From Mano Majra to Faqiranwalla: Revisiting the Train to Pakistan

New Delhi train station. © Pippa Virdee 2016

By Pippa Virdee and Arafat Safdar in South Asian Chronicle.

Khushwant Singh’s novel Train to Pakistan was published in 1956, almost ten years after the partition of India/ creation of Pakistan in 1947. Its publication inaugurated what has been called ‘South Asian Partition Fiction in English’ (Roy 2010). It remains, to date, one of the most poignant and realistic fictional accounts depicting the welter of partition and saw a sensitive screen adaptation in 1998 by Pamela Rooks. It captures one of the most horrific symbols of partition—that of the burning, charred and lifeless trains that moved migrants and evacuated refugees from one side of the border to the other. The trains that previously served to bring people and goods from disparate worlds closer together were overnight turned into targets of mob attacks and transporters of mass corpses. They thus became an emblem, a much-photographed representation (Kapoor 2013) of the wider violence and ethnic cleansing that was taking place in Panjab (Ahmed 2002: 9-28); one of the two regions divided to make way for the two new nation-states.

Selecting some key individuals in the village, relevant to and representative of our efforts to excavate the myths and memories associated with partition, and situating their sensibilities vis-à-vis the sentiments exhibited in the novel, we conducted interviews to collect and compare experiential accounts. An attempt in the Wildean spirit to attest that ‘life imitates art far more than art imitates life’, the article, located in the Faqiranwalla of 2017, looks back to the Mano Majra of 1947. In doing so, not only does it reflect on this intervening time-span and what it has done to those remembrances, but, also brings to fore the well-remarked realisation that, in this case too, ‘the past is another country’ (Judt 1992). Like in the novel then and life today, the connecting link in this article too, between Faqiranwalla and Mano Majra, is the train, as both share the overweening presence of the railways in the village, through which its life is/was governed.

Read full article:

Südasien-Chronik – South Asia Chronicle 7/2017, S. 21-44 © Südasien-Seminar der Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin


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