Train to Pakistan: Book Review by Asha Seth

#MyThoughts: I detest the sight of blood. This book was a flood of blood; a sight that continues to haunt me.

“Morality is a matter of money. Poor people cannot afford to have morals. So they have religion.”

This quote was my portkey to ‘Train to Pakistan’ by Khushwant Singh. And here goes the review.

When I was a kid, dad read to me stories. He created vivid pictures through his narration; difficult for me to forget. I yet remember the good stories albeit vaguely. But it’s the disturbing tales that I remember so vividly that I could narrate them in one breath.

Train to Pakistan is such a story. It is more intense than one could fathom.

train to pakistan
Image Credit: Goodreads

Mano Majra is a village in post-partition India. Muslims and Sikhs dwell unaffected by the horrific outcome of partition. It’s a remote village and the villagers are not much aware of the happenings in the rest of India. Time and again, furious mobs wreak havoc, thirsty to rob, kill, torture and rape. The story picks up with the murder of the local money lender Ram Lal who was killed by a gang led by dacoit Malli but Juggut Singh, a Sikh man with bad reputation, is arrested as a suspect.

Iqbal, an educated social reformer, interested in politics has just arrived in the village and is also arrested for the same murder.

Hukum Chand is a powerful yet corrupt authority and had ordered arrests of Juggut and Iqbal. He is fighting a battle with himself to get rid of his guilt, an outcome of his unethical and evil treatment of the Muslims and Hindus.

The story revolves around these 3 characters for most part.

As the story unfolds, we feel tension creeping into the village. People are being misled. Rumors that would chill their nerves are making way into their hearts. People huddle in their houses after sunset, dreading the night. Innocent people are being put behind bars for crimes they never committed. The criminals are at loose, attacking families in villages, robbing them, murdering them.

The most horrific part yet are the trains that arrive at night, loaded with corpses of thousands of people sent from Pakistan with messages that read

‘Gift to India’

– from Pakistan

And each time, one of these trains arrives a depressing chill grips the village.

And finally one day, their worst fear comes true when it is ordered that all the Muslims in Mano Majra would be sent to Pakistan. They are forced to leave the village, their homes. None is aware of the murderous plot that is about to take place – all Muslims are to be murdered on the train and sent to Pakistan the same way trainloads of Hindus were received in India.

Iqbal, Hukum Chand, and Juggut Singh, are aware of the mass murder planned and yet it is Juggut Singh who takes a step to foul the plan of murdering Muslims on the train. On the rainy night the attack is to happen, he gets in the way to save thousands of lives and gets killed in the process.

Khushwant Singh has done a splendid job in capturing the real essence of an India post the partition. First published in 1956, the book bore the horrendous memories of the holocaust that were still fresh in everybody’s minds. The novel gives vivid accounts of the massacres of Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs post partition. The gory pictures Singh paints with his words are hard to live with and yet you will never forget them. It is fiction that couldn’t have a better peek into reality. It is depressing, dark and gripping, and yet when you are done reading, you can only feel sorry for the families who were a part of the atrocities stemming from the partition; one of the bloodiest in the history of mankind.

This particular quote from the book has stayed with me and just how true!

“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 a religious code, has been carefully removed.”

When I finished reading ‘Train to Pakistan’, I asked myself what was I thinking when I picked the book.  It surely is not what meets the eye at mere synopsis glance. It also isn’t what one would think of – a post-war scenario. No. It is a clear picture. One can see the country being torn apart, humanity shredded to pieces, leaving behind hearts that would bleed for years to come.

If you have already read ‘Train to Pakistan’, do share your thoughts below.

©The Musing Quill

61 thoughts on “Train to Pakistan: Book Review by Asha Seth

Add yours

  1. This book is one of the first books that I read. And still, it remains to be one of my favourites.

    Partition has always fascinated me. And so I loved this book. It is a book that stays with one for lifetime.

    I loved everything about the book but didn’t like the open ending. The characters of Hukum Chand & Iqbal, and their future remains a mystery to readers. Also that girl in Hukum Chand’s quarter has no mention in the ending. But still, it is a fantastic book.

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    1. It is one of my favorites too, Suraj. After I read this book, I had a much clear peek into the post-partition period and it saddened me greatly.
      There were quite some loose ends albeit insignificant ones, but the overall matter does a good job in enchanting the reader and those loose ends sort of disappear.
      Have you read any other book of Singh that is your favorite? I hope to read one soon.

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  2. Dear asha!!those horrible events are called holocast.nobody can forget those days specialy -d gift of pakistaan.Khushvant singh ji is best writer.Amrita Pritam was discribed well in her book.bt Manto Hasan had written on those horrible events with clarity .reading him ,souls are in bloody tearing.

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    1. The events that transpired then have left indelible memories in the minds of many. And Mr Singh did a really good job in capturing the emotions, the horror, and everything in between.

