English 580: World Literature Spring 1998

Readings | Further Reading | Policies

Discussion Questions for Khushwant Singh's Train to Pakistan

[Page numbers refer to the Evergreen Book, Grove Weidenfeld edition. 0-8021-3221-9]

1. Given the descriptions of Mano Majra, what can we discern about the village's geographical location? How is that location important given the political events (partition of India and Pakistan) and the time frame in which the events of the novel take place? Be able to say in your own words what the general issues were that drove the move to partition and have at least a general understanding of the historical context of the novel.

2. What are the villagers' attitudes toward these national events? How do the concerns of those supporting partition come home to the villagers of Mano Majra? [p. 22] On a day-to-day basis, what is the importance of religion to the villagers?

3. Be prepared to give a description of the village of Mano Majra. What can we discern about the relative levels of prosperity within the village?

4. K. Singh takes care to set up the rhythms of life in Mano Majra? How are those rhythms indicated? What are the first signs that those rhythms are being upset? What are the steps which gradually bring the situation from rhythmed order to chaos?

5. K. Singh, in addition to writing novels, is well known in India as an historian (primarily for his work on the history of Sikhs in India) and as a journalist. One critic has labeled Singh's style as "journalistic." Do you agree with that description? What are the traits of Singh's style? How does his style affect readers' reactions especially to some of the more horrific events he describes in the novel?

6. What about the women in the novel? What roles do they play? How do they influence others and their actions? What does the novel indicate about gender roles in the novel's rural setting and the time frame for the novel's events?

7. One of the ways of entry into understanding a novel is to identify which characters might be considered heroes? Identify characters in the novel you consider heroic. Be prepared to state the criteria you used to define their heroism.

8. Mr. Hukum Chand is referred to simply as "the government" (pp. 28-29) by the old peasant woman who brings Haseena to him. As the official representative of the government on site in Mano Majra, Chand's values, attitudes, and actions are key to the success or failure of the migration. Therefore, we need to know what makes Mr. Chand tick. * What of K. Singh's detailed descriptions of Mr. Chand's personal habits, his toilet preparations? * Contrast Chand's lifestyle and expectations about day-to-day life with those of the villagers. * What of the relationship between Haseena and Chand, what does that reveal? * How does Mr. Chand relate to the police officers he commands? * What values does Chand make clear over the course of the novel? * Why does he devise the scheme he does to deal with the crisis? In other words, why does he let Malli and the other murderers go? Why jail Iqbal and Jugga? Why, then, let them go?

9. In what ways can Iqbal Singh be seen as a sort of balance to Mr. Chand? If Chand represents the government, the status quo of the new regime, might not Iqbal represent revolutionary tendencies, efforts to change the situation rather than continue it? * What kind of man is Iqbal (his background, his habits) * What are Iqbal's goals when he comes to the village? * Does he remain consistent throughout the novel? * Explain Iqbal's action (non-action?) in resolving the crisis? * What is Iqbal's attitude toward religion? (p. 171) * What might Iqbal's success or lack of it tell us about K. Singh's attitude toward the possibilities for change in general and of the effectiveness of the communist party in particular?

10. What can we discern about the villagers' hierarchy of values? Given the values announced (on page 41, for example), how can you explain the villagers' turning one against the other? To what values does the boy leader appeal to get the villagers to act? (pp. 148 ff)

11. What influence, if any, does the caste system have on the characters and their actions? When and how is this influence demonstrated?

12. Singh's original title for the novel was Mano Majra but he later changed to the present title? Speculate on why he might have done so.

13. What is the significance of the burying of the corpses done by bulldozer rather than in the normal ways which would include rituals, ceremonies, and so on?

14. Why do you think K. Singh starts the novel three times or more precisely include three scenes all of which take place at the same time? [love, murder, loveless passion?]

15. What of the overall structure of the novel? The four parts are entitled dacoity, kalyug, Mano Majra, and Karma.

16. The following are not really questions but are pieces of relevant information I've picked up in my reading about the novel: * geckos falling from the ceiling are considered a bad omen * babu means city dweller * trishanku refers to an ancient Indian king who, according to the Puranas, was left in midspace between heaven and hell after his death [cf. Iqbal] * Haseen's song is an English rendering of a popular film song from Barsaat (The Rains) * nar admi is roughly equivalent to our concept of he-man * kalyug is roughly translated as the age of kali. Kali is the spirit of strife, sin, suffering. * imam means religious or pious person