Character Sketch of Iqbal Singh in Train to Pakistan
Iqbal Singh is a communist. He is sent by his party, People’s Party of India, to Mano Majra peasants to wake them to their plight and inspire them to fight for social and economic justice. When he comes to Mano Majra, he doesn’t have even an iota of information about this village. When he alights from the train at the station, the first thing that worries him is to get a place to stay at. He enquires of the Station Master if there was any hotel or not. The Station Master gets irritated by the enquiry perhaps because he is too busy or he is not supposed to answer such queries, yet he gives him a good piece of information that he can stay in the Sikh temple which he will be able to locate with the help of a yellow flag hoisted at the top of it. The stranger has no difficulty in finding the temple.
Iqbal is different from other people at Mano Majra. The novelist has taken special care to describe his figure, accent, etc. He distinguishes himself by his ‘urban accent, his appearance, dress and hold all’. The people of Mano Majra take notice of the stranger as soon as he comes out of the station; he is uneasily aware of their attention. The itch on the back of his neck tells him that they are looking at him and talking about him’. He walks with ‘an erect gait’ like a soldier. He has no difficulty in reaching the temple as he sees from a distance ‘a flag mast draped in yellow cloth with a triangular flag above the conglomeration of huts’. He goes into the temple with some hesitation but the Bhai Meet Singh’s frankness soon makes him easy. Meet Singh offers him food which Iqbal declines politely saying that he has brought food with him. Bhai Meet Singh shows a spare room in which Iqbal settles himself.
After some time Iqbal introduces himself to Meet Singh. He tells him the purpose of his visit to the village. Bhai Meet Singh takes him for a Sikh, though Iqbal can well be a Hindu, or a Muslim or a Sikh, but the way he comes directly to the Sikh temple leaves no doubt in the mind of Bhai Meet Singh that Iqbal is a Sikh, Iqbal Singh, though his hair is shorn and his beard shaved because ‘he had few religious feelings’. Iqbal Singh tells Bhai Meet Singh that he is ‘a social worker’ sent by his party to do something to avert blood-shed the likelihood of which is very strong in the border village in the wake of partition of the country. He says to Meet Singh “Now with this partition there is so much blood-shed going on, someone must do something to stop it. My party has sent me here, since this place is a vital point for refugees. Trouble here would be disastrous.” Thus, he says that he is on a mission. He further tells Meet Singh that he is not paid anything more than his expenses. The novelist has made it clear that he is a missionary sort of man, not an employee. At the same time he does not need much money because he is unmarried as a missionary is supposed to be. As to his age he is only twenty seven years old. Thus, he makes it clear that he is a youngman, sent on a mission to prevent blood-shed in Mano Majra which being on the border expects to get refugees who can go berserk to avenge ‘themselves for the tyranny perpetrated by the Muslims in Pakistan’.
- Plot Construction in Train To Pakistan by Khushwant Singh
- Criticism of Indian Society in Train to Pakistan
- Significance of the Title Train to Pakistan
- Art of Characterization in Train To Pakistan
In a chit-chat with Bhai Meet Singh, Iqbal discovers his sense of morality. Meet Singh happens to say that Christians are immoral because ‘The Sahibs and their wives go about with other Sahibs and their wives’. Indians, like Meet Singh, who don’t have an intimate knowledge of the life-style of the Christians in foreign countries believe that they indulge in wife-swapping which is not true for the generality of the Christians. Iqbal reacted sharply. He snapped, “But they do not tell lies like we do and they are not corrupt and dishonest as so many of us are.” Iqbal, however, is full of communistic ideology which is right to a great extent. He took no time to tell Meet Singh, “Morality is a matter of money. Poor people cannot afford to have morals, so they have religion.” He makes a distinction between morality and religion. The former he believes is nothing more than code of conduct which varies according to the climatic and economic conditions and changes from time to time but the latter remains fixed in all conditions, and for all classes of the people. He, therefore, holds that religion tends to become obsolete and harmful. That is why he doesn’t have faith in any religion. The novelist has named him Iqbal which being common to Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs does not indicate his religious inclinations.
But he soon shifts to the higher problem of wide-spread poverty. He tells Meet Singh, “Our first problem is to get people more food, clothing, comfort. That can only be done by stopping exploitation by the rich and abolishing landlords. And that can only be done by changing the government.” Needless to say that Iqbal’s views on abolition of poverty are universally accepted. The rich are getting richer and poor, the poorer due to inequitable distribution of wealth. Iqbal being a committed communist speaks out his socialistic views. Then Iqbal speaks about the rampant corruption in Police department. He says, “There is the police system which, instead of safeguarding the citizen, maltreats him and lives on corruption and bribery.” Iqbal spurts out these views within a few minutes of his meeting with Bhai Meet Singh, indicating his anger against the system.
