Summary of the Book “Train to Pakistan”, Khushwant Singh

Train to Pakistan is a much-acclaimed historical novel by Khushwant Singh, published in 1956, describing the events of the partition of India in 1947. During the summer of 1947, the British divided the country into two; secular/Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan, and those who found themselves not in the “right place” had to flee to a new country, fearing religious persecution. Over ten million people moved across the newly formed border between India and Pakistan. This movement was accompanied by constant violence between the two major communities in the region of Punjab; Sikhs and Muslims. Less than two hundred pages, the book is divided into four chapters viz Dacoity, Kalyug, Mano Majra, and Karma in the same order. This book does not delve into the politics abutting the partition, but rather brings out the human element to provide a social understanding of the event. It is a tale of partition, of love, of religious persecution, and paradoxically, communal harmony in the aftermath of displacement. A movie based on this novel with the same title Train to Pakistan was released in 1998.
“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.” (Khushwant Singh)
Amidst the hysteria of chaos and violence, is Mano Majra, a fictional village on the banks of river Sutlej; one of the last remaining peaceful villages along the new border. Mano Majra is a village with Sikhs, Muslims, and a lone Hindu family living in harmony. The village is a tiny place with the only three brick buildings being a Sikh temple, a Mosque, and the home of the Hindu money lender. There is also a railway station in Mano Majra, where not many trains stop. The main characters are Jugga, a dacoit of Mano Majra, Nooran, the love of his life and the daughter of Muslim cleric of the village, Iqbal, a social worker, Meet Singh, the priest of the Sikh temple, and Hukum Chand, the deputy commissioner.
The story begins in the summer of 1947, August to be precise. It is a hot, dry, and long summer. Monsoons have never been this late. There is a Dacoity in the village one night when the moneylender of the village is murdered by the dacoits. This happens while Jugga is having a tryst with Nooran in the fields. Nooran “is dark, but her eyes are darker.” On the next day of the robbery, a social worker, Iqbal, arrives in the village. Jugga and Iqbal are both arrested on charges of the Dacoity.
Trains full of dead bodies are being exchanged across the border between Amritsar and Lahore. Mano Majra also became a witness to this violence when a “ghost train” full of dead bodies from the Pakistani side of the border, stops at Mano Majra railway station. Another such train arrives within a period of a few days. The dead bodies have either to be burnt or buried in a mass grave. This is done by the police, without informing the villagers. The villagers find out, nonetheless. This brings chills to the spines of the villagers.
One night, after heavy rain, the river Jhelum is flooded. This flood is not just water, but floating dead bodies and blood. There has been a massacre of Muslims upstream. Hukum Chand wants to get the Muslims out of Mano Majra and take them to Chandernugger Township from where they would be sent on a “Train to Pakistan” before violence consumes Mano Majra too. Hukum Chand knows that the Muslims will not readily leave the village. So he registers a fake case against Iqbal, naming him a worker of the Muslim league. The Dacoity is also falsely attributed to a Muslim Dacoit who had run away to Pakistan. These announcements, coupled with the arrival of the ghost train, and the floating bodies in river Jhelum, split Mano Majra in half. People begin to look at one another suspiciously.
Finally, a meeting of all the villagers is convened and the Muslims are assured by the Sikhs that if they decide to stay, they will defend them in the face of adversity, even to the peril of their lives. But the Muslims decide to leave nonetheless, for their own safety and for the safety of the villagers. Nooran informs the mother of Jugga that she is pregnant with his child and asks her to tell him to come to get her once he is out of jail. Malli, the true culprit of the Dacoity is released by the Police and he wreaks havoc on the Muslim properties in the village after they had left.
Towards the end, a group of hotheaded Sikhs visit the Sikh temple and hatch a plan to attack the train that had been scheduled to go to Pakistan carrying Muslim refugees. This train is also to carry the refugees of Mano Majra. Some of the villagers are incited to join them as volunteers. The police knew of the plan of attack, but they do not interfere.
When Iqbal and Jugga are released without any charges, they come to witness a changed Mano Majra. The Muslims had left, Nooran had left. Iqbal returns to the Sikh temple, where Meet Singh tells him of the planned attack. Iqbal is dismayed but ultimately decides to do nothing, because no one would know of his sacrifice. He falls asleep drinking whiskey. Jugga comes to the temple seeking a prayer and asks Meet Singh to say goodbye to Iqbal for him.
Towards the end, the reader’s heart skips a beat because the Sikh hotheads along with others are waiting at Mano Majra for the train to pass by so that they can avenge their departed. But there is someone among the villagers to foil this horrific plan. When I finished reading, I was literally in tears. Whether you get the same feelings or not, I am not sure, but it will leave you in a state of melancholy.
Will Jugga be able to save his one true love? Will the Muslims on the train migrate safely? Read to know more.
My favourite Lines from the book:
  • “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.”
  • “Morality Meet Singhji, is a matter of money. Poor people cannot afford to have morals. So they have religion.”
  • “There is no crime in anyone’s blood any more than there is goodness in the blood of others.”
  • “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.”
  • “There were reasons enough to be angry with someone. So they decided to be angry with Muslims; Muslims were basely ungrateful.”
  • “’You are Sikh Iqbal Singh ji?’, inquired one of the men. ‘Yes’. A fortnight earlier he would have replied emphatically ‘No’, or ‘I have no religion’ or ‘Religion is irrelevant.’ The situation was different now….”
  • “The bullet is neutral. It hits the good and the bad, the important and the insignificant, without distinction.”
  • “Proof? We do no go in for such pedestrian pastimes as proof! That is western. We are of the mysterious East. No proof, just faith. No reason, just faith. Thought, which should be the sine qua non of a philosophical code, is dispensed with.”
  • “Consciousness of the bad is an essential pre-requisite to the promotion of the good. It is no use trying to build a second storey on a house whose walls are rotten.”
  • Poem:
“Not forever does the bulbul sing
In balmy shades of bowers,
Not forever lasts the spring
Nor ever blossom flowers.
Not forever reigneth joy,
Sets the sun on days of bliss,
Friendships not forever last,
They know not life, who know not this.”
Sourav Kumar Sharma

About the author

Sourav Kumar Sharma

Hey there! I'm a PhD scholar by day and an author by the night. This website is my mind spill. I live in Chandigarh, India and I like to read and travel, big time. In my writings, I like to mix romance with genres like travel, self-help, social issues, and life-writing.

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