By: Esha Mahendra
As an Indian, we all know our history is both cruel and ruthless. It can be very well proved by remembering the independence struggle. The year was 1947 and the historical novel, written by Khushwant Singh Train to Pakistan (1956) describes those days very well.
An estimated 14 million people were displaced by the Partition, which aimed to divide the nations along religious lines and initially led to widespread chaos and violence. The book was published after the Second World War and at the beginning of India’s decolonization.
The story revolves around the village named, Mano Majra situated near the river Sutlej. A lowly place with only three brick-buildings—a gurdwara, where Meet Singh presides as its resident Bhai; a mosque led by the mullah and weaver Imam Baksh; and the home of the Hindu moneylender, Lala Ram Lal. Mano Majra becomes the site of a notorious dacoity, which results in Ram Lal’s murder.
The novel is built up in such a way that marks the birth of Pakistan. A lowly place with only three brick-buildings— The author illustrates the complexity of humanity during a time when people were reduced to their religious allegiances.
He presents comprehensive accounts of the cruelties committed by all to emphasize that such habits are unlimited to certain religious factions, but rather, are common to humanity. The novel ultimately Illustrates how overcoming colonial rule remains not merely a task of reasserting control over one’s political destiny but also facing the subsequent and heart-wrenching predicaments for the readers.
The novel depicts a country in which police powers are broad, unchecked, and abusive. Women in the story lack their subjectivity. When they are discussed, it is in the context of their relationships with men. The novel suggests that, in addition to religious and caste tensions, gender prejudice is heavy to be blamed for the miserable life following the Partition.
People who had lived together for generations in similar villages became enemies overnight. Muslims fleeing India met rape, pillaging, and death and Sikhs fleeing Pakistan faced the same adversities. Though the differences between the religions are mentioned briefly in the remarkable novel, most of the strife between the two groups stems from acts of violence, both past and present, each side committing violence against the other. At the heart of the 1947 Partition of India are the questions of national identity raised by the author.”What does it mean being Indian, and what? does it mean to be a Pakistani?”
The novel depicts the story of dacoity, murder, love, mass killings, rape, poverty and mental distress due to partition. Ultimately, it can be marked as a book which transports the reader to that era and identifies the situation encountered by people then. The prolific author has placed tremendous efforts on bringing out the unseen and unheard in-depth issues of those hard times.
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Esha Mahendra is a volunteer with Quillopia. The views expressed are the author’s own.