Train to Pakistan by Khushwant Singh deals with uneasy peace which reigns over a small border village Mano Majra situated on the bank of the Sutlez river. It is an authentic depiction of the inhuman and savage nature of communal violence in the wake of the Partition.
Dacoity at Lala Ram Lal’s House
Mano Mazra was a village in which families of many castes lived. Lala Ram Lal was a Hindu moneylender. There were Muslim and Sikh families in equal numbers. There were some Christian and untouchable families too. The Hindu shrine, the Sikh Gurudwara, and the mosque were situated in a triangular space with a peepal tree nearby. There were several flat-roofed mud huts with a dusty path, and a pond of water at the end of the village was surrounded by keekar trees. There was a railroad bridge near the railway station on the Sutlez river and a small colony for vendors, shopkeepers and hawkers were in sight to cater victuals in short time to the passengers of unimportant trains. In the darkness of the silent night the whistling, puffing and iron couplings of engines were heard. Aluminium lamps lighted all night. The people of Mano Mazra awoke by listening to the whistling sound of the Lahore Mail train. The Mullah said his prayer at the mosque while the temple priest lay in bed. At10.30, the passenger train from Delhi steamed in. By this time, the villagers settled down to their routine. When the evening passenger train from Lahore came, everyone got to work again. Earthen hearths blazed and kindled for cooking. The goods train passed non-stop saying goodnight to the village folk. This was the time when the mullah said the evening prayers in the mosque.
On one fateful night in August, five robbers emerged from a keeker grove, moved silently towards the river armed with spears and carbines slung on their shoulders, and flicked torchlight while talking about the booty – the robbed jewelry, garments to be robbed. They had masked their faces with eyes uncovered. They happened to knock at the door of Lala Ram Lal’s house shouting “Lala” and fired a gun in the air. They broke the door open, threatened his family with serious consequences if they didn’t part with the ornaments and precious materials. They caught hold of Lala Ram Lal crouched under one of the charpoys. Women were beaten up and Lala was ruthlessly manhandled and murdered. The women cried for help but nobody came to rescue them as the villagers were scared of their lives. The robbers went away with the rich booty laughing and shouting triumphantly and challenging the villagers. They came to a small hut, making a jubilant appeal to Jugga. Having divided the booty among themselves they went towards the river while the goods train whistled in the dark.
Juggut Singh had left his hut an hour earlier having got the signal of the whistle of the passing goods train for the rendezvous with his beloved Nooran. His mother had stopped him from going out lest he should meet the same fate as his father did: He was hanged for dacoity. Juggut Singh didn’t listen to her. He snubbed her. His mother apprehended her misfortune. Jugga walked cautiously to reach the pond and reached up to the sandy bed of the river. His beloved Nooran was very much there. After a nocturnal romance, the girl went back to her house where her father said prayers for her well-being. When the robbers were passing flicking torchlights after the robbery, Juggat Singh and Nooran saw them. Jugga recognized Malli flicking torchlight. The whole village was awake after the robbery. The dogs were barking in the streets and women stood on the roofs. Everyone talked vociferously about the robbery. Nobody tried to face or chase Malli’s gang.
There was a rest house at Mano Mazra and this yielded bureaucratic importance to the village. It was a bungalow made of brick. There was a god-forsaken garden near a row of servant quarters. There were a few scraggly bushes of jasmine. Many officers used to stay there overnight. The place became quite romantic in the rainy season as frogs dived into the flooded marshes, fireflies flitted, fishes swam in a large number. After the dacoity in Mano Mazra, the rest-house was tidied up as an important officer was coming. The floors were scrubbed, nooks and corners of the rooms were dusted. The furniture looked glossy after sprinkle wash. The verandah was swept and dusted properly and was stuffed with victuals to entertain the VIP. One sub-inspector, two constables, and orderlies arrived. They were clad in white, red belts around their waists, white turbans with broad-bands; their uniforms were pinned with brass-emblems of the government of Punjab. Several villagers carried files and baggage to the resthouse as the Sahab was coming on his official tour.
