Train to Pakistan Summary | A Novel by Khushwant Singh

Khushwant Singh's Train to Pakistan Summary

Summary of Train to Pakistan

[Summer of 1947 was hotter, drier and dustier. Monsoon was never so late. Scattered clouds were seen in the sky but there was no rain. The preceding summer was marked by communal riots, caused by reports of imminent division of the country into Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan. Muslims said that riots were begun by the Hindus and vice versa. The fact was that both sides shot, stabbed, clubbed and raped. Muslims messacred Hindus in Noakhali and Hindus messacred Muslims in Bihar. Hundreds of thousands of Hindus and Sikhs fled from their countries, old homes in North West Frontier Province. In summer of 1947 when Pakistan was officially carved out of India ten million people, Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims were in flight. By the time monsoon arrived, almost a million of them died. Almost all the northern India was in arms.]

The novelist describes life in Mano Majra a small village, half a mile from the bank of Sutlej. Only seventy families live in that village. Lala Ram Lal’s is the only Hindu family. The others, the Sikhs and the Muslims are in equal number. The Sikhs are the land owners and the Muslims are the tenants. There are a few families of sweepers who belong to neither of the religious communities, but they have goined the American missionaries in dance and singing. They visit the Sikh temple which is visited by all, even by Lala Ram Lal. Mano Majra has only three brick buildings, house of the money-lender Lala Ram Lal, the Sikh temple and the mosque. The three buildings surround a common courtyard having a large peepal tree in the middle. Mano Mara has a railway station which has a colony of shopkeepers and hawkers who supply food, betel leaves, etc. to the travellers. It is a small station. The Station Master himself sells tickets, collects tickets at the exit, sends messages over the telegraph. Only two passenger trains , one from Delhi to Lahore the morning and the other from Lahore to Delhi in evening, stop at the station. Mail trains do not stop at this station, but the morning mail train’s whistle tells the mullah at the mosque that it is time for prayer. The priest at the Sikh temple is alerted by the mullah’s call. The arrivals and departures of the trains regulate the daily routine in Mano Maira. Therefore, the trains and the railway station play an important role in the life of the people in Mano Majra.

One night in August, five dacoits came to Mano Majra with the intention to commit dacoity in the house of the money-lender, Lala Ram Lal, but they carry a packet of bangles to be dropped at Jugga‘s house since Jugga had refused to be a party with them in their plan. The dacoits commit the dacoity, loot cash and jewellery and kill Lala Ram Lal ruthlessly. Ram Lal wept and wailed, but the dacoits did not spare his life. While going away from the village, the dacoits leave the packet of bangles at Jugga’s house according to their plan.

Juggut Singh alias Jugga goes to the field outside the village on the night of the dacoity for a love tryst with his beloved Nooran, though he is bound by a Court order to report at the police station every week-end and to remain at home every night. Jugga’s mother advises him against going out that night but the intensity of his passion makes him deaf to the pleadings of his mother. When dacoity is being committed, he is busy in making love with Nooran in the field. Not finding Jugga at home, police arrests him on suspicion of his being an accomplice of the dacoits, though Jugga’s mother shows clinching evidence against the suspicion. She shows the packet of bangles left by the dacoits, Malli and his gang, to shame Jugga for not participating in the crime, and gives the patent argument that no dacoit would ever commit dacoity in his own village. But the police dismisses the arguments and evidences off-hand. Jugga is put in fetters and handcuffs are fastened on his wrist. In the search of his house police finds a spear to give them a reason to arrest him. Besides he is a blacklisted criminal.

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Per chance a clean shaven Sikh, named Iqbal arrives in Mano Majra on the day of the dacoity. When he gets off the trains, he learns that the village has no hotel or inn to stay at, and he can stay only in the Sikh Gurudwara which provides food and lodging to any way-farer. The Sikh temple being the hobson’s choice, he goes to the Gurudwara where Bhai Meet Singh provides him with a cot. The offer of food is politely declined by Iqbal. The visitor has an iron-bangle on his wrist, and he makes it clear to Bhai Meet Singh that he is not a smoker, but does not speak about his religion, caste or creed partly because Bhai Meet Singh does not ask about it and partly because Iqbal, being a communist, does not believe in such classifications of men. However, he does not make a secret of the fact that he belongs to district Jhelum which is in Pakistan, and that he is an English speaking man and has been to England. When he is sleeping, two constables come to arrest him without telling what offence he has committed. To his surprise he finds that a constable prepares his arrest warrant at the spot in his presence, which he challenges but without avail. Magistrate Hukum Chand is also angry to find that the police arrests people without knowing his name, parentage, address, etc., and makes him sign blank warrants of arrest. On being put down by the Magistrate, the Sub-Inspector proceeds to enquire about the indentity of the arrested man. He asks the constable to take the prisoner inside and strip him off to let him see whether he is a circumcised Muslim. After the examination he reports to the Magistrate that Iqbal is a Muslim Leaguer and describes him as Mohammad Iqbal S/o Mohammad something-or-other, caste; Mussulman, occupation; Muslim League worker in the warrant under the instructions of the Magistrate. Thus, Iqbal is arrested and sent to the lock-up under fasle identity and false accusation, exposing police excesses. The Sub-Inspector roars with laughter when Iqbal says that he would file Habeas Corpus petition before the court. Jugga and Iqbal are put in two different lock-ups; the former is arrested on the charges of committing dacoity in the house of Ram Lal and the latter for inciting people though police knows that Iqbal came to Mano Majra after the incidence of dacoity.

