New edition of Train to Pakistan released
Fifty years after Khushwant Singh's best seller Train to Pakistan was first published, noted writer and author has said "the wounds inflicted by the partition will take a long, long time to heal."
"Families were divided and close friends parted forever. The necessity of passports, visas and reporting to the police on arrival and departure have made travelling from one country to another cumbersome," writes Singh, in the new edition of the book, published 50 years after its first edition came out in 1956.
"The only conclusion that we can draw from the experience of partition in 1947 is that such things must never happen again," he writes in a new chapter 1956 - 2006: Train to Pakistan.
To prevent their recurrence, Singh says "the only way is to promote closer integration of people of different races, religions and castes living in the subcontinent."
The new book has 60 unpublished photographs by well-known photographer Margaret Bourke-White that illustrate Khushwant Singh's prose with a stark and almost unbearably heart-rending subtext.
"World history is divided into two distinct eras - BC and AD. For millions of people living in the sub-continent, it is divided into two similar eras: BP (Before Partition) and PP (Post Partition)," notes Singh.
About one such instance, he writes that his wife's cousin who stayed back in Pakistan and married a Muslim. She is a grandmother now. When Singh met her during one of his visits to Pakistan, she loaded him with gifts for her brothers and sisters. "They refused to accept them".
Another story he tells is of his friend Abid Sayeed Khan, who has a large mango orchard in Uttar Pradesh. His parents brothers and sisters live in Karachi. His father was suddenly taken very ill.
"I helped Abid to get a visa waiver. From Karachi airport he went straight to the hospital to his father's bedside. Abid had not seen him for many years. The father and son embraced each other. A few minutes later Abid's father was dead.
Even after so many decades, Singh says "you will hear many heart-rendering tales from the survivors of the holocaust on either side..." and tells another poignant tale of a Sikh-Muslim alliance wrecked by partition.
An old woman occasionally goes to Pakistan after partition to meet her daughter there. During one of the visits she died. Her body was taken to the Wagah border by her daughter and son-in law. Across the no-man's land her other children awaited her body.
"Such stories can be multiplied by the thousands..."
"Almost sixty years have passed since the sub-continent split into two nations, India and Pakistan. Yet the trauma of partition chronicled so powerfully by Margaret Bourke-White through her heart-rending images and recalled so incisively by Khushwant Singh in his true-to-life fiction, still wets the eyes of my generation," says Pramod Kumar of Roli Books, who is behind concept, design and editing of the new edition
The new book, a combination of her photos and his prose, is an exercise in perpetuating the memory of those who perished and a lesson for future generations to prevent a recurrence of this tragic chapter in our history, says Kapoor.
He says Life Magazine had published less than hundred pictures of Bourke-White in their issues. "I was destined to find the rest, unused but not necessarily the rejects and that set my mind ticking. Upon my return from London, I approached Singh with my idea of illustrating what is considered as his best work with her photographs."