Khushwant Singh is regarded as one of the most celebrated postcolonial writers of India who with his simple yet deep, common yet bold writing has never failed to create admirers from each generation. His writings are marked by the dynamism of subjects his life resonates with, be it the Partition of India, the history of Sikhism, or writing about sexuality. Train to Pakistan is one of his classics which continues to become a household name even after more than half a century of its publication. Maybe the reason lies with the fact that it has touched with the tragedy, emotion, and drama of one of the world’s greatest misfortunes.
The partition of the country into communal lines was interpreted not just in a political sense by the sufferer as for many people living in remote regions communal harmony was their established norm. When the news of leaving their place came in less than twenty four hours of the country's independence it wrecked both their sense and senses. They could not overcome the fact that they have to leave the place where they have stayed their whole life and need to move into a completely alien land. Neither India nor Pakistan was close to the village folk; it was their land and fellow villagers who they kept close to their heart and the news of leaving it was brought with tremendous sorrow and rage. The same was the case for the villagers of Mano Majra in the story. The village was near the newly created border and the villagers were both Muslims and Sikhs, most of whom were illiterate. The author has been observant while choosing characters as most of them possess different perceptions towards their life. The real self of each individual gets revealed at the latter part of the story as it evolves from a peaceful to a more chaotic one.
One of the stronger characters, Iqbal Singh, gets unnoticed between the brave protagonist Juggu Badmash and the malicious communal dacoit. He arrived at the village of Mano Majra on the advice of his party. He finds the people of the village very hospitable and tolerant towards the community of other faiths. Iqbal got unwanted attention from the villagers for his language, gestures, and food distant from them, but he was well respected. After spending a good amount of time in a local jail when he returns, he finds a completely different Mano Majra with the narrow wall of communalism built around it. Villagers believed that strong words from Babuji (as Iqbal was popularly known) could influence and even stop villagers from taking up violence.
That night Iqbal faced a dilemma, a dilemma to choose between an impactful life or well recognized life. Random thoughts loitered his mind from each direction and he couldn’t align which way his thoughts were developing. We often face such situations where on one hand lies the risk of losing the only chance and on the other an opportunity to grab which makes it hard to take a guilt free decision. Before this incident, he was ready, if not proud to even go to jail like any other revolutionaries. He believed going to jail under a government regime would add glory to his life and emerge as someone who dared to challenge a government. But now he wasn’t sure if he should take the courageous step and preach to the villagers of what they were doing was immoral and Guru would have never blessed them for their actions. When we imagine a situation and plan to act accordingly, what we lack is complexities from real life. We come up with the best ideas and epic comebacks only when there lies no hope for our action. The same was Iqbal’s plight, he never imagined the intensity of sacrifice needed to turn into a hero in other people’s eyes. The malicious dacoits who sowed the seed of communalism in the village by misinterpreting the Holy book were armed and even the slightest act of resistance to their ideals would cost Iqbal his life. For him, the bullet was neutral and would kill him just like a million others dying on each side of the border. In such a situation he feared dying like a common person yet wasn’t willing to live like a messiah. His bravery won’t reach Delhi or to the other part of the country and people will never know the epitome of sacrifice he made.
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Awareness of doing something and living with a sense of slight pride for a great act always encourages people not to take a step back, but unfortunately, this wasn’t the case in Mano Majra, where emptying the entire gun wasn’t a tale of a distant land. The gravity of the situation becomes hard to deal with when faced in real life. In such a situation a person should be brave enough to know which way serves his life the best; life here shouldn’t be interpreted in a shallow way, for living carries the very essence of reason to live. We find a purpose for our existence at various stages; often hard times make us realize that. And that faith in accomplishing is what adds meaning to it. Fear of death shouldn’t obstruct the path while accepting it as an ultimate truth smoothens the journey.
Author: Prakash Sharma
A student from Assam, India, with deep inclination towards the sphere of philosophy, literature, poetry, and retro western music. His writings usually express a deep connotation of ‘self’ and the perplexity of life. You can find him on Instagram and LinkedIn.