The railway bridge is a symbol of India’s connection with Pakistan, which persists despite the Partition and persistent religious animus, as well as of both the positive and negative aspects of modernity. The bridge, which physically connects India to the new state of Pakistan, was built during India’s colonial period and is the only evidence of Western-style infrastructure in the tiny village of Mano Majra, which barely has roads. Trains filled with both passengers and goods cross it daily, underscoring its status as Mano Majra’s only connection to the outside world. The bridge is not only the conduit through which Mano Majra receives goods, however, but it also one of the means by which the insular and relatively peaceful village gets caught up in the violence that has engulfed neighboring and distant cities. It is this bridge that carries a trainload of refugees to Pakistan, and which, toward the end of the novel, becomes the site of a Sikh conspiracy to kill passengers on that Pakistan-bound train. The bridge thus signals the religious tensions between the two nations while also underscoring their inherent bond.
Railway Bridge Quotes in Train to Pakistan
The northern horizon, which had turned a bluish gray, showed orange again. The orange turned into copper and then into a luminous russet. Red tongues of flame leaped into the black sky. A soft breeze began to blow toward the village. It brought the smell of burning kerosene, then of wood. And then—a faint acrid smell of searing flesh. The village was stilled in a deathly silence. No one asked anyone else what the odor was. They all knew. They had known it all the time. The answer was implicit in the fact that the train had come from Pakistan.
He lay down again with his hands over his eyes. Within the dark chambers of his closed eyes, scenes of the day started coming back in panoramic succession. He tried to squash them by pressing his fingers into his eyes. The images only went blacker and redder and then came back. There was a man holding his intestines, with an expression in his eyes which said: “Look what I have got!” There were women and children huddled in a corner, their eyes dilated with horror, their mouths still open as if their shrieks had just then become voiceless … And all the nauseating smell of putrefying flesh, feces and urine.
Muslims sat and moped in their houses. Rumors of atrocities committed by Sikhs on Muslims in Patiala, Ambala and Kapurthala, which they had heard and dismissed, came back to their minds. They had heard of gentlewomen having their veils taken off, being stripped and marched down crowded streets to be raped in the marketplace … They had heard of mosques being desecrated by the slaughter of pigs on the premises, and of copies of the holy Koran being torn up by infidels. Quite suddenly every Sikh in Mano Majra became a stranger with an evil intent … For the first time, the name Pakistan came to mean something to them—a haven of refuge where there were no Sikhs.
The Sikhs were sullen and angry. “Never trust a Mussulman,” they said. The last Guru had warned them that Muslims had no loyalties. He was right. All through the Muslim period of Indian history, sons had imprisoned or killed their own fathers and brothers had blinded brothers to get the throne. And what had they done to the Sikhs? Executed two of their Gurus, assassinated another and butchered his infant children; hundreds of thousands had been put to the sword for no other offense than refusing to accept Islam; their temples had been desecrated by the slaughter of kine; the holy Granth had been torn to bits. And Muslims were never ones to respect women. Sikh refugees had told of women jumping into wells and burning themselves rather than fall into the hands of Muslims. Those who did not commit suicide were paraded naked in the streets, raped in public, and then murdered. Now a trainload of Sikhs massacred by Muslims had been cremated in Mano Majra.
It was a dead cow with its belly bloated like a massive barrel and its legs stiffly stretched upward … The faint sound of a moan was wafted across the waters … Horses rolled from side to side as if they were scratching their backs. There were also men and women with their clothes clinging to their bodies; little children sleeping on their bellies with their arms clutching the water and their tiny buttocks dipping in and out. The sky was soon full of kits and vultures … They pecked till the corpses themselves rolled over and shooed them off with hands which rose stiffly into the air and splashed back into the water.
The leader raised his rifle to his shoulder and fired. He hit his mark and one of the man’s legs came off the rope and dangled in the air. The other was still twined round the rope. He slashed away in frantic haste. The engine was only a few yards off … Somebody fired another shot. The man’s body slid off the rope, but he clung to it with his hands and chin. He pulled himself up, caught the rope under his left armpit, and again started hacking with his right hand. The rope had been cut in shreds. Only a thin tough strand remained. He went at it with the knife, and then with his teeth. The engine was almost on him. There was a volley of shots. The man shivered and collapsed. The rope snapped in the center as he fell. The train went over him, and went on to Pakistan.