When Meet Singh tells him about the dacoity and murder in the house of Ram Lal, believed to have been committed by Jugga Badmash Iqbal says, “There is no crime in any one’s blood any more than there is goodness in the blood of others.” He takes opportunity to speak out his pet theory that ‘if the fear of gallows or the cell had stopped people from killing or stealing, there would be no murdering or stealing. They hang a man every day in the province, yet ten get murdered every twenty-four hours. No, Bhaiji, criminals are not born. They are made by hunger, want and injustice’. This is an admitted fact that a man turns criminal only when he is hard-pressed for money, unable to meet his both ends meet. It is also admitted by all and sundry that people suffer from hunger and poverty due to social injustice. Communists have been fighting against the capitalistic tendency of depriving labour of their share in the profits.
When Iqbal gets down from the train at the Bombay station, he finds crowds on the quayside, in the streets, on railway platforms, even at night the pavements are full of people. He thinks, “what could you expect when population went up by six every minute-five million every year! It made all planning in industry and agriculture a mockery. Why not spend the same amount of effort in checking the increase in population? But what could you do in a country of Kama Sutra, the home of phallic worship and the son cult?” Iqbal’s ruminations about population explosion reflect his scientific thinking on the problem.
Iqbal has a strong aversion for Indian’s lack of hygienic sense. He takes care to drop a tablet of chlorine in the drinking water brought for him by Bhai Meet Singh. Iqbal has noticed that Bhai Meet Singh has dipped his dirty nails in the water. Moreover, the well from which the water has been drawn is never chlorinated. Again, the Lambardar brings a glass of milk covered with a dirty handkerchief. Then he stirs the milk with his forefinger. As if it was not enough, he picks up a piece of clotted cream on his forefinger and slapped it back in the milk to show the quality of the milk. Iqbal pours the milk in the drain when the Lambarder has gone. Iqbal being an educated man, knows the necessity of hygiene in daily life.
Iqbal gets opportunity to speak out his ideas about freedom and the freedom struggle. The Lambardar wants to know why the English have to leave India. Iqbal makes no mention of the struggle made by Mahatma Gandhi. He gives all the credit to the Indian National Army set up by Japanese who believed that Indian forces would not kill their compatriots, but Iqbal omits to speak about Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose who was the father of Indian National Army. Iqbal believes that the English had to leave this country out of fear because the Indian soldiers did not shoot any of the Indians who joined Indian National Army.
The Lambardar asks next what freedom would get for them. “Will they get more land and more buffaloes?” A Muslim intervenes to say that freedom will get nothing for them-“Freedom is for educated Indians who fought for it. We were slaves of the English, now we will be slaves of the educated Indians or the Pakistanis.” Iqbal agrees with the Muslim because communists rightly believe that peasants and labourers would be deprived of their share in the profits. Therefore, he makes a purely communistic speech- “Peasants and workers-you have to get together and fight. Get the Bania Congress out. Get rid of the Princes and the landlords and freedom will mean for you what you think it. More land, more buffaloes, no debts.” Iqbal reveals his faith in communism. His mission is to unite the proletariat against bourgeoisie. Therefore, he uses the opportunity to give his message.
Iqbal is provided newspapers in the lock-up and some furniture, including a charpai, while Jugga has to sleep on the hard cement floor. This distinction made between the two detainees reminds him of the distinctions made everywhere in India. The civil servants have separate places for car parking marked according to seniority. “Even lavatories were graded according to rank and labelled Senior officers, Junior officers, Clerks and Stenographers and other ranks.” He soon fed up with stereotyped news in the papers.
In disgust he starts turning the pages of the matrimonial supplement to find to his dismay that the qualities that the boys want in a girl are the same as the news in all papers are the same. The boys want virgins, expert in household affairs, and do not care for beauty, perhaps they think as the novelist observes, beauty is but skin-deep. Some broad-minded persons are willing to get a widow but only if she is not deflowered. People do not demand photographs, but most of them want horoscopes, because people believe that ‘astronomical harmony’ is a greater guarantee of conjugal happiness than understanding between the couple. The magazines he finds contain articles on well-beaten copies such as Ajanta Cave frescoes, Tagore, Stories of Prem Chand, etc. Iqbal being young and modem cannot take interest in such oft-repeated things. Perhaps articles on Marx, Gorky, and such other topics would have delighted him.
Iqbal is aghast to see that he is arrested for no rhyme or reason and that the constables have written his arrest warrant at the spot in blatant violation of law, but Police in India is known for its unlawful ways. Therefore, Iqbal threatens that he would file Habeas Corpus petition to force the police to present him before the court. But the constables slight his threat saying that he is in fool’s paradise, ignorant of the police ways.
