Tagore had foreseen Crisis in European Civilization
A Critique of V. S. Naipaul’s India: A Million Mutinies Now. USA: Penguin Books. 1992. Print.
(Published in the Bulletin of Ramkrishna Institute of Culture, Golpark, Kolkata. 2014)
Throughout his life Rabindranath Tagore was a patriot, a nationalist and above all, he was a humanist. He wished Indian freedom and sometimes actively participated in the freedom movement; taking part in movements against partition of Bengal, presiding in political party meetings, singing songs in congress sessions, felicitating Aurobindo Ghose, a freedom fighter and welcoming Subhas Chandra Bose decades after it, to take the leadership of the country. He had long standing relationship with M. K. Gandhi, C. R. Das, Jawaharlal Nehru and other great leaders of the time. But he was never in favour of terrorism nor was he a non-violent of the Gandhian brand. The primary force in his life was love for the God and from it emanated his love for the country and humanity. He was a mystic poet yet one of the most rationalists of his time who always sought peace for the people of the world.
In his famous speech in Shantiniketan, later published titled, Crisis in Civilization, and delivered in his presence when he was an octogenarian poet in 1941, a few months before his departure from the world, the poet gave an account in detail as to how his ardent love for English literature remained but of lesser interest to him then with the change of his heart for the English people in degrees which transformed all his good feelings and ideas about them into grievance and grief gradually. He was shocked at their imperialist pride and change of character though he admitted frankly that there were great souls among them who remained true to their character and behavior, as he had seen them in his early youth. Excerpts from his speech would bring out the positions which were laid with reasoned high prose coupled with poetic exuberance from time to time. It tells about the gradual loss of poet’s faith in Western civilization and rising hope for the oriental nations to rise up to lead the human race to a new height.
The scope of learning and enquiry was limited in those days of his childhood and youth. The educated had recourse to English language and literature. He opined, “It was mainly through their mighty literature that we formed our ideas with regard to these newcomers to our Indian shores. . . . England at that time provided a shelter to all those who had to flee from persecution in their own country. . . . I was impressed by this evidence of liberal humanity in the character of the English and thus I was led to set them on the pedestal of my highest respect. This generosity in their national character had not yet been vitiated by imperialist pride.” (Tagore/ V.3/722)
He admitted that English literature which had nourished the Indian mind in the past still conveyed its deep resonance in the recesses of their heart. Trying to define what could be the equivalent of the English word civilization, he referred to Sadachar or proper conduct which was in vogue in Brahmavarta, a place bound by Saraswati and Drisadvati rivers, as defined by the sage Manu, but admitted that such behavours were degenerated steadily into socialized tyranny. Under the circumstance of prevailing narrowness and tyranny, “We accepted the ideal of ‘civilization’ as represented by the English term.” (Tagore/ V.3/723)
“Then came the parting of ways accompanied with a painful feeing of disillusion when I began increasingly to discover how easily those who accepted the highest truths of civilization disowned them with impunity whenever questions of national self-interest were involved . . . .
“I had to snatch myself away from the mere appreciation of literature . . . the sight of dire poverty of Indian masses rent my heart. Rudely shaken out of my dreams, I began to realize that perhaps in no other modern state was there such hopeless dearth of the most elementary needs of existence. And yet it was this country whose resources had fed for so long the wealth and magnificence of the British people. . . . I could never have remotely imagined that the great ideals of humanity would end in such ruthless travesty. . . .
“That mastery over the machine, by which the British have consolidated their sovereignty over their vast Empire, has been kept a sealed book, to which due access has been denied to this helpless country. And all the time before our very eyes Japan has been transforming herself into a mighty and prosperous nation. I have seen with my own eyes the admirable use to which Japan has put in her own country the fruits of progress. I have also been privileged to witness, while in Moscow, the unsparing energy with which Russia has tried to fight disease and illiteracy, and has succeeded in liquidating ignorance and poverty, wiping off the humiliation from the face of a vast continent. Her civilization is free from all invidious distinction between one class and another . . . . It provided no scope for unseemly conflict of religious difference nor set one community against another by unbalanced distribution of political favours. That I consider a truly civilized administration which impartially serves the common interests of the people.