After about a weak, police brings five men. Malli and his gang, in handcuffs. As soon as Jugga saw them, he burst out in abusive language obviously because he had been arrested for the crime committed by Malli. He shakes the bars violently as if he wanted to break open the door to come out to settle scores immediately. “His eyes turned red; he put his hand on his mouth and yelled: he beat his chest and shook the iron bars; he swore that he would tear Malli limb from limb,” Malli is shaken by Juggut Singh’s outburst. He is afraid of Juggat Singh and would sooner make peace than go about in fear of violence, but he feels secure for the moment due to the presence of the armed police. He sums up courage to ask Juggat Singh mockingly if he would send any love message to the weaver’s daughter. When Juggat Singh gives no answer due to rising anger, Malli comes closer to the iron bar to tease him further. Jugga succeeds in gripping Malli by the hair protruding from the back of his turban, brings Malli’s head crashing against the bars “He shook Malli as a terrier shakes a piece of rag from side to side, forward and backward, smashing his head repeatedly against the bars. Each jerk was accompanied with abuse.” Jugga holds Malli’s head tightly with both his hands. Then he pushes him away with expressions of hatred and anger on his face. Malli cries like a child.

Police knows for certain that the dacoity in the house of Ram Lal was committed by Malli’s gang. Yet police releases the gang and goes to the people to enquire from the public if anybody knows about the whereabouts of the Sultan to give the impression to the public that the dacoity was committed by Muslims in the house of a Hindu. And it is also said that Iqbal is a spy from Pakistan. Thus, the effort is made to whip up communal discord with the intention to scare away the Muslim populace for its own safety.

Rumours of all atrocities committed by Sikhs on the Muslims in Patiala, Ambala and Kapurthala start pouring in. These rumours are dismissed in the initial stages; even the rumour that dacoity was committed by a Muslim gang as the police has given out is also dismissed. The Muslim populace come to know that gentle women in veils were stripped and marched down the market place. They also hear of mosques being desecrated with the pigs slaughtered and the holy Quran tom by infidels. The Muslim populace feel that Pakistan is the only safe place for them. Therefore, the exodus begins.

Sikhs already have a sort of hatred against the Muslims inherited from the history of the merciless persecution of the Sikh Gurus. Two of their Gurus were assassinated and infants were killed. Guru Govind Singh was stabbed in the chest and his four children were brutally killed. Hundreds of thousands were put to sword for refusing to accept Islam. Sikh refugees coming from across the border bring the tales of women who had to jump into the well or burn themselves to death to avoid falling into the hands of the Muslims. A train load of Sikhs were cremated near Mano Majra railway station. People do not believe that Ram Lal was killed by the Sultana gang who has since then slipped into Pakistan. These reports make the situation highly sensitive and explosive.