Iqbal is highly critical of Indian obsession with sex. When Jugga comes to know that Iqbal has been in European countries for many years, he conjuctures that Iqbal must have slept with several European woman. Iqbal is irritated with such observations as why should anybody peep into the private life of a man. Moreover, can Jugga sort of Indians not think of any other thing that Iqbal must have done during his sojourn in Europe? It is not Jugga alone who is obsessed with sex, but the whole of the Indian society is obsessed with sex.
Iqbal observes that there are hoardings in the cities ‘advertising aphrodisiacs and curatives for ill effects of masturbation’, and hawkers selling oil extracted from sand lizards which it is believed can increase the size of the phallus. Iqbal further observed, “No people used incestuous abuse as casually as did the Indians.” Jugga shamelessly boasts that women who have tasted his phallic power cried ‘Toba, Toba, and requested him to leave them. Iqbal is disgusted with such repulsive banalities. He is right to believe that Indians are preoccupied with sex.
Iqbal learns from Bhai Meet Singh that people are going to kill Muslim evacuees that are to go to Pakistan by the morning train. Iqbal feels that the massacre should somehow be averted. He asked Bhai Meet Singh to take the pre-emptive action, but Meet Singh knows that revenge-crazy people will not listen to him. Then, Iqbal recollects that he is also sent on the mission of preventing the massacre. He begins to think how he should act in such circumstances. Bhai Meet Singh has made it clear that he has already done his duty of telling people what is good and what is evil and that it is beyond his power to check them, if they still persist in doing evil. Iqbal also knows that people will not listen to him since he is a stranger to them. And if he goes further to desist them, he might get killed. In that case it will be a waste of life because nobody will draw a moral lesson from his sacrifice-“The point of sacrifice is the purpose. For the purpose it is not enough that a thing is intrinsically good enough: it must be known to be good.” In case he sacrifices his life, society will never know.
He further ruminates that if the things are beyond repair, it will be wise to destroy them and build new ones. Therefore, he comes to the conclusion that he should give up the idea of intervening in these things.
Iqbal, being a communist, denigrates all religions. For him, Hinduism is nothing more than ‘caste and cow protection’, Islam is limited to ‘circumcision and Kosher meet’. Sikhims is nothing but ‘long hair and hatred of the Muslims’; Christianity is at the most ‘Hinduism with sola topee’; and Parsi is concerned only with ‘fire worship and feeding vultures’. It is due to communistic hatred for religions that he sees only the flip side of the religions.
He has no idea of the great advantages of the universally acclaimed Yoga. He therefore, ridicules it, saying ‘excellent earner of dollars! Stand on your head. Sit cross-legged and tickle your novel with the nose’. He deprecated the idea of re-birth or re-incarnation since there is nothing to prove its verocity. Then, he goes ahead to deride the culture of the East, “We are of the mysterious East. No proof just faith. No reason, just faith. Thought, which should be the sine qua non, of a philosophical code, is dispensed with”. He finally discards it completely as a humbug-“As long as the world credulously believes in our capacity to make a rope rise skyward and a little boy climb it till he is out of view, so long will our brand of humbug thrive.”
Perhaps Iqbal is against everything that is Indian. He decries even art and music of India though they are respected all over the world-He says contemptuously, “Why has contemporary Indian painting, music, architecture and sculpture been such a flop?” So much of hatred there is in the heart of Iqbal against Indian culture that he considers it a cowardice to ‘kowtow to social standards when one believes neither in the society not in its standards.”
Iqbal does not have belief either in God or in Man. He finds so much of disorder and confusion around that he cannot hope to get any help from God or Man. Nobody seems to have any code of conduct, but the war between good and evil is an evergoing phenomenon. Sometimes good wins over evil, and sometime evil over good. It does not show that God or good would win in the final count. Therefore, Iqbal cannot decide which he should opt for himself in his struggle for life, and chooses to “cultivate an utter difference to all values. Nothing matters, nothing whatever.”
Iqbal is a young committed communist and is sent on the mission of preventing mass-murders in Mano Majra, a village on the bank of the Sutlej. It is feared that the refugees from Pakistan would kill the Muslims. During his talks with Bhai Meet Singh it becomes clear that Iqbal has been in European countries for many years. Under the influence of communism and of the Western countries, he has developed a sort of aversion for Indian traits, like obsession for sex, religion etc. and warped concept of morality. He turns against the Indian police who changes his name and religion, arrests him on concocted grounds and keeps him under detention without any valid ground. Iqbal has no faith in Indian culture which lays emphasis on faith more than reason. Similarly, he hasn’t belief in age old principle that good prevails in the final count. Thus, we find that Iqbal is a youngman with enthusiasm for life, with a missionary’s spirit but not mature enough to see the philosophical spirit of different religions of India which have produced great saints like Buddha, Nanak, Chaitanya and a host of others.