“When I look upon my own country and see a very highly evolved and intellectual people drifting into the disorder of barbarism, I cannot help contrasting the two systems of governments, one based on co-operation and the other on exploitation . . .” (Tagore/ V.3/723-724)
In the recent past the poet had visited more countries like Iran which too had been trying to prosper with self sufficiency. So our neighbouring Afghanistan too had scope to prosper without any foreign intervention, he observed.
“Thus while these other countries were marching ahead, India, smothered under the dead weight of British administration, lay static in her utter helplessness. Another great and ancient civilization for whose recent tragic history the British cannot disclaim responsibility, is China. To serve their own national profit the British first doped her people with opium and then appropriated a portion of her territory. . . . While Japan was quietly devouring North China, her act of wanton aggression was ignored as a minor incident by the veterans of British diplomacy. We have also witnessed from this distance how actively the British satesmen acquiesced in the destruction of the Spanish Republic.” (Tagore/ V.3/724)
While admiring the British spirit behind some individual’s heroic action for the Spanish cause, the poet with anguish said again, “Such acts of heroism reminded me over again of the true English spirit to which in those early days I had given my full faith, and made me wonder how imperialist greed could bring about so ugly a transformation in the character of so great a race.
“Such is the tragic tale of the gradual loss of my faith in the claims of the European nations to civilization. In India the misfortune of being governed by a foreign race is daily brought home to us not only in the callous neglect of such minimum necessities of life as adequate provision for food, clothing, educational and medical facilities for the people, but in an even unhappier form in the way the people have been divided among themselves. The pity of it is that the blame is laid at the door of our own society. So frightful a culmination of the history of our people would never have been possible, but for the encouragement it has received from secret influences emanating from high places.” (Tagore/ V.3/725)
Speaking of the glorious character of some English men he knew, like his friend C. F. Andrews who wished and wrote openly about the rationale of Indian independence, he said that had he not known them his despair at the prospect of the modern civilization would remain unrelieved. He continued,
“In the meanwhile the demon of barbarity has given up all pretence and has emerged with unconcealed fangs, ready to tear up humanity in an orgy of devastation. From one end of the world to the other the poisonous fumes of hatred darken the atmosphere. The spirit of violence which perhaps lay dormant in the psychology of the West, has at last roused itself and desecrates the spirit of Man.” (Tagore/ V.3/726)
It will be quite germane here to refer to V. S. Naipaul’s visit to Calcutta twice during the second half of twentieth century, when he visited India during 1962, 1975-76 and 1988, and his ideas and opinions about Calcutta, the dead city, as he said in his famous book, India: A Million Mutinies Now. While narrating his story of Calcutta the writer turned his gaze towards Tagore’s above speech and tried to compare Tagore’s vision with his own, taking the famous speech as the old man’s melancholic grumbling which failed to see the real perspective of the situation, which failed to appreciate the grand spirit of the English and Europe while failing to see the real state of Calcutta and failing to see why Calcutta had attained such a ruinous and dying condition from which a recovery was next to impossible.
Referring to Chidananda Dasgupta, his companion, Naipaul writes, “On that visit Chidananda heard Tagore, nearly eighty, deliver a talk in the Shantiniketan temple on ‘Crisis in Civilization’. In that talk- a famous talk, published a few months after Chidananda heard it- Tagore said he had always believed that ‘the springs of civilization’ would come out of ‘the heart of Europe’. Now with the War and the coming cataclysm, he could no longer have the faith. But he couldn’t lose faith in man; that would be a sin. He lived now in the hope that the dawn would come from the East, ‘where the sun rises’, and that the saviour would be born ‘in our midst, in this poverty-shamed hovel which is India.’
