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Abstract: Partition has been a bane on India since 1947, as it changed the entire travain of the Indian history. The most significant issue had a tremendous effect on the people of India, where Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs formed the major part of the community. During partition the not only human body are tortured and scattered but also the human soul does not find peace even after death. The communities that once lived in harmony and peace, becomes enemies of each other overnight, and all the human values seems devastated. In Khushwant Singh’s novel Train to Pakistan, deals with the sensitive issue of Partition where situations change when communal riots knocks the door of the rural village. The essay analyses the human perception and mechanism, during this tragic event. It brings out the true character of each one at the time of emergency and explores the feeling of brotherhood amidst the enmity among the villagers of Mano Majra.
“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 religious code, has been carefully removed…Proof? we do not go into such padestrian pastime as proof! That is Western. We are of the mysterious East.No proof, just faith. No reason; just faith.”
In the novel, Khushwant singh brings to the centre stage the fact of the partition of the Punjab and the question of the subsequent violence on both sides of the border in a very effective, vivid and graphic manner. In addition to this, the characters in the novel are vivid and highly credible, and Khushwant Singh keeps them going magnificently on two levels: their love for the humanity in the beginning and then when the “ghost train” arrives in Mano Majra, a sense of revenge is exhibited in the most gruesome way.
In some way, the novel also depicts the relevance and significance of human relationships. This alone can lead to an attainment of genuine freedom. Man is free to decide on a course of action which is found to affect a whole group of people, a nation, and mankind. Every individual shares the responsibility of establishing a code of values which would ensure peace and solidarity for mankind.
As Sartre said:”Every one of our acts has at its stake, the meaning of the world and place of man in the universe. Through each of them, whether we wish it or not, we set up a scale of values which is universal.”
It has to be remembered that freedom is not just the absence of external pressure; it is also the presence of something else. The struggle for freedom is not without its darker side. If the fight for political freedom aims at ensuring peace for a particular community, it may also arouse and mobilize diabolical forces in man-forces which one would have believed to be non-existent, or at least to have died out long ago. If social and moral freedom is unlimited, it may unleash the numerous problems of excess and the lack of restraint.
The partition of the Indian sub-continent was the single most traumatic experience in our recent history. The violence it unleashed by the hooligan actions of a few fanatics, the vengeance that the ordinary Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs wreaked on each other worsened our social sense, distorted our political judgments and deranged our understanding of moral righteousness.
The real sorrow of the partition, however, as a portrayed in the novel, brought to an abrupt end a long and communally shared history and cultural heritage. The relations between the Hindus and the Muslims were not, of course, always free from suspicions, distrust or the angry rejection by one group of the habits and practices of the other; but such moments of active malevolence and communal frenzy were a rare and transient exception to the common bonds of mutual goodwill and warm feelings of close brotherhood.
There were some disruptions on some rare occasions, the rich hetero-religious identities. Organizations which nurtured violent hatred towards each other and incited communal passions did exist, but at the very margins of the solidly and healthily functioning social and cultural order. It is the unthinkable decision of partition and hollow love of “nationalism” that let the mischief off and out.
The novel also portrays the changing patterns of communal relations between the Sikhs and the Muslims; it focuses attention on the inseparable bonds of friendship between the two communities in the village where the composite culture off India breathes in all its vitality. An over-all pattern or pre-partition communal amity between the Sikhs and the Muslims begin to give way like a ramshackle hutment, the exposing of the Sikh-Muslim brotherhood rise to prop up the crumbling superstructure. If, in the process, their lives are lost, they do not go in vain. They highlight the quintessential unity between the two communities in the inundating sea of blind and reckless fury.
In his first novel, Train to Pakistan (1956), it is cataclysmic events of partition of India in 1947 that dominates the life of Mano Majra in the narrative, many climatic situations including the anti-sikh riots of 1984, covering about nine hundred years of its past, shape up the narrative. Khushwant’s Singh’s guilt stands for the collective failure of human mechanism in the wake of the creation of artificial religious boundaries for wielding power. The passion for power disrupts the peaceful ways of the village community in Mano Majra.