Hukum Chand: The Magistrate
Hukum Chand gave a hearing to the sub-inspector of police who briefed him about the law and order situation. Hukum Chand knew that Hindu women were being tortured assaulted and murdered in Pakistan. He wanted that the Muslims should leave Indian soil peacefully and go to Pakistan. The sub-inspector discussed the situation in Mano Majra. Hukum Chand was told by the sub-inspector that the lambardar reported the latest situation to him regularly. No refugees had come in the village so far. Moreover, the people of Mano Majra were an ignorant lot: they had heard of Gandhi but not of Mohammad Jinnah.
Hukum Chand asked the sub-inspector if there was any bad character in the village. The sub-inspector informed him that Jugga, son of dacoit Alam Singh, was a notorious character. The magistrate was acquainted with Jagga’s affairs with Mullah Imam Buksh’s angelic daughter Nooran. The magistrate enjoyed his sumptuous lunch and asked the sub-inspector to make arrangements for the evening for his pleasure. The dak bungalow had already been tidied up with great fanfare to accommodate Hukum Chand’s aristocratic tastes. The evening party was a grand musical performance. There were two women singers: one was a middle-aged singer chewing betel leaf accompanied by his young beautiful daughter. The girl sang film songs and Punjabi songs of Hukum Chand’s choice. Hukum Chand was gulping pegs of whisky. The music and dance performance being over, Hukum Chandwent to his bedroom with Haseena, the young singer.
The next morning a new man came to Mono Majra. The young man looked well educated and he went straight to the village gurudwara. The youngman met Bhai Meet Singh and requested to accommodate him there for two or three days. Meet Singh cautioned him not to tamper with the sanctity of the place and allowed him to stay. The visitor felt quite relaxed in the small room which had a charpoy, some namesake furniture, and the calendar with Guru’s portrait and name on the wall. Meet Singh having completed the washing of clothes and his bath at the well, came to the visitor ‘Iqbal’ who impressed him with his gentle behaviour. The youngman was cleanshaved. He was a social worker who had come to stop bloodshed and violence which spread in the area in the wake of the Partition. Mano Majra happened to be a very sensitive place as it was situated at the border and had a bridge over the Sutlez to cross into Pakistan. Iqbal told Meet Singh that he belonged to Jhelum in Pakistan but he was a student abroad and had come back to act as a social worker. He was a bachelor still and subsisted on a petty amount of money. Meet Singh heard him aptly on religious matters. He told that the people in India quarreled over religion. Meet Singh watched him eating his tiffen and sophisticated ways. Iqbal commented on the police saying that they ill-treated people and thrived on bribes and corruption.
Meet Singh briefed him about the dacoity which had been committed last night at Lala RamLal’s house and the police were investigating as the dacoits had taken away precious jewelry, and large cash. Iqbal as a social worker could not resist the temptation of going there as there was a murder too. But Meet Singh advised him to take rest at the gurudwara. Iqbal was rather tired as he had traveled overnight in a crowded railway compartment. Iqbal tried to sleep but he could not as there was no cross ventilation and flies were buzzing all around. He recalled to his mind the scene of the railway compartment- breastfeeding children in mother’s lap, passengers being seated on their luggage, bedrolls, and the bare floor. The passengers had noticed that Iqbal had the book in English thinking that he must be an educated man. They asked him several questions out of curiosity and his book was circulated in the whole compartment. Meet Singh came to him talking of ‘Kalyug’ and utter downfall of morals. The dacoity committed at Lal Ram Lal’s house last night had stimulated his moral thinking. He talked about Jugga who was a notorious criminal. Meet Singh remarked that a snake could cast off its slough but not venom. Similarly, Jugga could not give up committing crimes.
Meet Singh briefed Iqbal about the police officials who had not arrested Jugga yet. Iqbal wanted to walk around the place but he was told that lambardar Banta Singh and Mullah Imambuksh were coming to see him.