“It was an old man’s melancholy farewell to the world. Five years later the war was over. Europe began to heal; in the second half of the century Europe and the West were to be stronger and more creative and more influential than they had ever been. The calamity Tagore hadn’t foreseen was the calamity that was to come to Calcutta.
“In 1946 there were the Hindu-Muslim massacres. They marked the beginning of the end for the city. The next year India was independent, but partitioned. Bengal was divided. A large Hindu refugee population came and camped in Calcutta; and Calcutta, without a hundredth part of the resilience of Europe, never really recovered.” (Mutinies/349-50)
Excuse me! Such resilience of Europe must be as Sir Naipaul has been staying there from the beginning of the second half of the last century. Apparently he was not aware of the coming plight and predicament that are over the Europe now; economic fundamentals are horrible, stock prices have fallen so the value of Euro. Unemployment is at its highest in Greece and Spain. Prices of real estate are falling in France. Corruption is eating into its civilized fabric as it does in India. In recent past, people from Greece were fleeing to safer areas. The crisis in civilization continues with continuous interference by the mightier nations, including the European ones, in the affairs of weaker nations, wreaking havoc in the life of the other people.
Rise and fall of nations and civilizations are usual in the course of time. Tagore never used the words, “in this poverty-shamed hovel which is India,” for he was not an outsider seeking fame by criticising India. He was not nearing eighty then; it was his birthday completing eighty. The speech was read by Kshiti Mohan Sen in the presence of the poet, print copy of which was distributed then and there. Noting this much of lacuna in the narrator’s introduction to the speech, let us read the relevant part of the speech to know the position as Tagore had understood and Naipaul interpreted later.
“Today I complete eighty years of my life. As I look back . . . . I am struck by the change that has taken place . . . a change that carries within it a cause of profound tragedy.
“The wheel of Fate will someday compel the English to give up their Indian empire. But what kind of India will they leave behind, what stark misery? When the stream of their centuries’ administration runs dry at last, what a waste of mud and filth they will leave behind them! I had at one time believed that the springs of civilization would issue out of the heart of Europe. But today when I am about to quit the world that faith has gone bankrupt altogether.
“As I look around I see the crumbling ruins of a proud civilization strewn like a vast heap of futility . . . . And yet I shall not commit the grievous sin of losing faith in Man. I would rather look forward to the opening of a new chapter in his history . . . . Perhaps that dawn will come when unvanquished Man will retrace his path of conquest, despite all barriers, to win back his lost human heritage.
“Today we witness the perils which attend on the insolence of might; one day shall be borne out the full truth of what the sages have proclaimed:
‘By unrighteousness man prospers, gains what appears desirable, conquers enemies, but perishes at the root.’” (Tagore/ V.3/722-26)
Though during his teens and youth the poet visited England, lived as paying guest also with some English lady, his family had good relationship with the British Royals and the English in general from the time of his grandfather, the complication of relationship of a colonized country with the coloniser, with all practical sides of it, gradually became a matter of concern for the poet who loved his Motherland more than English literature and more than many adorable things in life like personal honour and reputation. The glimpses of his mind may be guessed from few lines of a poem written much earlier, on the last day of the nineteenth century, titled, The Sunset of the Century, when the poet was not even in his forties.
The crimson glow of light on the horizon is not the light of thy dawn of peace,
It is the glimmer of the funeral pyre burning to ashes the vast flesh, – the self-
love of the Nation,- dead under its own excess.
Thy morning waits behind the patient dark of the East,
Meek and silent.
Keep watch, India.
. . . .
Be not ashamed, my brothers, to stand before the proud and the powerful
With your white robe of simpleness.
. . . .
