In the final moments of the novel Train to Pakistan by Khushwant Singh, three of the main characters (Hukum Chand, Iqbal Singh, and Jugget Singh) all are aware of the plot to murder Muslim families on the train heading to Pakistan. What is the novel communicating by the way it contrasts their very different responses to the impending crisis?
Train to Pakistan is an historical novel written by Khashwant Singh about an actual event known as the Partition of India which happened in 1947.
India, once part of the British Empire, bartered its help to fight in World War II for its independence, so Britain withdrew from India in 1947. Before doing so, British authorities divided the country into two parts, essentially based on religions: Hindu and Muslim.
Unfortunately, most Hindus did not live in the Hindu (India) section, and most Muslims did not live in the Muslim (Pakistan) section. This required a dramatic exodus of people from one place to another--10 million people crossed the "partition" that summer. The two places were divided for a reason; the religious factions and ethnic hatred ran deep between these two groups. Not surprisingly, violence ensued; 2 million people died in the chaos created by this division and this move. The British had been in control for so long that the local authorities were not strong enough to maintain order.
The fictional town of Mano Majra is the setting for this story. Though the town itself was relatively peaceful, the train station becomes the epicenter of conflict during the Partition.
A local group of Sikhs to incite anti-Muslim violence and sabotage the train which was to transport the Muslims to Pakistan. Three men are the key players in what happens next.
Hukum Chand is a powerful but corrupt authority figure. He is constantly trying to rid himself of guilt for his unethical and even evil treatment of the Muslims and Hindus. This is often represented by two geckos (lizards) fighting one another.
Hukum Chand felt as if he had touched the lizards and they had made his hands dirty. He rubbed his hands on the hem of his shirt. It was not the sort of dirt which could be wiped off or washed clean.
Symbolically, he simply wants to wash or wipe away his guilt, but of course he is unsuccessful.
Iqbal Singh is a rather Britain-ized social reformer, small in stature, who is more interested in politics than people. Juggat Singh is Iqbal's physical opposite and is known to react before he thinks things through. He is a local thug connected to violence and gangs. Both are in prison for a murder they did not commit, and when Chand learns of the Sikhs' plot, he sends Iqbal and Juggat (out of guilt) to prevent the disaster.
Rather than doing anything personally to help, Chand turns to alcohol, another of his strategies to escape his guilt. He is representative of those who had some kind of power to help but chose not to avoid the problem.
Iqbal spends pages of the novel in philosophical meanderings but never takes any actions. He, too, could have done something but spent his time just thinking about what would be the right thing to do.
Only Juggat acts without thinking and manages to foil the plot, though he loses his life in the process.
In the end we understand two things. First, everyone is to blame for this entire tragedy because they did not value the humanity of others more than they valued other, less important things. Second, everyone has a choice. These three men represent most people's choices when it comes to standing for what is right and good and moral. In effect, they serve as a microcosm of all people in the world when faced with a significant choice.
All three of them could have prevented the tragedy, but it would have cost them their loves. One avoids, one overthinks himself into inaction, and only one does the right thing. Sounds about right.