As the setting of the novel, Mano Majra receives a great deal of attention. The town is described not only physically, but socially and religiously as well. First off, Singh describing Mano Majra as one of the remaining pockets of peace in India is key, because he’s establishing the political and religious climate readers are being thrust into. Also important is him saying that Mano Majra is a tiny town, because that helps explain how everyone in town knows one another, and why they are all so close. He then breaks the town into religious affiliations, and explains where members of each religion predominantly live. Finally, the town’s dependance on the train to keep order and time is explained. This is important, because once the political turmoil begins to impact the train schedules, life in Mano Majra begins to fall apart.
In the Indian subcontinent monsoon season is a crucial time. After several months of drought, the rains come and replenish the earth. Singh uses the various flower and fauna that rely on the rains to help describe monsoon season. He cycles through the year, explaining how the coral trees and the Jacarandas lose their flowers, how the burning sun evaporates the morning dew and sears the earth until forest fires erupt. The animals cannot drink because the rivers and canals are dry. Then comes the period of false hopes, when the air grows heavy but rain doesn’t fall. Dust storms roll across the land, tearing up trees and leaving messes in their wakes. This continues for a time, until the pie-crested cuckoos come. A migrant bird, they are harbingers of the incoming monsoon rains from Africa. Once Indians see these birds, they know monsoon season is upon them. The animals and flowers bud and thrive again. Snakes, centipedes, and scorpions are seemingly born out of nothing, and mosquitos flock into homes. The lightning and rain never ceases, until autumn comes and the cycle begins again. It’s important that Singh uses flower and fauna in addition to humans to explain monsoon season, because it demonstrates the importance of the rains not only to humans but to the region as a whole.
Property is a bad thing; it poisons people’s minds (Singh 271).
Property and land are two things of importance in the Indian subcontinent. When Meet Singh and Iqbal discuss the new government, the priest wonders if this will mean more land and buffaloes for him and his neighbors. The moment when the Mano Majra Muslims must leave their property behind is meaningful, because not only must they leave the homes their families have lived in for generations, they must also abandon their livestock too. All they can take with them is what Singh calls “a Punjabi peasant’s baggage.” This consists of “a change of clothes, a quilt and a pillow, a couple of pitchers, cooking utensils, and perhaps a brass plate and a copper tumbler or two” (Singh 268). The frugality of the Punjabi peasant’s bag is a sharp contrast to the livestock and property accumulated over generations that everyone holds dear.
Hukum Chand provides grisly images of the first train of dead to arrive in Mano Majra. He describes different scenes from the train as if they are movie stills, and the dead people are merely actors or actresses frozen in time. For example, there is a man holding his intestines, almost offering them up for viewers to look at. In another scene, a group of women and children are huddled upright, their mouths gaping open in silent shrieks. Other victims stare out in terror at windows, as if the spears and spikes that killed them are still attacking them. One man in particular is vivid in Chand’s memory, because he appeared still alive. Chand’s descriptions of these scenes of horror are crucial to TraintoPakistan, because it depicts the violence of the partition. His method of describing the train as a panorama of movie stills adds a level of surreality and drama as well.
Train to Pakistan Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Train to Pakistan is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.