Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Monday, October 13, 2014

Train to Pakistan by Khushwant Singh 1956 - A Classic Novel of the 1947 Partition of India

I am very glad that I posted on Khushwant Singh before he passed away.  

Much of the political trouble in the world that drives headlines can be traced back to the breakup of the British Empire.  The terrible legacy of English colonialism still curses much of the world.  In 1947 when the Indian Subcontinent was partitioned into two religiously divided countries the resultant chaos unleashed an incredible killing and rapine  frenzy in which Hindus, Muslims, and Sihks killed each other, raped millions of women of different faiths, and committed barbaric crimes on a continent wide scale.  At least a million people died.  Later the partitioning lead to wars and international conflicts (with both sides now armed with nuclear weapons) that prevail today.  Train to Pakistan is a classic treatment of this travesty of colonialism. 

In the small Indian town, located near the border with Pakistan, Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs have lived next door to each other in harmony and friendship for generations.  They are isolated from the news about what is going on elsewhere.  Train to Pakistan begins by spending about a third of the novel letting us see what life is like in the town.  The town has it trouble makers, the police can be brutal and there caste and religious sensitivities and prejuduces but people get along.   The first thing one asks or wonders about a stranger is their religious background.  Singh has no great respect for the followers of any of the religions.  He sees people as much more concerned about clothing and grooming traditions than really living their faith.  I did learn a good bit about the history of Sikhs (Singh is an authority on this) from the novel.  

The biggest thing in the commerce of the town is the trains that pass through and stop at the local station.  I learned some very interesting things about the extreme importance of trains to the economy of India in 1947.  

In a very violent episode a group of thugs (a word with ancient Indian roots) robs and murders the station master.  In a kind of side episode we observe the police chief with a 16 year old prostitute.  Readers of Singh will expect this).  

One terrible day a train pulls in and stops.  Fifty soldiers  detrain.  The villagers are told to bring any wood or oil they have, they will be paid for it.  There are 1000 dead Bodies  on the train that needed to be cremated.  The people are devastated and shocked by this.  From this things get worse and worse.  The violence is just horrific.  

Train to Pakistan is a very powerful work.  Singh has a unique style i really like.  He tells the truth.

Mel u

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