Train to Pakistan Review

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One of the most brutal episodes in the planet’s history, in which a million men, women, and children were killed and ten million were displaced from their homes and belongings, is now over half a century old. Partition, a euphemism for the bloody violence that preceded the birth of India and Pakistan as the British hurriedly handed over power in 1947, is becoming a fading word in the history books. First-hand accounts will soon vanish. Khushwant Singh, who was over thirty at the time, later wrote Train to Pakistan and got it published in 1956. Reprinted since then, reissued in hardcover, and translated into many languages, the novel is now known as a classic, one of the finest and best-known treatments of the subject. Khushwant Singh recreates a tiny village in the Punjabi countryside and its people in that fateful summer. When the flood of refugees and the inter-communal bloodletting from Bengal to the Northwest Frontier at last touches them, many ordinary men and women are bewildered, victimized, and torn apart. Khushwant Singh sketches his characters with a sure and steady hand. In barely over two hundred pages, we come to know quite a cast: the powerful district magistrate-cum-deputy commissioner Hukum Chand, a sad but practical minded realist, and his minion the sub-inspector of police at district headquarters. The village roughneck Juggut Singh “Jugga”, a giant Sikh always in and out of prison, who secretly meets the daughter of the village mullah. The simple priest at the Sikh temple. A Western-educated visitor who is a worker for the Communist party, with the ambiguous name of Iqbal (ambiguous because it doesn’t reveal his religion). The village, Mano Majra, is on the railway line near where it crosses the swelling Sutlej. Its inhabitants, mostly Sikh farmers and their Muslim tenants, have remained relatively untouched by the violence of the previous months. When the village money-lender, a Hindu, is murdered, Jugga and the clean-shaven visitor are...
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