to their routine work.
At the heart of partition between India and Pakistan, the harmony prevailed until was threatened in many forms, not only in cities, but also in remote villages like Mano Majra which the Train to Pakistan captured here.
On one night in August 1947, five robbers moved silently towards the river armed with weapons and their faces were covered with masks. One among them carried a chromium-plated electric torchlight. When they reached the embankment, he flicked the torch and snapped it off quickly. They were talking about their rich booty and garments to be robbed. Apparently they were dacoits whose head is Malli, arrived there for a robbery.
Malli’s gang stopped at the door of Lala Ram Lal’s house, a rich local money lender. One among them called for Lal to open the door. None responded to his call. He shouted again calling his name. A woman from inside the house said that Lalaji was not at home. One of them fired the gun in air and they broke the door and entered the house. They threatened the woman with serious consequences if she didn’t give her precious ornaments and money in her house. They caught up Ram Lal and brutally murdered. Women were beaten up ruthlessly. None came to their help as the villagers were scared of their lives. The robbers went away with precious jewellery and large cash, laughing cheerfully and challenging the villagers. Having divided the booty among themselves, they went towards the river Sutlej when the goods train whistled in the dark.
Juggut Singh had left the house earlier when the whistling of passing train heard, to have rendezvous with his lover Nooran. His mother tried to stop him from going out lest he would meet the same fate as his father did. His father was hanged for being involved in dacoity. Juggut Singh didn’t not listen to his mother’s advice. He walked cautiously to reach the pond where his beloved was waiting. After a romance for some time, Nooran went to her house.
Having robbed the Lalaji’s house, the Malli’s gang was passing flicking torchlights in the dark. Juggut Singh recognised Malli and gang flicking torchlight. The whole village was awake after the robbery. Everyone talked about the robbery vociferously. But none dared to face or chase the Malli’s gang.
There was a bungalow made up of bricks stood majestically in the village. The bungalow was cleaned up for staying as an officer was on the way. One sub-inspector and two constables were arrived. They were clad in white, a red belt around their waist and white turbans with broadbands. Hukum Chand, the magistrate responsible for maintaining harmony in the village, gave a patient hearing to the sub-inspector. They discussed the law and order situation in the village. The sub-inspector was advised to send reports on the village regularly to the magistrate.
The villagers were ignorant a lot. They had some knowledge about Gandhi but none ever heard of Mohammed Jinnah. The magistrate enquired the sub-inspector whether there was any suspicious character in the village. The sub-inspector informed him about Juggut Singh, the son of dacoit Alam Singh, was a notorious character in the village. The magistrate was acquainted with Jugga’s affair with Mulla Immam’s angelic daughter Nooran.
Arrangements were made for the magistrate’s evening pleasure. Two women singers sang songs of the magistrate’s choice. The magistrate gulped some amount of whiskey. After the feast was over, the magistrate went to bed with Haseena, the young singer.
Next morning, a well-educated young man arrived in Mano Majra and went straight to Gurudwara, the temple of Sikhs. He met Bhai Meet Singh and requested him to accommodate him there for two or three days. Without any question, the young man was accommodated in a small room. The young man, Iqbal, looked gentle and told Meet Singh that he was a social activist who had come there to stop bloodshed in the area in the wake of partition, since Mano Majra happened to be a very sensitive place as it was situated on the border.
Meet Singh briefed the young man about the dacoity and murder committed at the Lala Ram Lal’s house and the police were investigating as the dacoits had taken away precious ornaments and large cash. As a social activist, Iqbal could not resist himself from visiting the place. But Meet Singh advised him to take rest as he seemed too tired from a long journey in a crowded railway compartment.
Iqbal tried to sleep, but couldn’t because there was no proper ventilation and flies were buzzing all around. Meet Singh came to him and told him that the dacoity at Ram Lal’s house stimulated his moral thinking. Juggut Singh, a notorious criminal, was like a venomous snake which would never give up its venum. Juggut Singh would never give up his bad ways. Meet Singh briefed Iqbal about police officials who had not arrested Juggut Singh yet. Iqbal wanted to walk around the place but he was informed that Banta Singh and Mulla Immam were coming to meet him. Iqbal witnessed the corpse of Ram Lal was carried out.
In the evening, Banta Singh and Mulla Immam were coming to meet him. Iqbal welcomed them and discussed on whatever was going on in the world. They were innocent and not aware of the partition and its consequences. Iqbal briefed about India’s independence and the British masters were leaving the country. After they left, Iqbal went to sleep.
The next morning, Iqbal was arrested in his room in Gurudwara while he woke up rubbing eyes. Meet Singh didn’t like Iqbal’s arrest. The police arrested Juggut Singh too. His mother tried in vain to prove that he had no hand in the dacoity and murder at Ram Lal’s house. Both Iqbal and Jugga were imprisoned in the same room. The sub-inspector was under the impression that Iqbal was part of Muslim league. Iqbal threatened the sub-inspector that if he was not released in twenty four hours, he would move a habeas corpus petition and expose to the court that he was unnecessarily framed. The sub-inspector retorted him that he should better apply to go to Pakistan but Iqbal denied because he wasn’t a Muslim. Juggut Singh deeply respected Iqbal as an innocent man. When police threatened Iqbal in the murder to use third degree for confession, Jugga appealed to the sub-inspector not to harass the innocent man.
In the month of September, the goods trains became ghost trains. One day when an empty train arrived in Mano Majra, the station was full of armed policemen. Mano Majra is characterized by Mulla Immam who lived with his daughter Nooran choosing to teach children Quran after the death of his wife and son earlier. Banta Singh was the leader of the village folk. Suddenly two policemen came calling Banta Singh telling there were trucks to be loaded with wooden bundles immediately.
