Certain books take my hand and walk me into their melancholic core. I think about them for a long time afterwards, but I’m the passive and often distant reader. It’s only sympathy that wobbles up.
But rarely I come across a book that makes me cry unabashedly. The tears just refuse to stop. Empathy is the only emotion. The heart gets involved unknowingly, one can no longer be distant. I don’t remain a mere reader. Their pain is mine. Their love is mine. So is their despair.
Khushwant Singh’s classic novel, ‘Train to Pakistan‘ is the reason my pillow is wet with tears tonight. The novel is set in one of the most harrowing times this country had witnessed less than a century ago. The brutalities of Partition always makes me shudder. People, who cohabited quite peacefully, suddenly starts slaughtering, looting and raping each other in the heat of communal violence and a seriously convoluted sense of religious faith and patriotism. Lives became statistics; they kill one, you kill two. The thought of a single corpse is disturbing, the end of a life that still had so many hopes perhaps. Thousands of corpses filled in trains, floating down the river, mass graves; Singh’s clear, vivid prose makes every detail achingly real.
Nothing much has changed since then. Religion, borders, intolerance to other faiths, castes, wealth; we still use them as reasons to shed blood, and kill within us every trace of humanity. It is so easy to rouse a mob; to manipulate minds in the name of religion and loyalty; to ask them to leave behind all reason; to exact revenge out of innocent and unintended victims. I wonder if it will ever stop.
Even the few sane ones who understand the true reason of having a faith, not coloured by communal overtones, when faced with such blatant hatred, reacts in myriad ways. Some give up; turn mute, blind and deaf. Few idealistic ones prefer armchair activism, everything is dismal around them, nothing has any hope, why even try? Where is the audience to acknowledge their bravery or sacrifice? Why waste one’s valuable life by being just another casualty of a hopeless cause? Some try every tactic, cunning they could muster; they look for loopholes; they manipulate, but for the greater good; sometimes they are trapped in their many half-baked plans; so they cry plaintively, kneel down and pray. Some just pray from the beginning, it’s easier to leave everything to a higher power, and be freed from any responsibility.
Then there are some crude hearts and simple brains, who don’t know much, don’t even attempt to understand. They know hate strongly. But they know love even better than their own selves. And even loyalty. When the whole world is ravaged by wars, inhuman acts and sectionalized into different religions, classes and countries; only love in all its selfish desire to protect its loved one from every possible harm, to just give without seeking anything in return, and just being its plain and simple whole, sans any calculations and justifications, offers hope.
That’s why even though the novel portrays an honest picture of wars and communal violence in all its brutality, it ends on a mixed note, a tragedy laced with a feeble hope. When nothing seems to work, no respite seems in sight, a heart quietly sacrifices itself to protect the one it loves. The worthlessness of war will keep you awake and distressed for a long time to come. So will the futile and irrelevant boundaries we have created in the name of religion, countries, race and money. Hatred is infectious; but so is love. Vouch for love. It’s all but a choice.