Train To Pakistan

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train-to-pakistan

Train To Pakistan is a novel by the illustrious lawyer, journalist, politician and the novelist Khushwant Singh.First published in 1956, this historical fiction covers the dark days of 1947 India – Pakistan Partition like no other. The communal riots were like insane wild-fire that spared none in its vicinity.

The book is by no means a historical account of what happened during the partition. It however illustrates superbly, the explosive environment that gripped the two infant nations. Who would have thought that as peaceful and unsophisticated village like Mano Majra would be incinerated by the loss of lives, the souring of relationships, the distrust, betrayal and paranoia! All that the village needed was one unsuspecting flare to kindle the blaze.

Mano Majra is a small place in Punjab on the borders of India and Pakistan, only half a mile from the Sutlej river. There is only one Hindu family, that of the money-lender. Others are Sikhs or Muslims. Untouched and oblivious of the madness spewing in the large cities of Delhi and Lahore and many others, this countryside was quite harmonious until the murder of Ram Lal, the village money-lender. It was as if the murder was foreshadowing the upcoming chaos. Then started the deluge of trains filled with corpses, lying lifeless by the thousands. As if this was not satiating enough for the politics of the babus, they enamored of creating a communal divide that was unheard of in this village; all in the name of ever elusive peace! And among all this was sacrificed love – love for humanity and the love of humans.

Not forever does the bulbul sing
In balmy shades of bowers,
Not forever lasts the spring
Nor ever blossom flowers.
Not forever reigneth joy,
Sets the sun on days of bliss,
Friendships not forever last,
They know not life, who know not this.

Train To Pakistan, is the first novel I have read from the author and it has left quite an impression on me. The language in the book is quite lucid. The narration is in third person and the interplay of simplicity with changing times is brought out exceptionally well. The characters are just as real as you and me. Situations in the book evoke powerful emotions, limited only by the imagination of its readers. To depict the struggles of the gargantuan genocide that took place during the partition of India and Pakistan in such frankness is the most striking feature of the novel. To me, this book is certainly an Indian Classic!

Beyond The Last Blue Mountain

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Beyond The Last Blue Mountains

It is the title of the book that strikes one first. This biography by Russi M. Lala describes the nationalist, the progressive industrialist, the visionary and above all, an extraordinary person with a kind heart – J. R. D. Tata.

We are the Pilgrims, master; we should go
Always a little further: it may be
Beyond that last blue mountain barred with snow
Across that angry or that glimmering sea…

We travel not for trafficking alone;
By hotter winds our fiery hearts are fanned;
For lust of knowing what should not be known,
We take the Golden Road to Samarkand.

– James Elroy Flecker

The book is written in four parts. Part I covers the Tata’s legacy and J.R.D.’s early life. The book goes on to describe J.R.D.’s fascination for aviation as early as when he was ten years old and proceeds to tell us how J.R.D. enlisted in French army during the war. It further brings out his deftness in the face of challenges as a director of Tata Sons after the death of R.D., and records his marriage to Thelly. The first part ends with J.R.D. being appointed as the Chairman of the Board of Directors of Tata Sons Ltd., when he was thirty-four.

In the next part, Russi tries to pen down the roots of Indian Aviation, pioneered by J.R.D. He writes about J.R.D.’s solo flight from India to England as part of Royal Aero Club’s “Prize for England – India Flight”. He further writes about the Tatas entering the aviation business through Tata Air Mail in 1932. Russi details how J.R.D. purchased the planes himself, and how he flew the inaugural service. As planes became marginally bigger, lone passenger was accommodated in the seat behind the pilot. Post 1947 Indian independence, Tatas entered into international airline business with the start of Air-India International. The “Maharaja” was born.The second part of the book just doesn’t stop with the birth of Air-India International. It journeys with the “Maharaja” as it sets standards for international travel across the globe. The intimate relationship that J.R.D. shared with this “Maharaja” is highlighted.

Nationalisation of airlines was a very painful experience for J.R.D. Russi goes through this entire episode in the second part. He writes about how J.R.D. reacted. As the reader reads through all these ups and downs in the life of J.R.D., one thing becomes amply clear – J.R.D.’s contribution to the Indian aviation is enormous and unparalleled.

While the third part talks about J.R.D. and his contributions to the Tata empire he expanded, the fourth part focuses on his relations with Jawaharlal Nehru, Mahatma Gandhi and Indira Gandhi. These two parts together paint the portrait of the man in all glory. His trust on his colleagues, his vision, his nationalism and his kindness combined with his pragmatism and perseverance makes the man a true inspiration.