And know that what is huge is not great and pride is not everlasting. (Tagore /V.2/466)
It was long back that Tagore threw the knighthood conferred him upon the faces of those unrighteous men who perpetrated the crime at Jallianwalla Bagh on 13.4.1919. Tagore with his Himalayan wisdom could easily foresee the departure of the English more than six years before their compulsory exit. He not only saw what the colonizers were leaving behind but also what was at hand; the great famine of Bengal in 1942-43, artificially created by creating food scarcity by the colonizers who were afraid of the entry of Japan with Subhas Chandra Bose at its head during the Second World War, as a war preparation, reserving food for the soldiers. They played a guerrilla tactics of creating famished Bengal and Calcutta lest they would venture to help the incoming force of Subhas Chandra Bose. Calcutta received the shock of artificial famine. The Hindu-Muslim strife, as was always rife under the reactionary provincial government, helped by the foreign rulers, was not only foreseen by Tagore but foretasted three months before he left the world, as in the speech above.
He always protested against the wrong doers. When Miss E. Rathbone, a member of British parliament, wrote an open letter to Indians trying to bring shame on them clearly stating that Indians owed all their developments to the English rulers but did not join to help them during the Second World War, Tagore with his frail body responded by writing an open befitting letter which was published in almost all Indian dailies in English on 5.6.1941.
If the writer Sir Vidya honestly felt pride at the capacity and resilience of Europe, he should have realised that Calcutta, flooded with people from the neighbouring countries and other provinces for hundreds of years for business and various occupations, accepting all the refugees from time to time for the deliberate partition of the country by the leaders whom it did not affect directly, tortured for becoming the first city of revolutionaries against the colonial rulers and with many day-to-day calamities including the death-romance of communist adventurism, has still been living with ever more population, crossing 120 crore with improved metro rail system, with its hinterland expanded to accommodate additional people in different areas adjacent, including the Salt Lake, as it was growing when the writer was making his diary notes. In spite of all political dirtiness and mixture of heterogeneous culture Kolkata has more resilience, it seems, than many other cities though it may survive with a different demographic character, with roads full of petty businessmen, labourers, party workers and idlers; the original dwellers of the city having gone and going out of it regularly.
Almost half of Naipaul’s book covers the story of Calcutta which the writer has often mentioned as “Beginning to die” or “A dead city”. Though Calcutta is always in the struggle, too much politicized, and its average people cannot be said to be very ideal with the health of Calcutta is environmentally strained, we strongly believe that it will very well survive undergoing changes.
It may change its character but will surely remain with verve till history wishes it to remain and for that matter of time is applicable in respect of all other cities and civilizations of the world. Kolkata alone cannot go down while its neighbours would remain.
The foreboding thought and anxiety about the Motherland was always with Tagore as he was growing up to adulthood; Crisis of Civilization was the full blooming of Poet Rabindranath Tagore’s ideas about India and its relationship with the colonizers at his ripe age.
1 The English Writings of Rabindranath Tagore. New Delhi; Sahitya Akademi. V.3. Reprint-2002.
2 V. S. Naipaul. India: A Million Mutinies Now. USA: Penguin Books. 1992. Print.
3 Rabindranath Tagore. V.2. Reprint-2004
© Aju Mukhopadhyay, 2013
Lover’s Sacrifice for Love at the altar of Country’s Partition
Khuswant Singh’s Train to Pakistan
Khuswant Singh’s Train to Pakistan is perhaps his best novel; most sensitive. Sex as an aspect of love as the author cherishes as an invariable aspect of it is present here too but not so prominently over the real love involving not only senses but mind and heart and psyche. The situation here is serious and grave involving the life of men and the country. The independence of India is linked with the birth of Pakistan, the cause of serious communal frenzy. The independence was achieved through massacre and bloodbath, vivisecting the age old India. The time is infernally disturbed by communal distrust and violent riot between the communities; a war inside the country due to the birth pang of another country. But who could arrest the course of love which was born before the partition and the birth of the countries?
The author has utilized the situation effectively in his novel by creating chasm between pure love and nauseating man made outer circumstances. Love succeeded in death defying all outer obstructions. Love to save the beloved saved the enemies from a communal point of view.
Let us see the quality of the story, its pros and cons, as we proceed through it, while assessing the quality of the work. I always use the narrative as the base to criticize a work of fiction to help readers to relish the story while realising the worth of it.