The villagers watched from the rooftop people going to the railway station. There were clouds of dark smoke arrived from the station and the breeze blew smelling carosine on human bodies. The villagers realised that the ghost train had arrived from Pakistan and the passengers in the train were corpses.
Hukum Chand tried to sleep but he couldn’t. He could sense the unfortunate consequences of the monstrosity of Hindu-Muslim communalism. He was scared of his life.
Next morning, the sub-inspector briefed Hukum Chand about the ghost train and disposal of corpses in the railway station. The villagers were not allowed in the railway station. Some refugees had come from the border of Pakistan. They were boarded at temple and fed with food. Overall the law and order situation was under control.
When Hukum Chand enquired about Ram Lal’s murder, the sub-inspector detailed that he was murdered by Malli’s gang and Juggut Singh had not involved in the murder as he was busy in rendezvous with his beloved Nooran at that time. Hukum Chand ordered the sub-inspector not to release Juggut Singh and Iqbal and arrest Malli’s gang. Hukum Chand began to think about the problems that were to follow in near future.
Juggut Singh was so deeply influenced by Iqbal’s knowledge and massaged his feet submissively telling him that he wanted to learn English. He told him that he was not part of Malli’s gang and had nothing to do with Ram Lal’s murder. The police arrested all the five dacoits in the Ram Lal’s murder case including Malli.
On a rainy day, many ghost trains arrived and the corpses were summarily disposed. As ghost trains continued to arrive, the air in the village turned heavy. Mistrust, fear and vengeance spreaded. People could easily be swayed by rumours. Hindu and Sikhs were on one side and Muslims on other side. They suspected each other and there could be communal riots and hardcore violence at any time. Hukum Chand felt that he was sitting on a volcano that could erupt at any time.
Sikhs gathered at Banta Singh’s house. Meet Singh stated that Iqbal was a Sikh as he wore an iron bangle around his wrist. Everyone accepted his statement and Iqbal became known as Iqbal Singh. They planned to kill Muslims as a vindictive action to counterbalance what was happening to Hindus in Pakistan. Banta Singh advised the Muslims to go out and board in refugee camps until the situation became normal. Immam Bakhs and fellow Muslims took farewell with tears and embraces. Banta Singh assured them to look after their houses and cattle.
Immam Bakhs came to house and woke up Nooran to pack up things. She got up reluctantly and went to Jugga’s house at midnight. Jugga wasn’t there. Nooran informed his mother that she was pregnant for two months and would deliver Jugga’s child when it was due. His mother assured her all the necessary help. She returned home with heavy heart believing she would again come back in the morning to say goodbye to Jugga.
Next morning, the Sikh officers came and urged the Muslims who were willing to go to Pakistan to pack up their belongings. It was once again a heavy moment when they departed weeping under the grip of emotion. Their belongings were looted on the way by Malli’s gang who were set free from prison by Hukum Chand for vindictive actions against Muslims to counterbalance what was happening to Hindus in Pakistan. The refugees and the accompanying officers were lazy onlookers lest they would be shot dead by Malli’s gang.
The Sutlej in Mano Majra was flooded heavily in the rainy season which made villagers to forget the Muslims and misdeeds of Malli’s gang. Malli’s gang looted properties and cattle in the village.
There was a painful cry for help heard from the bridge. They rushed to the spot and witnessed many carcasses of cows and properties floating away on the flood. They thought that a village was swept away in flood. But they realised the truth when they heard a train passing in the dark. The train was from Pakistan.
At the bright sunlight next morning, it was full of dismembered limbs, torsos, skulls and corpses all around.
A few days later, a train from Pakistan arrived with soldiers and police forces. They ordered to bring the corpses to a common burial place and the ceremony continued till the evening.
At night Gurudwara was thronged by villagers. They were scared about their lives. They wept and cried in sleep. Suddenly a beep sound of the jeep woke them up. With loud voices, the visitors asked whether there were any Muslims who were still alive. They instigated hatred on the villagers against Muslims and tried convincing to kill all the Muslims, load their corpses and send one train to Pakistan with full of corpses to avenge the atrocities by the Muslims of Pakistan on Hindus and Sikhs.
Malli’s gang was volunteered to execute the plan. It was planned that a rope should be stretched on bridge at a particular height so that when the train crossed the bridge in the dark, the folks sitting on the roof of the train would fall down on the river and die. The rest would be shot dead by knives and spears in the dark. Hukum Chand ordered to release the Malli’s gang to execute the plan before the train could leave the station.
Jugga was very angry as Nooran was forced to leave Mano Majra. Jugga after hearing some holy lines from Meet Singh, had left Gurudwara to execute his plan unknown to anyone in Mano Majra. Train was signalled to pass. Many men were standing ready to attack the train as it would be passing over the bridge. One man (it was actually Jugga) climbed to the middle point of the rope. The gang thought that someone was checking the tightness of the knot. As the train approached, the gang leader shouted at the man to climb down and save himself. But the man would not listen to him. The gang leader shot him but not before he had achieved his mission. He slipped down and the train passed over him, crossing the bridge and went on to Pakistan.
Train to Pakistan is a path-breaking in Indian English Literature. Pamela Rooks directed the movie Train to Pakistan in 1998 in Hindi which starred Nirmal Pandey, Rajit Kapur, Mohan Agashe, Smriti Mishra and so on, was adapted from this novel, Train to Pakistan, by Khushwant Singh. The movie follows the same plot and theme of the novel.
Train to Pakistan was published by Chatto & Windus in London in 1956.