Iqbal could see the gates of Lala Ram Lal’s house wide open, villagers sitting there and women wailing inside. Some village folks were napping under the peepal tree, and children played in the sand, while the Lahore passenger train whistled shrill and crossed the bridge. The whistle of the train was like a sigh of relief as it was out of Pakistan and had crossed into India. Iqbal tried to go to the side of the dak bungalow: a Sikh guard stared at him. He turned towards the railway line and saw that they were carrying Lala Ram Lal’s corpse. Iqbal recollected the mad rush of Bombay traffic. He noticed a world of difference between the jostling and suffocating crowds of Bombay and the succulent village. In the evening he got up, brushed, and arranged his clothes. It was the time of prayer in the mosque and the temple. When he went to sleep on the roof, lambardar Banta Singh and Mullah Imam buksh came to meet Iqbal. Iqbal welcomed them and talked to them about whatever was happening in the world. These innocent men were ignorant of the Partition and its consequences. Iqbal told them that the British masters were leaving India. They exchanged ideas on religion, morality, Gandhiji etc. When they had left after deliberations, Iqbal slept on the charpoy.
The very next morning, the policemen searched his room in the Gurudwara, and he was arrested while he got up rubbing eyes. Bhai Meet Singh didn’t like Iqbal’s arrest. Iqbal left his hold – all in care of Meet Singh. He was handcuffed. The police arrested Juggat Singh (Jugga) too. His mother tried her best to prove his innocence in the dacoity at Lala Ram Lal’s house. She brought the glass bangles which the dacoits had thrown into the courtyard to insult Jugga as he was not a party to the dacoity.
Surprisingly enough, Jugga and Iqbal were imprisoned in the same room. The sub-inspector was under the impression that Iqbal was a member of the Muslim League. Iqbal threatened the sub-Inspector that if he was not released in 24 hours, he would move a habeas corpus petition and expose in the court that he was unnecessarily framed. The sub-inspector retorted that he should better apply to go to Pakistan but Iqbal denied it because he was not a Muslim. Jugga deeply respected Iqbal as an innocent man. When the police threatened Iqbal in the murder case and use third-degree methods, for confession, Jugga appealed to the sub-inspector not to harass the innocent man.
In the month of September, the goods trains became ghost trains. One day when an empty train arrived at Mano Majra, the station was full of armed policemen. Mano Majra was characterized by Imambuksh- he had lost his wife and sons rather early. He lived with his daughter Nooran and made his living as a teacher of Koran to the children. Banta Singh was the leader of the village folk. BhaiMeet Singh, lambardar Banta Singh and Imambuksh discussed “Kulyug” uttering ‘Vahe Guru’, or ‘Allah….’ Suddenly two policemen came calling for lambardar Banta Singh. There were empty trucks to be loaded with wooden bundles immediately. The villagers watched from the rooftops going to the railway station. There was a cloud of dark smoke from the railway station but the northern horizon was blood red with flames and fire and the breeze blew smelling of kerosene and human bodies. The villagers knew that a ghost train had arrived from Pakistan and the passengers were corpses.
Hukum Chand was trying to sleep but he could not. He could sense the unfortunate consequences of the monstrosity of Hindu-Muslim communalism. At night he saw nightmarish scenes of loot, murder, and nefarious acts. He was scared of his life.
The next morning he woke up in a fresh mood. The police sub-inspector came to brief him about the ghost train and the disposal of the corpses. These were heaps of ashes, skulls, and bones littered near the railway station. The villagers were not allowed to come to the railway station. Some refugees had come from nearby border villages of Pakistan. They were lodged in the temple of Mano Majra and the villagers were providing them with food. Overall, the law and order situation was under control. When Hukum Chand asked about Lala Ram Lal’s gruesome murder, the sub-inspector told him that it was the act of Malli and his gang and that Jugga was not a party to them as he was busy in his rendezvous with Nooran- the bewitchingly beautiful daughter of Mullah Khudabaksh. Hukum Chand ordered the sub-inspector not to release Jugga and Iqbal and arrest Malli and his gang.