At deep night when others sleep Juggut Singh, the hero of the novel, came out of his house in utter disagreement with his mother.
“He struck his spear in the ground with the blade pointing upward, then stretched out on the sand. He lay on his back and gazed at the stars. A meteor shot across the Milky Way, trailing a silver path down the blue-black sky. Suddenly a hand was on his eye.
“Juggut Singh stretched out his hands over his head and behind him, groping; the girl dodged them. Juggut Singh started with the hand on his eyes and felt his way up from the arm to the shoulder and then on to the face. He caressed her cheeks, eyes and nose that his hands knew so well. He tried to play with her lips to induce them to kiss his fingers. The girl opened her mouth and bit him fiercely. Juggut Singh jerked his hand away. With a quick movement he caught the girl’s head in both his hands and brought her face over to his. Then he slipped his arms under her waist and hoisted her into the air above him with her arms and legs kicking about like a crab. He turned her about till his arms ached. He brought her down upon him limb to limb.
“The girl slapped him on the face.
“‘You put your hands on the person of a strange woman. Have you not mother or sister in your home? Have you no shame? No wonder the police have got you on their register as a bad character. I will also tell the Inspector Sahib that you are a budmash.’
“‘I am only budmash with you, Nooro. We should both be locked up in the same cell.’
“‘You have learnt to talk too much. I will have to look for another man.’
“Juggat Singh crossed his arms behind the girl’s back and crushed her till she could not talk or breathe.” (Pakistan /21-22)
Goods train passed whistling and storks flew up from pond to the river. Then there was gunshot and dacoits passed them at a distance of a few yards. In spite of everything the budmash, well known in his locality as a marked criminal, had his way through the body of the girl in tears ignoring her wishes. The night was spent in fear and passion. The enemies were nearby. They finally left before dawn. The girl walked back home behind the armed escort, her lover.
This was a bodily affair between the two lovers but the way it happened hinted at their long standing relationship; a relationship sensual yet beyond the physical and mental, moving towards the psychic.
The Sikhs and Muslims of the remote frontier area of the country, Mano Majra, were entirely in amity. But the Hindu Muslim disharmony in the entire country and the recent situation of the arrival of a train load of dead Sikh bodies was very grave which compelled the Muslims to leave their own village for fear of retaliation, for the unknown Pakistan.
“The Lambardar felt a strong sense of guilt and was overcome with emotion. He got up and embraced Imam Baksh and started to cry loudly. Sikh and Muslim villagers fell into each other’s arms and wept like children. Imam Baksh gently got out of the Lambardar’s embrace. ‘There is no need to cry,’ he said between sobs, ‘This is the way of the world’-” (Pakistan/149)
At night when Nooro was sleeping her father, Imam Baksh, hurriedly came to wake her up to tell, “‘Get up and pack. We have to go away tomorrow morning,’ he announced dramatically.
“‘Go away? Where?’
“‘I don’t know . . . Pakistan!’
“‘The girl sat up with a jerk. ‘I will not go to Pakistan,’ she said defiantly.” (Pakistan/150)
When her father who was a local leader left she went out faintly hoping that Jugga who was in jail, might be released in this situation as such other persons were released. At night she came to Jugga’s house where only his mother lived and finding the door bolted with chain from outside waited for long in rains.
“Some people while passing through the muddy lane shook the door and immediately there was response, ‘Who is it?’ Afraid, Nooran kept mum and when there was angry demand to know who it was, she said indistinctly, ‘Beybey.’ She asked if he was her son.
“‘No, Beybey, it is I- Nooran, Chacha Imam Baksh’s daughter,’ answered the girl timidly.
“‘Nooro?’ . . . .
“‘Has Jugga come back?’
“‘What have you to do with Jugga?’ His mother snapped. ‘You have sent him to jail. You have made him budmash. Does your father know you go about to strangers’ houses at midnight like a tart?’
“Nooran began to cry, ‘We are going away tomorrow.’ That did not soften the old woman’s heart.” . . . .