Mano Majra being a small village does not have much information about the communal disharmony spreading fast like an epidemic in the cities. The bits of information trickling through the visitors have raised tempers of the youths but the grown-up persons are still watching the wind with patience, A meeting of the Sikhs is held in the Sikh temple to decide what action is to be taken if the village also gets the heat from the conflagration. One youth opines in unambiguous language that the Muslims in general are ungrateful and unreliable-“They have been eating our salt for generations and see what they have done! We have treated them like our own brothers. They have behaved like snakes.” Bhai Meet Singh tried to bring sobriety in the discussion. He asks the youth what the Muslims have done in the village. The youth snaps-“They are Muslims”, imputing that all Muslims, inside and outside Mano Majra are of the same mind and character. Therefore, strong action is necessary against them. Then the Lambarder comes forward to bring sanity in the discussion. He presents the problem which is likely to arise with the arrival of the refugees. He says, “We have to decide what we are to do now. These refugees who have turned up the temple may do something which will bring bad name to the village.” Hearing the Lambardar about the reputation of the village, the truculent youth changed his stance to fall in line with the Lambardar. He says, “We would like to see somebody raise his little finger against our tenants while we live !” Lambardar snubs the youth saying that he is hot-headed and changes his stance in a jiffy. To make things clearer the Lambardar says about the influx of the refugees. He cautiones that the village might get such refugees as have lost their mothers and sisters. They might try to revenge themselves upon the Muslims of Mano Majra. He further says that it will be against the sacred principle of hospitality to deny shelter to the destitute and displaced persons. The question arises unbidden whether they should ask the Muslims to leave the village. It is a ticklish issue since village brotherhood is above all considerations. Naturally ‘no one had the nerve to suggest throwing them out. They have information that Muslims of other villages have been evacuated. But the people of Mano Majra do not know how to ask their fellow-villagers to leave the village.

The discussion is still going on when Imam Baksh, appears at the gate to know what they have decided about the Muslims. Before anybody else speaks, a young man says in a positive tone, “It is like this, uncle Imam.


long as we are here nobody with dare to touch you. We die first and then you look after yourselves.” This tacit promise is echoed by other young men present in the meeting. This results in an immediate effusion of warmth and affection from both sides. Imam Baksh breaks down and Meet Singh clasps him in his arms. Several people start crying. It is a rare sight of fellowfeeling and brotherhood. But the Lambardar cautions like a wise-man. He says that the arrival of the large number of refugees might become too strong a force for the natives of the village to check them. Therefore, he advises the Muslims of the village to go to the refugee camps for some time to come back after the tide is over. The Muslims, therefore, agree to take leave of their Sikh brethren with heavy hearts. But the Muslim commander of the convoy makes it clear that Muslims of Mano Majra will rather go to Pakistan for an indefinite period. The Sikhs of Mano Majra are prepared to take care of the evacuce properties, cattle etc. for a short period but they make it clear that they will not be able to keep their properties for long. The Sikh commander with the convoy is rather annoyed to see that the Sikhs of this place are ignorant of the treatment that the Sikhs had received from the Muslims in Muslim-majority areas and Pakistan. He says to the Sikhs who are sympathetic with the Muslims, “You are quite right, Bhaiji, there is some danger of being misunderstood. One should never touch another’s property; one should never look at another’s woman. One should just let others take one’s goods and sleep with one’s sisters. The only way people like you will understand anything is by being sent over to Pakistan, have your sisters and mothers raped in front of you, have your clothes taken off, and be sent back with a kick and spit on your behinds.” None reacts to the Sikh commander’s pungent remark. Malli who has his eyes already fixed on the evacuce properties offers to take care of the properties of the Muslims”Sir, the people of this village are famous for their charity. They cannot look after themselves, how can they look after other people ? But do not worry, Sardar Sahib, we will take care of Muslim property. You can tell the other officer to leave it with us.” The Sikh officer takes the cue. He appoints Malli as the custodian of the evacuated Muslims’ properties. Malli’s gang and the refugees then unyoke the bullocks, loot the carts and drive the cows and buffaloes away.

The Sikhs of Mano Majra still remain brotherly with the Muslim evacuees. When Malli and his gang start plundering Muslim properties openly, the Sikhs wish that the Sutlej should oveflow its banks and drown everybody, provided it also drowns Malli; his gang, the refugees and the soldiers who are freely looting Muslim properties. The charitable and kindly Sikhs are shocked when they find dead bodies of men, women and children and cattle come floating in the swollen Sutlej. The dead bodies show that people were massacred somewhere and thrown into the river. Some were without limbs, some had their bellies torn open, many women’s breasts were slashed. They floated down the sunlit river, bobbing up and down, Overhead hung the kites and vultures.” This scene leaves no doubt that Muslims had killed the Sikhs and Hindus in a gruesome manner. Then, a train full of dead bodies of the Sikhs and Hindus came from Pakistan. Bulldozers were pressed into service to dig up a rectangular trench to bury the dead bodies. It was not possible to collect oil and fuel for the cremation.

These sights of mindless killing of thousands of innocent persons shock the people of Mano Majra. Instead of being furiously revengeful, they hold a special prayer for peace to the departed soul in a solemn assembly. They cannot sleep at night since they are fidgety and jittery. “They sobbed in their sleep and their beards were moist with their tears.”

