'The world changes so rapidly that if you want to get on you cannot afford to align yourself with any person or point of view. Even if you feel strongly about something, learn to keep silent.'
The significance of Hukum Chand’s words to the sub-inspector is two-fold. First, his words highlight how quickly politics and situations can change. For example, after the head constable’s order that all Muslims of Mano Majra are to be evacuated to Pakistan, the Sikhs of the village vow to stand by their Muslim neighbors. However, when a mob from a neighboring village comes and spreads propaganda about the evils Muslims are committing against Sikhs, the tide changes. The Sikhs of Mano Majra are swayed, and join the mob’s plot to murder the Muslims of Mano Majra on their escape train to Pakistan. This quick turnover testifies to the veracity of Chand’s words about people and points of view changing rapidly.
The second part of Chand’s advice to the sub-inspector is on display in Iqbal’s actions near the end of the novel. Though he agrees that the killing of the Mano Majra Muslims would be immoral, Iqbal decides to stay at the gurdwara instead of going to defend the Muslims. He realizes that if he goes and aligns himself with the Muslims, he himself could be killed.
'The winds of destruction are blowing across the land. All we hear is kill, kill. The only ones who enjoy freedom are thieves, robbers and cutthroats.' Then he added calmly: 'We were better off under the British. At least there was security.'
In the aftermath of any revolution a common question is, “Was life better before?” Here Banta Singh argues that life in the Indian subcontinent was indeed better before India’s liberation from British rule, because there was more security. This is because once the English relinquished control, India’s new self-government failed to enforce the rule of law, leading to a rise of violence and crime. This power vacuum is typical of many post-revolutionary societies, and for people like Banta Singh it’s one reason why revolution and the supposed freedom it brings is meaningless.
That evening, for the first time in the memory of Mano Majra, Imam Baksh’s sonorous cry did not rise to the heavens to proclaim the glory of God.
Up until the arrival of the train full of corpses, life in Mano Majra was predictable and followed a set schedule. Before daybreak, the mail train rushes through the village on its way to Lahore, waking up the village on its way. The imam of the mosque then does his opening prayer, then the priest of the Sikh temple does his. Various other events mark the passing of the day and serve as a clock in Mano Majra, including the arrival and departure of more trains and different meals. Typically, the event that marks the end of the day in Mano Majra is the imam’s final call to prayer. On the evening that the corpses from the trained are burned, a smell that every villager in Mano Majra recognizes, Imam Baksh does not say his prayer. This symbolizes the radical change the train sparks in the once peaceful Mano Majra. The natural flow of life is disrupted, and things won’t ever be the same.
'It all came from his belief that the only absolute truth was death. The rest—love, ambition, pride, values of all kinds—was to be taken with a pinch of salt.'
The “he” in this line is Hukum Chand, and this quote reveals his obsession with death. This obsession stems from his childhood, when he witnessed his aunt die from childbirth complications. Chand’s fascination with death has influenced his decisions and actions throughout his life, and continues to do so in the present. However, though he believes in death’s inevitable nature, he cannot justify the death of a trainload of Muslims, and this is one reason why he releases Jugga and Iqbal. He hopes they will be able to take action against the mob, and save Mano Majra’s Muslims from death.
'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.'
After the head constable comes and announces that Mano Majra’s Muslims will be evacuated to Pakistan, the village is split in two, Muslims on one side and Sikhs on another. Suddenly, each side remembers historical ills committed by the other, and recalls rumors they’ve heard about atrocities Muslims and Sikhs have committed since the partition. In this quote, a Sikh Mano Majra youth indignantly protests about what he perceives as the ungratefulness of his Muslim neighbors, who have allegedly been freeloading off of and betraying Indian Sikhs for generations. He demonstrates how fear can change opinions and beliefs, and cause people to believe propaganda and rumors.
'It will take us more than one night to clear out of homes it has taken our fathers and grandfathers hundreds of years to make.'
As the mullah of the mosque, Imam Baksh is the leader of Mano Majra’s Muslim population, and thus their unofficial spokesperson. After the head constable’s announcement, he comes to the gurdwara to talk with Mano Majra’s Sikhs about the events that have transpired. After it’s determined that it’s safer for the Muslims at a local refugee camp, Imam Baksh gets up to leave and says the above words. He means to strike a chord in the hearts and consciences of his Sikh neighbors, which he does. His words also successfully articulate the ideological difficulty the partition of India presented for the 10 million people displaced in the separation of Pakistan and India. For many, India or Pakistan was the only home they’d known for generations, but they were being chased out by anger and violence. It would be impossible to ever “clear out” those homes, whether they were given a night or a year of nights.
'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.'
Unbeknownst to Jugga, Nooran is carrying his child, and she’s only told his mother the secret. Nooran refuses to tell her father because she believes he will either force her to marry someone else, or kill her. This demonstrates the confining, patriarchal boxes imprisoning women during this time in India. Extramarital pregnancy and sex for women is severely frowned upon and condemned. Furthermore, men seem to hold the reins of female sexuality, whether it be their wife or daughter. The female body is a type of commodity and is also used as a battleground, based on the rumors of gang rape committed by both Sikhs and Muslims
'Shabash! Yesterday you wanted to kill them, today you call them brothers. You may change your mind again tomorrow.'
The Muslim officer who comes to take Mano Majra’s Muslims to the refugee camp points out the seesawing allegiances and beliefs of Mano Majra’s Sikhs. One day, the Sikhs believe their Muslim neighbors are like the Muslims in Pakistan who rape, mutilate, and murder Sikhs fleeing Pakistan. The next day, Mano Majra’s Sikhs vow to defend their neighbors from outside forces with their own lives. With his words the Muslim officer highlights how fickle the villagers are, and how quickly opinions and morals change. His words also foreshadow the Sikh’s final betrayal of their Muslim neighbors when they join the murderous train plot.
'Government!' sneered the boy contemptuously. 'You expect the government to do anything? A government consisting of cowardly bania moneylenders!'
Besides using propaganda to fear and bully the Sikhs of Mano Majra into joining his plot, the young leader of the mob also raises concerns about the new Indian government. These concerns have been mentioned throughout the novel by a plethora of characters, including Banta Singh, Iqbal, and Hukum Chand. It seems in the eyes of many, the new government is ineffective at best, unable to do anything to stem the violence, and corrupt at worst, perhaps even participating in the violence themselves. Nevertheless, the perceived incompetence of the new government has led mobs of Sikhs and Muslims to seek vigilante “justice,” resulting in the current state of affairs. So, though he is a villain and a murderer, the leader’s lack of faith in government seems aptly placed.
'You will find big changes in Mano Majra!'
This understatement by the subinspector is tragically comedic. Considering the state of Mano Majra at the beginning of the novel, and juxtaposing it with the current status of the village, nothing could be more radically different. Gone is the quiet, peaceful town on the border of India and Pakistan where the most exciting event of the day was a train delay. Half the population is gone, their homes abandoned, as in a ghost town. The remaining population must grapple with their decisions and their complicity in the oppression of their former neighbors. The brother-like loyalty the denizens of Mano Majra brag about earlier in the novel is gone, just like their neighbors have gone on the train to Pakistan.
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.