“Nooran played her last card. ‘I cannot leave. Jugga has promised to marry me.’
“‘Get out, you bitch!’ the old woman hissed, ‘You, a Muslim weaver’s daughter, marry a Sikh peasant! Get out or I will go and tell your father and the whole village. Go to Pakistan! Leave my Jugga alone.’” (Pakistan/151-152)
Nooro touched her feet, clung to it and seemed to say something more when the woman sensed a premonition.
“‘What have you to say now? . . . . . ‘Beybey! Beybey! Why don’t you say something?’ Asked the woman, pushing Nooran away. ‘What is it?’
“The girl swallowed the spittle in her mouth.
“‘Beybey, I have Jugga’s child inside me. If I go to Pakistan they will kill it when they know it has a Sikh father.’
“The old woman let Nooran’s head drop back on her feet. Nooran clutched them hard and began to cry again.
“‘How long have you had it?’
“‘I have just found out. It is the second month.’
“Jugga’s mother helped Nooran up and the two sat down on the charpoy. Nooran stopped sobbing.
“‘I cannot keep you here,’ said the old woman at last. ‘I have enough trouble with the police already. When all this is over and Jugga comes back, he will go and get you from wherever you are. Does your father know?’
“‘No! If he finds out he will marry me off to someone or murder me.’ She started crying again . . . .
“‘Beybey, if I get the chance I will come to say ‘Sat Sri Akal’ in the morning. Sat Sri Akal. I must go and pack.’
“Nooran hugged the old woman passionately. ‘Sat Sri Akal,’ she said a little breathlessly again and went out.” (Pakistan/152-153)
The above situation describes with ample reasons how the generally deteriorating communal atmosphere of the country affected the lives of individuals. Here the lovers cause the situation to change to the extent shown in the novel by the pull of the string of love.
Magistrate Hukum Chand had almost sleepless night at the possible development in areas under his administration. The police inspector called on him, remaining at his beck and call. The magistrate suddenly said, “‘What about Jugga’s weaver girl you told me about? What was her name?’
“‘Ah yes. Nooran. Where is she?’
“‘She has left. Her father was a sort of leader of the Muslims of Mano Majra. The lambardar told me a great deal about him. He had just one child, this girl Nooran; she is the one alleged to be carrying on with the dacoit Jugga.’
“‘And this other fellow, didn’t you say he was a political worker of some sort?’
“‘Yes, Sir. People’s Party or something like that. I think he is a Muslim Leaguer masquerading under a false label. I examined . . .’” (Pakistan/182)
In the course of talks the Magistrate corrected the inspector, telling that he was Iqbal Singh, a Sikh and that only a Sikh might come into the area in such a situation to preach peace among them, never any educated Muslim. With all insight he asked for official paper from the police and signed order to release Jugga budmash and Iqbal Singh who were in custody, asking him to help them get a tonga to go to Mano Majra. The order was carried out meticulously.
After the release, “Jugga’s immediate concern was the fate of Nooran. He did not look at his companions in the tonga or in the villages . . . . At the back of his mind persisted a feeling that Nooran would be at Mano Majra. No one could have wanted Imam Baksh to go. Even if he had left with the other Muslims, Nooran would be hiding somewhere in the fields, or would have come to his mother. He hoped his mother had not turned her out. If she had, he would let her have it. He would walk out and never come back. She would spend the rest of her days regretting having done it.” (Pakistan /188-189)
Coming up to this we can understand the subtle sense and shrewdness of the magistrate in anticipating the course of action the dacoit would take after being released, based upon his long experience in dealing with such characters like Jugga. In spite of the presence of
criminality in him, the Magistrate perceived that his love for the Muslim girl was genuine and that such impetuous love would seek to find its way by all means to save his lover at all cost and that would be the cause for a release from the oppressive situation. Though not exactly, the Magistrate hoped for this, intuitively.
