Train to Pakistan

Train to Pakistan Summary and Analysis of Kalyug


Time passes, and it’s September in Mano Majra. The trains are increasingly late, which impacts the flow of life in the village. The imam and priest are late with their calls to prayer, so the villagers don’t know when to wake up and begin their days. More of the trains run through the night, further disrupting life. Besides the trains, another major difference is the construction of a military barricade near the railway station. Machine guns are placed on each side of the barricade, and no one is allowed near.

One morning, a train with a “ghostly quality” arrives at the Mano Majra station. The guards on the train call immediately for the subinspector and Hukum Chand, who arrive with an escort of 50 armed policemen. The people of Mano Majra gather and discuss the mysterious train, but no one gives them any answers. Most of the villagers go to the gurdwara, where Meet Singh, Imam Baksh, and the lambardar, named Banta Singh, hold court. For now, none of the men know what’s happening, but declare that they are in Kalyug, or the dark age.

As the villagers talk amongst themselves, a police officer comes and demands that everyone bring their firewood and kerosene oil to trucks parked at the railroad station. When the villagers drop the supplies, they aren’t told what it’s needed for, and their questions are brushed off. Everyone returns home and goes to their rooftops to try and catch a glimpse of what’s happening at the railway station. For hours they wait, completely abandoning their daily routine and chores. Finally night falls, casting everything in darkness. The frustrated Mano Majrans go into their homes, ready for bed, but suddenly red and orange flames leap into the night sky. A soft breeze begins to waft the smell of burning wood, kerosene, and searing flesh through the village. Everyone in Mano Majra can recognize the smell of burning bodies, and they sit in silence, knowing that the train came from Pakistan. That night, for the first time in the history of Mano Majra, Imam Baksh does not perform his evening prayer.

At the rest house, the horror and death the train from Pakistan contained is taking a toll on Hukum Chand. The sight of that many dead men, women, and children at first makes him numb, but as the night settles in, so does his depression. Grisly images of carnage from the train come back and haunt him. His experiences with death in his personal life make the mass murder on the train difficult to deal with. He tells his servants to sleep in the rooms around his own room, almost as if they are talismans against his fear. As everyone prepares for bed, Haseena, her grandmother, and their posse of musicians arrive at the rest house. Chand forgot they were coming, and dismisses his servants, along with Haseena’s entourage. He makes Haseena lie down in his bed, and clings to her as he falls asleep.

The next morning, the sound of thunder awakens Hukum Chand. At first he welcomes the coming rain, as this monsoon season was poor, but then he remembers the fire burning the corpses from the train. Remembering the yards of dead frightens, but then he sees Haseena sleeping in a chair. The sight of her makes him feel guilty and depressed, because she’s the same age his daughter would have been had she not died. However, despite his guilt, he doesn’t send her away, and begins to prepare for the day.

As Chand completes his morning routine, the subinspector announces his presence. He reports that the fire reduced the corpses from the train into bones and ashes, and that he forbid the villagers from going near the bridge or the railway station. The subinspector also reveals that approximately 1500 people were massacred on the train. Some Muslims from the surrounding villages have started to leave for refugee camps, and about 50 Sikh refugees from Pakistan arrived in Mano Majra early this morning. This news alarms Chand, who fears the refugees will start trouble in the peaceful town. The subinspector soothes Chand’s fears, and tells him that the Mano Majra Muslims have been bringing the Sikh refugees food. For now, all seems well.

The men’s discussion moves to Lala Ram Lal’s murder. Jugga has cracked and told the subinspector the names of Malli and his gang of dacoits. The subinspector has already ordered their arrest, and asks Chand if he may release Iqbal and Jugga, but Chand has other ideas. He devises a complicated plan using Iqbal and Jugga as guinea pigs, a plan that he believes will convince the Sikhs of Mano Majra to let go of their Muslim neighbors. He entrusts the execution of his plan to the subinspector, and instructs him to contact the commander of the Muslim refugee camp to send trucks for the Mano Majra Muslims once the plan is complete.

The subinspector leaves to do Chand’s bidding, and Chand sits and muses about his actions. He doesn’t feel guilty about the continued false imprisonment of Iqbal and Jugga, because he sees it as a necessary evil in his attempt to save Muslim lives. The sound of Haseena moving around his room breaks Chand from his reverie, and he joins her in his room. At first hesitant, Haseena warms to the magistrate, and the pair begin to banter back and forth. Haseena reveals she is Muslim, and speaks of the Muslim hijras that evaded prosecution in Chundunnugger, her hometown. Haseena’s playful and coquettish antics entrances Chand, and he asks Haseena to stay another night with him. She agrees, as long as he gives her more money.

At the prison in Chundunnugger, Malli and his gang are hauled in. As Jugga curses at the sight of them, Iqbal wonders who they are. To Iqbal’s chagrin and Jugga’s delight, the imprisonment of Malli and the other dacoits means the two men must now share a jail cell. Jugga pesters Iqbal for English lessons, questions him about life in Europe, and tells him of his sexual escapades. Meanwhile, Iqbal wonders if the arrest of the dacoits means he and Jugga will be released. Jugga, familiar with the corrupt ways of the police, doesn’t bother speculating. He knows the police will trump up some charges if they want to keep him imprisoned. Instead, he focuses on Iqbal’s English lessons.

