There are many stories and books that gives us Indian history and a backdrop of Partition, but this particular story is about one whole dividing into parts, one country parting into two and one village- and several others in that case- getting devastated in the chaos. With a backdrop of summer 1947, this novel revolves around the lives of several innocent Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims that pay the price of the fight between two communities. As an Indian and as a person who ought to know their past, one needs to read this book (or watch the movie adapted from the novel) to understand and recognize the detailed chaos and destruction that the Partition caused. And also, here’s why:
The Theme of Partition
‘The fact is, both sides killed. Both shot and stabbed and speared and clubbed. Both tortured. Both raped.’
The theme of partition has been lent significance not only in political change, but also has a focal point to the local change and an immaculate portrayal of the real effect of partition on the lives of people. The story revolves around Mano Majra, a small village where the villagers, both Muslims and Sikhs, live together in a little world of their own and share their joys, sorrows and love. Being a remote village, it is ignorant of the happenings of the outside world. But towards the end, when the reality of partition hits the village from outside, its destruction is inevitable.
The Significance of Train in the Novel
Train plays a crucial role in the story. In the beginning of the novel, Train was symbolized as peace: the arrival and departure of the trains regulated the daily activities of the village. While towards the end of the novel, the Train was symbolized as death and disaster: disturbing the peaceful life of the villagers, bringing the stories of the partition to the village and breaking the brotherhood and kinship between them.
The chaos begins when a train full of thousands of dead Sikhs arrive in the village. And even before the villagers recover from this, the lake beside the village flows with water of corpses!
The Personal Impact of the Author
A good story has always been known to possess a subjective outlook and a hold of personal experiences spinning the story around and making it seem more real. Khushwant Singh was himself a Sikh and drawing out experiences and his own real-life details, he has added life to the novel and made it evermore heartfelt and authentic.
‘India is constipated with a lot of humbug. Take religion. For the Hindu, it means little besides caste and cow-protection. For the Muslim, circumcision and kosher meat. For the Sikh, long hair and hatred of the Muslim. For the Christian, Hinduism with a sola topee. For the Parsi, fire-worship and feeding vultures. Ethics, which should be the kernel of a religious code, has been carefully removed.’
The Sensational Climax
To save a thousand Muslims who will pass the bride from Mano Majra is now only impossible in the eyes of the police and the whole village. The novel, here, signifies implicitly how Indians, no matter Sikh or Hindu, have always to abide by the rules of ‘no violence’ and portray love and affection even to those who belong to a different community such as Muslim. The carefully built up climactic scenes, the kinship of villagers and the urgency to save Muslims of their own village will keep you on the edge of your seat until the anticipated suspense reveals.
‘Not forever does the bulbul sing
In balmy shades of bowers,
Not forever lasts the spring
Nor ever blossom the flowers.
Not forever reigneth joy,
Sets the sun on days of bliss,
Friendships not forever last,
They know not life, who know not this.’
-Khushwant Singh, Train to Pakistan