A great upheaval was going through the borders of the country. Millions were disturbed. Thousands were being brutally and blindly butchered as it was precipitated due to the haste and greed of the leaders eager to snatch power at any cost, even at the cost of the people whom they represented. History has recorded how M. K. Gandhi and his followers failed to prevail upon communal amity among the warring people using all their goodwill in a situation when Jinnah and his followers declared partition of the country as their goal. The people were neither clear of their goal nor about their claim but passionately clung to their leader who in demanding for partition relied entirely on people’s communal zeal and rivalry. Though the Magistrate with all insight and experience took the move of releasing the two arrested persons at the last moment, he became skeptical at his own actions, was torn asunder for his possible failure. The writer has brought the scene of anxiety of the Magistrate alive.
“Hukum Chand was also uneasy about his own role. Was it enough to get others to do the work for him? Magistrates were responsible for maintenance of law and order. But they maintained order with power behind them; not opposing them. Where was the power? What were the people in Delhi doing? Making speeches in the assembly! Loud-speakers magnifying their egos; lovely-looking foreign women in the visitors’ galleries in breathless admiration. ‘He is a great man, this Mr. Nehru of yours. I do think he is the greatest man in the world today. And how handsome! Wasn’t that a wonderful thing to say? “Long ago we made a tryst with destiny and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge . . . .”’ Yes, Mr. Prime Minister, you made your tryst. So did many others- on the 15th August, Independence Day.’” (Pakistan/201)
The writer is ruthless in his criticism of the leader who jumped for grasping the power at all cost, even at the cost of bloodbath of the people. All powers were perhaps in one hand so the others of the country were powerlessly butchered. Few ambitious people reaped the benefit of independence and partition and greater patriots suffered with vulnerable people. The writer hints at the historic moment when the would-be Prime Minister was uttering high sounding hollow words witnessed by Lady Mountbatten.
Events were taking shape very fast. Let us understand the position from the following conversation:
“‘Bhaiji, what has been happening?’ Iqbal asked again.
“‘What has been happening? Ask me what has not been happening. Trainloads of dead people came to Mano Majra. We burned one lot and buried another. The river was flooded with corpses. Muslims were evacuated and in their place, refugees have come from Pakistan. What more do you want to know?’ . . . .
“‘Tell me, was there a killing in the village?’
“‘No,’ said the bhai casually . . . . ‘But there will be. . . .’
“‘What do you mean- there will be killing?’ asked Iqbal, plugging the end of the mattress. “‘All Muslims have left, haven’t they?’
“‘Yes, but they are going to attack the train near the bridge tonight. It is taking Muslims of Chundunnugger and Mano Majra to Pakistan. Your pillow is full of air.’
“‘Yes. Who are they? Not the villagers?’
“‘I don’t know all of them. Some people in uniforms came in military cars. They had pistols and guns. The refugees have joined them. So have Malli budmash and his gang- and some villagers. . . .
“‘I see,’ said Iqbal . . . . Bhaiji, can’t you stop it? They all listen to you.’
“‘Who listens to an old bhai? These are bad times, Iqbal Singhji, very bad times. There is no faith or religion . . . .’” (Pakistan/191-92)
But here in this story the conclusion was happy indeed, coinciding with the Magistrate’s rare intuitive action. It is the last chapter of the novel, the last scene of this Act.
“A little after eleven, the moon came up. It looked tired and dissipated. It flooded the plain with a weary pale light in which everything was a little blurred . . . . The high railway embankment cast a wall of dark shadow.
“The signal scaffolding stood like an enormous sentry watching over the scene. Two large oval eyes, one on top of the other, glowed red. The two hands of the signal stood stiffly parallel to each other. The bushes along the bank looked like a jungle. The river did not glisten; it was like a sheet of slate with just a suspicion of a ripple here and there.
“The men had spread themselves on either side of the railway line a few feet from each other. They sat on their haunches with their rifles and spears between their legs. On the first steel span of the bridge a thick rope was tied horizontally above the railway line. It was about twenty feet above the track.
“It was too dark for men to recognise each other. So they talked loudly. Then somebody called.