After leaving the rest house, the subinspector races to the police station in Chundunnugger to set Chand’s plan into motion. He doesn’t trust the head constable’s judgement after the man’s idiotic arrest of Iqbal, and is nervous about what the head constable may have done with Malli and his gang. Luckily, when the subinspector arrives, he finds that the head constable has waited for his instructions. The subinspector is amused when he hears of Jugga’s rage at the sight of Malli, and tells the head constable to release Malli and his gang near the Mano Majra temple. Then, the head constable is to ask about the whereabouts of Sultana and his gang of Muslim dacoits. The subinspector’s plan is to blame Lala Ram Lal’s murder on the Muslim dacoits. This, coupled with the police’s lies about Iqbal being a Muslim Leaguer, should be enough to persuade Mano Majra to reject its Muslims.

The head constable comes to take Malli and his gang away. Jugga’s outburst deeply shook Malli, who is frightened of Jugga. Truthfully, Malli wanted to make peace with Jugga, but after Jugga’s outburst he feels as if he must save face. He leans near Jugga and Iqbal’s cell to taunt Jugga, and Jugga manages to grab his hair. Jugga pulls Malli’s head to the bars, and proceeds to bash and shake it against cell. Iqbal stands up and yells for the policemen to intervene, as Malli’s skull and forehead are beginning to bruise, swell, and bleed. The police try to get Jugga to let go, but Jugga doesn’t stop until the subinspector threatens to shoot him. Iqbal continues to shout, and Jugga yells at him to shut up. Now terrified for his own life, Iqbal begs the subinspector to move him to the newly vacant jail cell.


Until now, despite the chaos and violence of the outside world, Mano Majra has been a little bubble of peace. The murder of Lala Ram Lal, while somewhat alarming, did not alter the typical flow of life in the village. The villagers were appalled that one of their own may have murdered the moneylender, but the whole story makes for good gossip, and is not taken as a harbinger of things to come. With the arrival of the first ghost train in Mano Majra, things are inverted. War has officially arrived in town, bringing with it fear, religious bigotry, and death. The arrival of the train also marks a significant mood change in the novel. Until this point, the atmosphere of the novel has been light and comedic. Scenes like Iqbal’s ostentatious arrival, his subsequent arrest, and Jugga’s boisterous joking with the police officers brings levity to the first half of the novel. Now, as the outside world presses in the mood turns dark, serious, and fearful, as people’s lives are now jeopardy.

Just as the narrator described in the first pages of the book, the ghost train contains the bodies of massacred Sikhs trying to escape persecution in Pakistan. Following rumors about displacement and death happening around the country, it’s somewhat surreal that it has arrived in Mano Majra. Before smelling the smoke from the burning corpses, the villagers treat the train as another spectacle, another ripple to excite their normally calm and clear lives. Once they realize the train is full of displaced and murdered Sikhs, Mano Majra completely ceases to run like a well-oiled machine. Before, the train delays meant that life in town was delayed, but everything did eventually happen. For example, the priest and imam might do their calls to pray an hour later than usual, but they got done. Chores and mealtimes may have been out of sync, but the chores were eventually completed and everyone did eat. However, with the arrival of the ghost train, for the first time in the history of Mano Majra, Imam Baksh does not do the evening prayer. This symbolizes the impact of the train on life in the village.

In addition to displacement, other important themes in this section of Train to Pakistan are, again, community, morality, and corruption. After being shocked at the idea of Jugga killing a neighbor, the people of Mano Majra will now have their own sense of community tested. Will the train’s arrival bring the different religious groups together, or break them apart? Will they, like Hukum Chand, have their morality tested? The magistrate is once again self-deprecating because of his continued trysts with Haseena, the young Muslim prostitute. On the night of the ghost train arrival he needs her in his bed to fall asleep, but the next morning he wakes up feeling old and unclean. Clearly, the morality of his decisions weigh heavily on him, but he knows himself too well to change.

By contrast, Hukum Chand’s continued shady plans and dealings with the subinspector do not weigh heavily on him. For example, the subinspector says they must remove the Muslims from the area even if they want to stay, informs him that Lala Ram Lal’s murderers have been identified, and admits they were wrong about Jugga and Iqbal. Rather than release the innocent men and admit the police error, Chand decides to use the men to solve his Muslim evacuation problem while maintaining his own reputation. Furthermore, he tells the subinspector to release the murders back into the very community in which they committed a dacoity and murder. This level of police corruption is unseemly, and yet Chand believes he is justified in his actions because his overall goal is the protection of Muslim life. Only time will tell if his goal is realized, thus justifying his means.

Imagery is another important literary element in this section of the novel. Khushwant Singh employs a type of snapshot or movie-still style when illustrating the scene on the ghost train that has pulled into the Mano Majra train station. The different victims are described as if they are actors and actresses posed in position, and they may animate at any moment. For example, one man is described as holding up his intestines, offering them for an audience to look at. A group of women and children are huddled in a corner, voicelessly screaming at their attackers. One man seemingly comes alive, as his dead hand falls and somehow manages to grip Hukum Chand’s foot. The result of Singh’s imagery is that it brings the horror of the train to life, not unlike the way a Hollywood blockbuster might bring war to life on the big screen.