Book Review: The Train to Pakistan by Khushwant Singh

About the Book:

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“In the summer of 1947, when the creation of the state of Pakistan was formally announced, ten million people—Muslims and Hindus and Sikhs—were in flight. By the time the monsoon broke, almost a million of them were dead, and all of northern India was in arms, in terror, or in hiding. The only remaining oases of peace were a scatter of little villages lost in the remote reaches of the frontier. One of these villages was Mano Majra.”

It is a place, Khushwant Singh goes on to tell us at the beginning of this classic novel, where Sikhs and Muslims have lived together in peace for hundreds of years. Then one day, at the end of the summer, the “ghost train” arrives, a silent, incredible funeral train loaded with the bodies of thousands of refugees, bringing the village its first taste of the horrors of the civil war. Train to Pakistan is the story of this isolated village that is plunged into the abyss of religious hate. It is also the story of a Sikh boy and a Muslim girl whose love endured and transcends the ravages of war.

My Thoughts:

The story has been narrated quite well and manages to capture the horror of the situation at the time of independence at the borders. The story is based in a small isolated village called Mano Majra where the most exciting thing to happen would be the stopping of a train. This would be watched by all the villagers. The village is also one where people from different religions live together and treat each other as equal.

Amidst all the peace, an unknown person steps into the village and slowly things start happening. First is the arrival of a ghost train in the middle of the night, following the arrival of a number of soldiers. This triggers various incidents leading to slow divisions between the people of the village due to religion.

The one aspect of the story which I felt was a bit out of place or rather did not seem to fit was the love story between a Sikh boy and a Muslim girl. There was no concrete development on this front and though I waited until the end to understand the point of this plot line, I could not find any. Also, there are a few times the story seems to move away from the main plot line and these side stories do not seem to fit with the entire idea. They just seem to be there without a reason.

In spite of the above, the story is well written and does get across to the reader the situation at the time as well as the hardships faced by people. It also shows us clearly, how the people were so easily divided when asked to choose and ultimately how religion started becoming a barrier between those whose families had lived together for generations.

I recommend this book to all as it outlines a part of the history of our country in an interesting way.

Buy link to Amazon.in (courtesy of the amazon associate program):

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