The sub-inspector having left the dak bungalow, Hukum Chand began to think of the problems which were to follow in the near future. The girl – Haseena – was of course there.
Jugga was so deeply influenced by Iqbal’s knowledge and scholarship that he pressed and massaged his feet submissively telling him that he wanted to learn English words and that he was interested in Hindi and Gurmukhi. He told him that he was not a party to Malli’s gang and had nothing to do with Lala Ram Lal’s murder. The police arrested all the five murders including the kingpin Malli.
On a rainy day, many ghost trains arrived. The corpses were summarily disposed of. There was an uneasy calm in Mano Majra: the Hindus and Sikhs were on one side, and the Muslims, on the other side. Both the groups suspected each other’s intentions. The Sikhs were infuriated with the Muslims and there could be communal riots, murders, cases of incendiarism, and loot at any time. Hukum Chand was sitting on a volcano that could erupt at any time. All Sikhs of the village happened to meet at lambardar Banta Singh’s house. Meet Singh also attended the meeting. Bhai Meet Singh stated that Iqbal was a Sikh as he wore an iron bangle around his wrist and abstained from smoking. Moreover, he had come to Mano Majra after Lala Ram Lal’s murder. Meet Singh’s statement was very well received. Everyone accepted him as a Mona Sikh whose full name was Iqbal Singh. They planned to kill Muslims as a vindictive action to counterbalance what was happening to Hindus in Pakistan. While the meeting was going on, the village Muslims came with Imam Buksh saying ‘Salaam’ and ‘Sat Sri Akal’ and asked what their decision was regarding their leaving Mano Majra. Lambardar Banta Singh advised them to go to the refugee camp for a few days and when the situation improved they could come back to live in the village. With great warmth, they embraced each other with sobs and tears welling up in their eyes. Imam Buksh agreed with the decision. Lambardar Banta Singh volunteered to look after their houses and cattle. Imam Buksh and his fellow Muslims left the meeting. It was a tearful farewell.
Imam Buksh went home and awakened his daughter Nooran to pack up their belongings-clothes, utensils, etc- as they were going to leave the village. She got up most reluctantly and went to Jugga’s house at midnight while all the Muslims of Mano Majra were busy packing. Nooran told Jugga’s mother that she was pregnant for two months and would deliver Jugga’s child when it was due. Jugga was not at home. The old woman softened as she heard these words and assured her all necessary help. Nooran went with a heavy heart thinking that she would come again in the morning to say “Sat Sri Akal” if time permitted and if she got a chance. She packed her belongings and cooked something for the next day and slept on chorpoy.
The next morning two Pathans and some Sikh officers came with a dozen trucks and police force. They ordered the Muslims, who were willing to go to Pakistan, to carry with them their luggage but not heavy articles like charpoys, large boxes, etc. They were given only ten minutes to board the trucks. It was once again a heart rending scenario as the Sikhs and Muslims wept under the grip of emotion. Their property was looted on the way by Malli’s gang. Hukum Chand had ordered to set them free from prison for the vindictive action to react against what was happening to Hindus in Pakistan. The refugees and the accompanying officers were lazy lookers on lest they should be shot dead by Malli’s gang.
The monsoon clouds rained profusely. It was all muddy in Mano Majra. Malli’s gangsters looted cattle, property, hens….. etc. The Sutlez was flooded. Lambardar Banta Singh and other villagers almost forgot about the misdeeds of Malli’s gang and the Muslim refugees; they were preoccupied with the flood situation. Suddenly they heard the painful cries for help and rushed to the bridge. They saw in swirling water, some carcasses of cows, bundles of clothing and it appeared that some village had been swept off in the flooded river. After some time, they heard the whistle of a train in darkness and it passed the station. The train was from Pakistan.
The next morning, the sun rose in its full glory. The villagers noticed corpses of children, women’s bones and skulls, dismembered limbs. Many corpses were floating on the surface. The sky was full with kites sweeping over the place. A few days later a train arrived from Pakistan during the daytime with many soldiers and the police force. They ordered a bulldozer for dragging the corpses to a common burial spot. The work was in progress till sunset, and having buried the dead, they all went by train.