The journalist in him yields to the creative artist, who anticipates in Mano Majra the possible arcane microcosm of peace and co-existence, until one day when the virus of communal hatred infects the delicately balanced, centuries- old ties with the arrival of the ‘ghost train’. If the inner world of Mano Majra tries to redress the age-old abyss of religious hatred through the of a boy who was Sikh and a Muslim girl, it is exacerbated by the mechanizations of the self-proclaimed, power-hungry arbiters of faith in the outer world with all claims and promises of progress, the dividing line remains the same even for the contemporary civilization. According to the author, man has not changed so far as his vulnerability to power and passion is concerned. But Singh has a specific point of view, as R.K. Dhawan suggests:
“Largely it implies an urbane and sophisticated attitude to contemporary problems with a measure of ethnic bias and common sense.”
Moreover, the novel is an attempt to hold before the common man a lens through which he could see “what threatened him socially, culturally or politically making aware of the precipice that lay ahead.”
The novel, accounts of their impetuosity, recklessness, and aggressiveness of youth, many Indian revolutionaries, in the course of the chequered history of India’s struggle for freedom, followed the way of violence and bloodshed. This represents wanton abuse of the sanctity of life-principles- holiness, filial devotion, prayerful devoutness, and martyrdom.
Man’s vulnerability to power and passion not only deprives Mano Majra of its peace but also never lets Delhi to touch heights of glory despite its many historical opportunities and personalities.
“Muslims said the Hindus had planned and started the killing. According to the Hindus, the Muslims were to blame. The fact is, both sides killed. Both shot and stabbed and speared and clubbed. Both tortured. Both raped” (1).
The village on the border of Pakistan and India was known as Mano Majra, who was caught in the web of conflicts that was initiated due to the hatred between Sikhs and Muslims. Even if the villagers lived in peacefully. The villagers were kept in dark about the happenings of the world and gain information only through rumour and what people have to say.
On learning that the government was planning to transport Muslims from Mano Majra to Pakistan the next day for their safety, one Muslim said, “What have we to do with Pakistan? We were born here. So were our ancestors. We have lived amongst [Sikhs] as brothers” (126).
The Muslims had to leave for the refugee camp from where they were supposed to go to Pakistan. An unfortunate incident occurred when a group of agitators entered Mano Majra and instilled local Sikhs, who hated Muslims. The mass killing took place on the train that was carrying passengers from India to Pakistan and vice versa.
In novel, if we take a closer look, and perceive people with their religious attachment, we would find a new pattern of the social structure. The corrupt Government officials took liberty in law and arrested local villagers even at the slight hint of conflict in the villages. The law enforcement was completely in the hands of the officials where educated never stayed for too long and shifted frequently. The common people were turned off and confused by their conservative ideas. When educated man was speaking to a villager abut freedom, the villager explained,
“Freedom is for the educated people who fought for it. We were slaves of the English, now we will be slaves of the educated Indians-or the Pakistanis” (48).
The point from where things were revealed depicted that how British State did not benefit the uneducated lot and that these group were made target and their views were influenced and how their groups were susceptible to the blames.
The novel is based on the principle value that if the educated people had taken the right decision at the right time, the massive destruction in form of bloodshed would have been avoided. The conflict that arises due to the anarchy caused due to political and religious strife, gives understanding of the human action and discusses the moral aspect of the action and psychology of humans during the turmoil. In the novel, Hukum Chand is the regional magistrate who has been depicted as an influential character. It is clear from the storyline that Hukum Singhh is a morally corrupted person who has misused his power and has contributed to the growing corruption. He is exhibited as a filthy person with sins ingrained in his character and try to wash his sins away, he is compared to Pontius Pilate in Bible.
The novel has varied characters which have been given adequate attention. Iqbal Singh and Juggut Singh are constables who portray educated and effeminate character from the British force. Juggut as compared to Iqbal, is a towering, well built, uneducated villager who places action over thought and is known for arrest and problems related to notorious groups. In contrast, the two characters, the two characters share the same crime history. Both were convicted for the murder and were sentenced to imprisonment. The information regarding the attack on the train was known by them and they both decided to save the villagers who were traveling from Mano Majra to Pakistan. Juggut found about the chaos and tried to save the lives of the muslims who had boarded the train to Pakistan and n the process lost his life. Iqbal spends his time oscillating his thoughts that whether he should save the people on train, this exposed his moral character.
