Train to Pakistan

Khushwant Singh

Penguin 2007 [1956]
A book review by Danny Yee © 2014
When gangsters from outside murder the moneylender of Mano Majra, the police arrest Juggut, the local gangster, and Iqbal, an overseas-educated communist agitator who has just arrived in the village. The two of them are hauled off to prison in the neighbouring town, where inspector Hukum Chand is visiting.

This already has the makings of a lively story, with some engaging characters and conflicts — Juggut's liaison with a Muslim girl, Iqbal's attempts to fit village reality into his ideological frameworks, and Hukum Chand's own discontents and involvement with a prostitute — and some nicely sketched minor characters, including the village imam, the keeper of the gurdwara, Juggut's mother, and the head constable. But all this is happening in the summer of 1947 and Mano Majra is a mixed Sikh-Muslim village right on the recently created border of Pakistan and India...

So far the violence of Partition has spared the village, but then the trains full of bodies start to come across the border from Pakistan and the river brings more. Refugees and vigilantes stir up trouble and Hukum Chand, Iqbal and Juggut have to make decisions which will decide the fate of an outgoing train of Muslim refugees.

As well as being a lively and engaging novel, Train to Pakistan illustrates how rapidly communal solidarity can collapse as religious divides harden. It is one of the classic novels of Partition, offering a feel for what that meant "on the ground" in the Punjab.

December 2014

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%T Train to Pakistan
%A Singh, Khushwant
%I Penguin
%D 2007 [1956]
%O paperback
%G ISBN-13 9780143065883
%P 190pp