In the evening, Gurudwara at Mano Majra was thronged with all the villagers. They offered prayers for God’s mercy. The people were scared of their lives: they slept in the Gurudwara seeing nightmares. They wept in sleep, cried, and wailed. Suddenly, they were all awakened by the beep of a jeep and they heard loud voices. The visitors were asking whether anyone lived there or all were dead. They asked lambardar Banta Singh whether it was the Sikh village. Banta Singh responded in the positive. The visitors told the dazed villagers about the ghost trains carrying the corpses of Sikhs and Hindus from Pakistan. They instigated the village folk to loot the Muslims, ransack their property and houses and send one trainload of dead Muslims to retaliate and avenge the atrocities and monstrosities by Muslims on Hindus and Sikhs in Pakistan. Bhai Meet Singh – very conscientious and God fearing Sikh – was mortified to hear a young man on the loudspeaker saying the if the Sikhs of Mano Mazrahad the guts, they could butcher all the Muslims going to Pakistan and a train full of them would cross the Sutlez bridge the very next day. It would be the most opportune hour to take revenge against the Pakistani boarding Muslims and their misdeeds. None of the passengers the said train cross the Sutlez alive. Meet Singh knew that the Muslims from Mano Majra would also be boarding that train. When he remarked about the Muslims of Mano Majra traveling by that train, he was told point blank that it was enough for them to be Muslims. Mallis and his gang volunteered to execute the nefarious plan. The young leader on the loudspeaker said “bravo” and made a ceremonial prayer in Guru’s name. The village folks were instigated to pounce upon the Muslim passengers in the train. They readied themselves with loud and collective “Sat Sri Akal” to make the venture an admirable success.
The young leader showed them the map of the bridge and located the exact spots to attack the train by stretching a rope at a particular height across the bridge so that the passenger sitting on the roofs of the bogies would fall down into the river- struck by the rope. The rest would be shot dead or butchered with swords and that Sikhs would have an extra advantage of night darkness. The Pakistani soldiers onboard would also be sub-inspector who in turn could brief Hukum Chand camping at the dakbangalow. The information not only fell on deaf ears, but Hukum Chand gave liberty to the sub-inspector of Chandannagar to murder the Muslim refugees who would board the night train. The Sub-Inspector informed Hukum Chand that Muslims had left Mano Majra. Mullah Imambuksh had also left with his daughter Nooran.
Hukum Chand ordered that Malli’s gang should be released to reach Mano Majra before the night train carrying Muslim refugees left the station. The Inspector could get the hang of Hukum Chand’s strategy. Jugga and Iqubal were also released but Jagga was as angry as a lion as Nooran and Imam bukshhad been forced to leave Mano Majra. Naturally, they must be leaving for Pakistan by the night train.
The sub-inspector arranged a tonga for them upto the village. As the tonga reached near the Sikh temple in the village, Jugga jumped off the carriage and disappeared in pitch dark. Many villagers were staying in Gurudwara and Iqbal joined them in prayers. Meet Singh briefed him on the latest situation. He came to know that villagers were going to kill the Muslims. The disappointed him beyond measure. When the villagers were sleeping in the big room of Gurudwara, Jugga came to see Meet Singh, listened to some holy lines of Guru Granth Sahab, and left for his plan unknown to any person in Mano Majra.
The Last Scene
The signal was given for the night train taking Muslim refugees to Pakistan. Many men who were in ambush close to the bridge became alert with their guns, spears, and swords. They were ready to attack the train as it would be passing over the bridge. The darkness was so horrible that they were not in a position to recognize anybody. One man climbed up on the steel span near the middle point of the rope. The gang leader thought that somebody was checking the tightness of its knot. As the train approached, the gang leader shouted at the man to climb down and save himself but the man would not listen: he was hacking vigorously in the middle by his kirpan. The gangleader shot him but the job had been. He slid off the rope as it snapped and fell down and the train passed over him, crossing the bridge and went on to Pakistan.