“The bullet is neutral. It hits the good and the bad, the important and the insignificant, without distinction. If there were people to see the act of self-immolationâ€¦the sacrifice might be worth while: a moral lesson might be conveyedâ€¦the point of sacrificeâ€¦is the purpose. For the purpose, it is not enough that a thing is intrinsically good: it must be known to be good.
It is not enough to know within one’s self that one is in the right” (170).
Khushwant Singh tries to pose several questions in front of the reader, morally and ethically, that whether the way things had shaped up were correct or wrong and if there were opportunity, would it have been right to prevent the chaos. The novel depicts gruesome and gory account of the torture and the killing which people should be made aware of.
The backdrop of the novel portrays the Indian-Pakistan riot where the narrator narrates the tragic incidences of separation and bloodshed. The characters in the novel are etched out in a manner which relates the incidents in the most shocking way that depicts the trauma and tragedy. The main emphasis is on the Sikh boy and the muslim girl whose love saw no boundaries and moved away from the destruction of war.
The novelist and the writer Khushwant Singh has been considered as a notable figure and celebrity at an international. The scene portrayed by Khushwant singh in his novel is of tortured families who were asked to abandon their house and look for resettlement in Indian and Pakistan. The two religious communities were torn apart and had to face a horrible experience where humans had to walk on foot and did not get roof to rest. The misery was added when they did not get adequate amount of food and water, in order to survive the difficult days.
The frustrations was mounted to an extent where Hindus and Muslims stood up against each other and in attempt to escape the frantic massacre, adopted a cold attitude. The refugee camps were filled by people of India and Pakistan and the killing of the people had affected the life of countryside. The futile attempt of people to escape the massacre resulted in ensuring safety of the family members. The experiences of the people staying in refugee camp had been haunted by the sights of murder and rape. The women were raped in front of the eyes of their husband and families and people were robbed off their valuables and money, leaving them abashed and disillusioned. The incidents had shook them to the core that even the presence of human of the same community made them afraid of walking down the lonely streets. The train to Pakistan carrying the passengers was called as a ghost train as it had carried death for those who had boarded the train.
The ghost train when arrived in Mano Majra, the villagers were stunned. They gathered leaving their daily chores, to witness the tragic incidents and made attempts to bury the dead. But due to heavy rains, burying the dead was not possible. The villagers of Mano Majra, especially the Muslims were asked to evacuate the village, thus depriving them of the property and livestock.
Partition has left scars on the hearts of the people of villagers and the memory of the tragedy haunted them for days and nights. The killing and the arrest were at peak, and each individual was just concerned with their interest. The tormented images of Partition is beautifully depicted by Singh, that brings out the characters of the Protagonist as well as the supporting character and exhibit their traits in a particular situation.
The character discussed in the novel allows the reader to get a detailed picture of the village and the villagers. The portrayal of the characters brings out vast difference between the good and bad traits each character exhibit and how each one is influenced by partition. Not only the common people, but also the important personality like Mahatma Gandhi was brought into the picture. The tale of love and sacrifice is exhibited by the character Juggut Singh, who in the process of saving his love, gave his life. Juggat ensures, that is love interest, Nooran reach Pakistan safe and sound. The background history of Juggat shows that he was a criminal, who had undergone a transformation, and when effected by love, comes out winner in every way. Morally and Ethically, Juggat Singh has been heightened in the novel, as compared to other characters.In the end, Jugga meets his tragic end under the wheels of the ghost train but his heroism leaves an imprint on the mind and soul of villagers of Mano Majro.
Some critics have compared the character of Midnight Children, Salim Sinai as an archetype who symbolized the India before and after Independence, and depicted the issues faced by India. The political and religious strife was exhibited in the various situations and how it influenced the life of an individual.
The article entitled “Train to Pakistan” by Prafulla C. Kar makes many different points that truly accentuate the positive as well as the negative things in this novel. As seen in other articles, many people who have critiqued this novel suggest that Khushwant Singh does not develop his characters to the level that most readers expect.
It is considered that the train is a symbolic representation of the life that exists and existed in Mano Majra. A machine that once regulated the daily life of the villagers has turned into one that will not only disrupt but ultimately destroy the utopian life in Mano Majra.
