Posted in Books, History, India, stories

The Peshawar Express

Rereading a book of Partition stories, I began to wonder whether there were any happy stories? Every story is this volume seems depressing. And once again one begins to ask that unanswerable question, why did it take place? Could it have been avoided? One million deaths would have been averted. Ten million would not have lost their homes. And India and Pakistan would not be constantly in a state of hostility. The book, Stories about the Partition of India, ed by Alok Bhalla, is one I have had for many years. It includes Manto’s famous story, Toba Tek Singh, and many more.

The Peshawar Express by Krishan Chander [translated from Urdu by Jai Ratan] is perhaps one of the lesser known stories, yet it is extremely poignant, a typical story of one of the many refugee trains. Here it is the train, the Peshawar Express, which tells its story, as it sets out from Peshawar loaded with refugees bound for India. The Hindu passengers looked like Pathans, says the train, fair and hefty, speaking Pushto or rugged Punjabi. Each coach was guarded by Baluchi guards. The passengers ‘ were bidding goodbye to their homeland with heavy hearts…I felt so weighed down under their cataclysmic grief that it slowed my speed.’

The first station was Hasan Abdal, where a number of Sikhs got on the train. But by the next station, Taxila, the carnage started. Taxila, once a great centre of learning, with a wonderful museum, where the Buddha preached….

The tracks were covered in blood and ‘I feared I would derail…’. Corpses piled up along the way, till finally the express reached Amritsar. ‘When I arrived at Amritsar, the joyous cries of the Hindus and Sikhs  shook the earth. Corpses of the Muslims were  piled high.’ Killings continued as the train crossed through Punjab. Even a young girl college student, reading ‘Socialism, Theory and Practice’ was not spared.

Finally the train returns to its shed in Bombay… ‘I have been given a thorough wash….I would never go on such a horrible journey again. … I want to pass through a land studded with barns of golden wheat, and swaying mustard fields on both sides of the track. I want to hear the Hindu and Muslim peasants sing the love legends of Punjab, while they sow their fields, while their hearts brim with love for each other and they are even full of reverence for women. I am a lifeless train—But even I hate to carry a cargo of blood and flesh dripping with hatred. I will haul food grain to famine stricken areas. I will carry coal, oil and iron ore…I will carry groups of prosperous peasants and happy workers….Then there will be no Hindus and no Muslims. There will only be workers and human beings.’

Posted in novel, stories, Writing

If we were having a cup of coffee…

If we were having a cup of coffee together…I’d tell you how I woke too early this morning and had that first hot cup, while planning the day. Maybe today my final read-through of my first novel will be done. It integrates religion and philosophy, yet I hope it is still a gripping story. Should I send it to an agent, a publisher in India, or upload it as an e-book? Haven’t yet decided.

If we were having a cup of coffee together…I’d tell you about the short stories I have written over the years, and now I am trying to find them and put them together.

If we were having a cup of coffee together…you may ask me about my other books, and I would tell you about them–each of them could have been expanded into several, each is dense and packed with information. I often read some poorly researched article, and see that a thousand better articles could be written from just two of my books on religion.

If we were having a cup of coffee together…I’d tell you that I have just received an invitation to give two talks to school students at a literary festival on the 26th–still need to find out the details.

And of course, if we were having a cup of coffee together–I’d ask you to adopt one of my rescued cats!