A few young-men came by a jeep. Two of them came into the courtyard and shouted, “Is there anybody here or are you all dead ?” Showing off their angst. Meet Singh and the Lambardar who went to meet the visitors told them that none was dead in the village, yet the visitor says, “Well, if the village is not dead, it should be drowned in the palmful of water. It consists of eunuchs.” He asks the Sikhs present in the temple whether they know how many train loads of Sikhs and Hindus have come over, how many Sikhs were massacred in Rawalpindi and Multan, Gujaranwala and Sheikhupura. The youth is rather surprised that Sikhs in Mano Majra are just eating and sleeping and doing nothing to be avenged on the Muslims. He says plainly and openly that they should kill two Muslims for cach Hindu or Sikh killed, and abduct or rape two Muslim women for each Hindu or Sikh woman raped by the Muslims. The youth dismissed Meet Singh’s argument that only the criminal should be punished and not the innocent. He asks Meet Singh in return whether Sikhs and Hindus butchered by the Muslims had done any offence. He is simmering as he asks whether the women who were ravished had done any offence. He means to say that the enemy should be paid in his own coin-violence should be met with violence. Meet Singh being a priest still remembers Guru’s exhortation that no Sikh should touch the person of a Muslim woman but the youth counters saying that it was because of this that Guru Govind Singh suffered at the hands of the Muslims all his sons were killed by the Muslims, and Guru himself was stabbed in the chest while sleeping by a Muslim. He asks Meet Singh to remember Guru’s other advice only befriend the Turk, when all other communities are dead.” Thus, the youth proves that Muslims are brutish and deceitful. He therefore, roars “A Muslim knows no argument but the sword.” He asks his audience whether there is anybody ready to work with him in punishing the Muslims for their cruelties on their brethren. Some of them are roused by the provocative dialogues of the young visitor. Then he unfolds his plan to kill Muslims who are to leave for Pakistan from Chandunnagar by train in the same night. It is rather difficult for the people of Mano Majra to kill Muslims of their own village, whom they had bidden farewell only the other day with warm embraces and tearful eyes. But the provocative speech of the youth changes the minds of some of them. Malli says heroically, “My life is at your disposal.” Malli’s companions also offer themselves along with some other villagers. But the youth calls upon the Sikhs to come forward in a larger number saying “The Guru asked for five lives when he made the Sikhs. Those Sikhs were supermen. We need more than five. Who else is willing to lay down his life.” It is an emotional call, very cleverly related with Guru Govind Singh. Consequently, some people offer to work under his command.

He tells them that they would spread a rope across a span of the bridge so that the Muslims travelling on the roof of the train will come tumbling down and then they should fall upon them with swords and knives and spears. Those with rifles and guns will fire volley of shots at the train indiscriminately. Thus, he says that they will be able to kill four or five thousand Muslims.

Hukum Chand is greatly upset due to the mindless killings going on all around. He has become older and weaker. The Sub-Inspector informs him that Chundunnagar refugees are being taken to Pakistan by train that night, and that the camp commander fears that there will be an attack on the camp. Therefore, he intends to take the refugees by the first train available. But going by the train is not safe at all, because according to his information Sikhs want it to go to Pakistan with a cargo of corpses. Therefore, neither keeping the refugees in camps nor taking them to Pakistan was safe—a catch-22 situation it was.

On being informed that all the Muslims of Mano Majra including Nooran, beloved of Jugga have been evacuated and are being taken to Pakistan, Hukum Chand writes orders for the release of Jugga and Iqbal, because Jugga-Nooran affair will no more be a cause of dispute between the two communities and Iqbal would henceforth be a Sikh, Iqbal Singh. His former identity as Mohammed Iqbal would have put his life in jeopardy.

On being released, Jugga somehow got the wind that the Sikhs will spread a rope across a span of the bridge to kill Muslims en masse. He knows that his beloved Nooran, is also going by the same train. Therefore, he decides to frustrate the plan of the Sikhs. He climbs to the top of the steel span where the rope is tied. The Sikhs lying in ambush think that Jugga is trying to tighten the knot. The train is coming closer and closer, but Jugga is still stretched on the rope. He takes out a Kripan to cut the rope. He makes vigorous effort to snap the rope since he hasn’t much time left. He cuts the rope in a frantic haste. Then it becomes clear to the Sikhs what the man was doing. They fire at him, as a result of which he slides off the rope, yet he holds the rope under his armpit, starts cutting with great force. Then, there was a volley of shots. Jugga collapses but not before the rope is snapped. The train carrying Nooran passed through the bridge unhurt.

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