Over half a century old, the brutal episode that tore a country apart is slowly fading from the pages of Indian history. The Partition of India which occurred in 1947 left millions dead, homeless, and displaced. While first person accounts vanish and unpleasant memories slowly suffer silent deaths, Train to Pakistan by Khushwant Singh offers one of the finest treatments of the subject. First published in 1956, this is a book which has been reprinted, reissued and translated into many languages since then. This classic was penned by Singh when he was around thirty years of age. Infused with the compassion and humility of an author who would become one of the most eccentric and witty columnists of India, the novel delivers a human dimension to the event through its sense of reality, horror, and believability.
Singh recreates a tiny Punjabi village on the banks of the Indus River where a large number of Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs have been living in harmony for years. As political developments change the way the people have been going about their lives, Singh weaves a beautiful love story set against the backdrop of the communal violence. The skill which sets Singh apart as a writer starts to become apparent as the story quickly unfolds at a rapid pace and the backdrop slowly immerses the plot to become more lively and important than the main players. In his hundred and ninety pages of writing, Singh creates a powerful cast with vivid descriptions for each of the characters. It becomes quite clear that Singh has an eye for detail in the way he knits an engaging, picturesque story.
In Train to Pakistan, Khushwant Singh succeeds in showing the human dimension of the momentous event of Partition, through ordinary characters we can identify with. The helpless victims of communal hatred, the susceptible young duo with their Romeo and Juliet tale or the uncouth village rogue who makes a supreme sacrifice… through all his characters Singh is able to drive home the point that no one was responsible for the tragedies that befell the people of India. Everyone played their part in the turn of events, and the poor were left in the middle to suffer the effects. Singh shows readers how politics can be so consequential, it travels deep into the lives of even to those who don’t have a clue.