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  3. Wonderful review Asha Di
    I had seen some picturisation of it in the film Gaddar a blood shedded love story and in Bajrangi bhai Jaan.
    It’s all a play of politics and religion played by extremists due to which lives of common masses from both sides are affected. However the film Bajrangi Bhai Jaan reflects the changed attitude of common masses towards each other to some extent

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    1. Yes, some films have done well in bringing forth the unfateful stories. But it takes sheer genius to capture them in words and that’s one reason why I love the books more than the movies. Movies, I feel are almost always overdone to entertain the masses, unlike books, that don’t try too hard to impress. You know what i mean?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Definately 😊…books express stories better in words than films which express emotions too in some extent …especially the last 30 mins of Bajrangi bhai Jaan were so emotional I couldn’t control my tears

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      1. The Partner. Have you read it?
        What to say! Not much active on WordPress. Neither fingers hitting the keyboard keys as often as they used to. But simply more into reading and learning.

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        1. Well, I’m grown over Grisham. I don’t find he has anything new to offer in his books. I’d read most of his books during college. The last I’d read was The Confession, and I abandoned it. Anyway. I’m planning on covering Indian authors mostly this year.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Oh! This is his third I am reading, and falling in love more and more with his style with his every book.😍
            Though the stories revolve around lawyers and stuff but they still succeed in keeping me engrossed, at least till now.😁
            What all have you planned to read? A sneak-peek.

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            1. I have Divakaruni, Naipaul, Seth, Desai and Malgonkar on my list this year. And if that’s done, I have to visit more works of Singh, Ghosh and Mistry.
              “So many books, so little time.” PHEW!

              Liked by 1 person

  4. So, I’m taking that book to be The Freethinker’s Prayerbook you’ve also mentioned. I’ve seen other reviews of the book, and I don’t feel it’s for me, though I would weight your word with more credence to consider it further. I see a poem developing about my birth; I’ll write some there.

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  5. Bravo for tackling such a challenging book my friend, I look forward to finding a copy myself now. Your ‘portkey’ is an interesting quote, I tend to see more money means less morals although morality had to be there for humanity to survive as a species before religion came along.

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  6. I have not read ‘Train to Pakistan’, but will try to catalogue it in my mind for when it might be the time to do so. As the Indian languages are unknown to me, the fact that this book is in my primary language of English makes it so much more accessible. I see he’s written about six novels.

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  7. Hi Asha,

    Several years after it was first recommend to me I finally managed to read it. You are right, it is intense and haunting. I was pleasantly surprised at the simplicity of the language and set up of the story. It was in contrast to the heaviness of the message behind the story.

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    1. Hello Sonya. Singh has indeed weaved a masterpiece with ‘Train to Pakistan’. His prodigious style appeals to all minds. Even for a first-timer like me, I was immediately hooked to his plot. Very few authors manage to do that.
      If you please, do also read – The Freethinker’s Prayer Book. It’s yet another genius of a book.

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  8. No , I have not read the book but after your heart stirring review I am just dying to pick up the book. You have a fantastic way with words Asha , the reader is disappointed when you d fed the narration. The mistress of story tellers, you sit down and pen one , it’s going to be a rocking bestseller my dear Asha. Kudos to you. You do us Indians proud my girl. Love you, truly yours Yasha.

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  9. I didn’t read the book yet, but I heard great things about the book. I read ur article it’s great, now I m eager to read the book. Muslin, Sikh & Hindu they suffer most in the divide. So many Sikh, Hindu & Christian are still suffering in Pakistan.

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    1. Yes, it breaks my heart to know of the inhumane atrocities people have had to endure, irrespective of the caste or creed. It’s barbaric. If you wish to read the book, do it now when the inspiration is raw and alive. And btw, welcome to my blog. 🙂

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  10. Thanks, Asha. It’s always interesting to hear the perspective. Thanks, also, to your other commenter, Shakila, for listing other works on the same topic.

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    1. Hey Randy!
      So have you read it? What did you think of the book? As for the other recommendations, I’m not sure if I’m ready yet for another similar experience. In due course of time, I may pick ’em up, of course.

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  11. A lot of literature is available on the Partition. Qurat ul ain’s “Aag ka Darya” in Urdu is an epic describing the horrific events I have not read it though (no courage!) just imagine by its name and reputation. And small stories of Saadat Hasan Manto are jolting, read especially,: “Khol do” and :Thanda Gosht”, windows to the main horrible scenes.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m not much fond of bloody stories but as they are so deeply rooted in our history, one can barely escape them. I shall try and find these titles and read once I’m ready to dive in it.
      Thank you for sharing these.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Singh had a knack of making even depressing tales become alive and captivating. I can think of very few others like him; Dickens and Marquez come to.my mind. Although, their styles were different, there’s wee bit similarity in the way they would too make reality seem less shocking.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Your review of the book was really good Asha. The brutal and gory act is so inhuman. Though I had heard a lot about the book, reading about the barbaric acts shreds my heart, hence did not have the courage to pick it up.

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  13. I loved your review of this book, Asha. It’s also the first time I’ve really ever heard anybody even talk a little bit about the partition, even if solely in conjunction with the review of a book. I can feel the kindof heaviness present in the emotional overload of the matter at-hand all-around.

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    1. The plot is definitely a chilling one, what with the gory details as mentioned in the review. But the chance encounter one can have being ever so close to reality as this, is a must-have experience. I had only ever learnt so much in our history classes in school, about the Indian Independence war scenarios and massacres. But this book was a notch higher. It was a faceoff with a dreadful scene of reality. If you do read it, do share what you think of it.

      Liked by 1 person

“I love writing. I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotions.” ― James A. Michener

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