Khushwant Singh recreates a tiny Punjabi village on the banks of the Indus River where a large number of Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs have been living in harmony for years. As political developments change the way the people have been going about their lives, Singh weaves a beautiful love story set against the backdrop of the communal violence. The skill which sets Singh apart as a writer starts to become apparent as the story quickly unfolds at a rapid pace and the backdrop slowly immerses the plot to become more lively and important than the main players. In his hundred and ninety pages of writing, Singh creates a powerful cast with vivid descriptions for each of the characters. It becomes quite clear that Singh has an eye for detail in the way he knits an engaging, picturesque story.
In barely two hundred pages, Khushwant Singh sketeched out his characters who are powerful and steady characters. Hukum Chand, who is magistrate-cum- deputy commissioner, Singh tries to project a sad but practical character who believes in finding its own ways. The rough neck of the village, Juggat Singh, carries an image of a criminal who makes frequent visits to the prison and meets the daughter of the village mullah. The ambiguous character, Iqbal is stripped of his individuality, which is a bad treatment given to him as a character and as an individual. Here few critics have pointed out that this incident is contradictory and is explicit to violence and destruction that have been taking place.
It seems that the novel only condemns the action but does approve of the result. The solution or suggestion to improve on the situation is not depicted in the novel either in form of characters or the situations.
The division of the communities analyses the psyche of the people living in the village. The inside and the outside of the village convince the villagers ie the Sikhs, that the foreign face or the ant element in the stat of anarchy were the Muslims. It was taken by the Sikhs that the Muslims were behind the mass killing of Hindu and the Sikhs.
The villagers were not only enraged by the way the things were shaping up in their village, when the ghost train arrived with corpses. They were also surprised and weak by the tormented state they were put into. The power players of each nation, had ordered them to vacate their respective home and transplant them into a new land, leaving behind their relations and property. Here the power was taken in the hands of Hindus and the Sikhs, as the Muslims were in minority and they could not raise their voice against the power structures.
The most disturbed and important passage in the book is when the government makes the decision and the way they enforce their decision on the people of Mano Majra. A small army convoy containing Sikh soldier and other Baluch and Pathan, arrives in the village and announces the instruction of the government to the Muslims.
The helpless victims of communal hatred, the susceptible young duo with their Romeo and Juliet (here Juggat and Nooran)tale or the uncouth village rogue who makes a supreme sacrifice. Through all his characters Singh is able to drive home the point that no one was responsible for the tragedies that befell the people of India. Everyone played their part in the turn of events, and the poor were left in the middle to suffer the effects. Singh shows readers how politics can be so consequential, it travels deep into the lives of even to those who don’t have a clue.
The novel is based on tragedy of human situation. “There is no tragedy of human situation. “There is no tragedy without transcendence” and true to this Jugga transcends himself. Jugga’s sacrifice is the inner dynamics of tragedy .Train to Pakistan is a novel of tragedy written in a mock-comic tone, criticizing the celebration of freedom with mass murder and bestiality and ingeniously delineating the pity and horror of the two-nation theory. It is ” a nightmare with an exciting finish, one closes the novel with a sense of relief.”
Despite the note of utter despair bordering on nihilism, the novel is a message of hope and compromise. The most basic of all human instincts, ie man-woman love, sustains the sympathetically bitter tone of the novel. Jugga’s sacrifice is an act of self-redemption; it is identification in alienation. To William Walsh, Train to Pakistan “is a tense, economical novel, thoroughly true to the events and the people. It goes forward in a trim, athletic way, and its un-empthatic voice makes genuinely human comment.” Khushwant Singh’s Train to Pakistan with its realistic and touching portray of characters, chiefly round, lays bare the grimly tragic situation of the human context in which Khushwant Singh’s fictional people march towards the altar of self-immolation. To Shahane, “The concept of common man as a tragic hero is an interesting aspect of the theme and in the theme of Train to Pakistan”.
Khushwant Singh has been successful in portraying the townspeople who led simple yet downtrodden lives. The citizens were displayed as pragmatic and astute who do not believe in class division. According to them, “Freedom must be a good thing. But what will we get out of it? Freedom is for the educated people who fought for it. We were slaves of the English, now we will be slaves of the educated Indians, or the Pakistanis. (â€¦) We were better off under the British. At least there was security”.
The Author in these lines has successfully displayed the flaws of the Indian society and the inability of the power players, who could do nothing to stop the bloodshed and were responsible for the death of the innocent people. The analogies, the imagination and the choice of words have been blended brilliantly to convey the despair and tragic beginning of a liberated nation.
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