“They listened. It was nothing. Only the wind in the reeds . . . .
“They began to talk in whispers.
“There was a shimmy-shammy noise of trembling steel wires as one of the signals came down. Its oval eye changed from red to a bright green. The whispering stopped. The men got up and took their positions ten yards away from the track.
“There was a steady rumbling sound punctuated by soft puffs-puffs. A man ran up to the line and put his ear on the steel rail.
“‘Come back, you fool,’ yelled the leader in a hoarse whisper.
“‘It is the train,’ he announced triumphantly.
“‘Go back!’ repeated the leader fiercely.
“All eyes strained toward the grey space where the rumbling of the train came from. Then they shifted to the rope, stiff as a shaft of steel. If the train was fast it might cut many people in two like a knife slicing cucumbers. They shuddered.
“A long way beyond the station, there was a dot of light. It went out and another came up nearer. . . .
“A man started climbing on the steel span. He was noticed only when he had got to the top where the rope was tied. They thought he was testing the knot . . . . The man stretched himself on the rope. His feet were near the knot; his hands almost reached the centre of the rope. He was a big man.
“The train got closer and closer. The demon from the engine with sparks flying from its funnel came up along the track. Its puffing was drowned in the roar of the train itself. The whole train could be seen clearly against the wan moonlight. From the coal-tender to the tail end, there was a solid crust of human beings on the roof.
“The man was still stretched on the rope.
“The leader stood up and shouted hysterically: ‘Come off, you ass! You will be killed. Come off at once!’
“The man turned round towards the voice. He whipped out a small kirpan from his waist and began to slash at the rope.
“‘Who is he? What is he . . . ?’
“There was no time. They looked from the bridge to the train, from the train to the bridge. The man hacked the rope vigorously.
“The leader raised his rifle to his shoulder and fired. He hit his mark and one of the man’s legs came off the rope and dangled in the air. The other was still twined round the rope. He slashed away in frantic haste. The engine was only a few yards off, throwing embers high up in the sky. Somebody fired another shot. The man’s body slid off the rope, but he clung to it with his hands and chin. He pulled himself up, caught the rope under his left armpit, and again started hacking with his right hand. The rope had been cut in shreds. Only a thin tough strand remained. He went at it with the knife, and then with his teeth. The engine was almost on him. There was a volley of shots. The man shivered and collapsed. The rope snapped in the centre as he fell. The train went over him, and went to Pakistan.” (Pakistan/204-207)
The end is something contrived towards its dramatic end. But then, it may be said that fact is stranger than fiction and when love’s force resolved to sacrifice for the lover, one great and adventurous sacrifice for saving one life only saved a trainload of lives. The story is worth reading on such a living subject as the partition of India; more romantic than the verbal tryst with the destiny for it was the destiny of the men sacrificed at the evil altar of partition.
The area of life and the situation of the country covered by the novel are most dramatic. It carries the heart of the readers with it as it is not a communal fight, not a challenge against the society but the force of love trying to save the lover saves all the passengers. The writer is successful in proving how the evil force proves beneficial in particular situation. Love reconciles all contraries but it is not body-bound love. It goes far beyond to embrace the whole earth. Train to Pakistan is a historic novel dealing with the actual turn of history making it further dramatic by a turn of wild imagination.
The scenes depicted, characters presented and the situations described in the novel recreate the happenings in such a way that there remains no doubt about the fact as in the novel. The little chance of showing sensual love has been characteristically utilised by the writer but the whole situation of the novel is so serious, demanding the other actions above the sensual love only, that the writers moves away from it keeping a sense of higher urge of sacrifice for such a love. Love is freed from its pettiness and raised to its higher realm of surrender and sacrifice.
Train to Pakistan. Khushwant Singh. New Delhi; Ravi Dayal Publisher. Sixth imprint. 1993.
© Aju Mukhopadhyay, 2015
Published in Volume 6, Issue 2, April 2015 in The Criterion: An International Journal In English ISSN: 0976-8165 at http://www.the-criterion.com