Iqbal goes to Mano Majra, a town that he has never visited and where he knows no one, expecting to inspire the villagers to foster political change. With his help, Iqbal imagines that the village peasants will assert stronger political and economic rights. Juggut, on the other hand, regards himself as a budmash—someone who is inherently bad and whose legacy of crime works against him. Regardless, it is ultimately Juggut and not Iqbal who proves himself a hero at the end of the novel. By exploring the contrast between both men’s words and deeds, Singh suggests that genuine honor is achieved only through selfless sacrifice.
Iqbal is a political worker from Delhi—urban, educated, and, despite his professed goals, rather aloof to the concerns of Indians in Mano Majra. He belongs to a political organization that is probably Communist, due to his self-identification as a “comrade” as well as his aim to overthrow the landowning government. However, Iqbal’s apparent good intentions are marred by his contempt for the people whom he was sent to serve. Singh uses Iqbal to illustrate the hypocrisy of so-called political revolutionaries who are, very often, no more honorable or legitimate than the politicians whom they seek to overthrow.
Iqbal is particularly irritated by the religious extremism in the region. He realizes that, if not for his keeping company with the Sikh bhai Meet Singh and Juggut, who is also Sikh, his being circumcised could have gotten him killed. He is annoyed that he has “to prove his Sikhism to save his life.” He contrasts the Mano Majrans’ murderous loyalty to religion with attitudes in Delhi, which he considers to be “civilization.” What Iqbal overlooks, despite his supposed dedication to alleviating poverty and ignorance in Mano Majra, is that the villagers are so fiercely loyal to their religious tribes because of the upper classes’ long-standing indifference toward their poverty and ignorance. With his tendency to look down upon the simpler villagers and to regard them as the antithesis of civilization, Iqbal shows that he cannot identify with the Mano Majrans and that he does not really wish to.
Iqbal also has fantasies in which he imagines how the public would respond to his perceived political sacrifices. He imagines news headlines reporting his arrest and contemplates confronting the crowd of Sikhs who conspire to murder refugees heading to Pakistan on an evening train. Iqbal does not wish to take a stand out of any moral imperative to prevent bloodshed; he is, instead, fascinated by how heroic he would look, “like the heroes on the screen who [become] bigger and bigger as they walk right into the camera.” However, knowing that no one of importance would be present to witness this self-sacrifice disabuses Iqbal of any sense that he should risk his life to prevent a wave of violence in Mano Majra. From these examples, it is clear that Iqbal’s political convictions are superficial. He is not truly interested in helping Indian people transition to life after colonial rule or in eliminating the caste system that oppresses them. He is interested in making people think that he can rescue them from their circumstances so that his own sense of glory can loom large.
Juggut, on the other hand, is already a man with a big reputation in Mano Majra. He is known as the most dangerous man in his village—a legacy that he inherited from his grandfather and his father, Alam Singh. However, Juggut has abandoned his previous life of crime in favor of farming. Where Iqbal fantasizes, Juggut takes action. Upon learning that Mano Majra has slipped into the grip of the villainous Malli, who now leads the mob that plans to massacre Muslim refugees heading to Pakistan, Juggut goes to the gurdwara to see Meet Singh and pray. The priest is surprised to see Juggut, who has never before come to the temple, arrive at such a late hour. Juggut’s pursuit of faith is a sign that he seeks moral guidance, likely due to distrust of his own instincts. He wishes not only to overcome the reputation that somehow justified his false arrest, but to find a path toward rightful action so that he can do right by his Muslim lover Nooran and his community.
Though Singh never mentions Juggut by name, the evolution of the plot strongly suggests that Juggut is the “big man” who, at the end of the novel, scales up the railway bridge and onto the rope that is intended to cut through a crowd of Muslim passengers who will be riding on the roof of the train. The fact that none of the villagers recognize the “big man” as Juggut suggests a transformation in character that renders the former robber unrecognizable. Juggut ultimately sacrifices his life in the process of cutting the rope—going down in the midst of “a volley of shots”—so that Nooran and her father, who are on the train, will not be killed. Juggut does this with no knowledge of Nooran’s pregnancy, instead entirely out of love for her. His action contradicts Hukum Chand’s expectations that “[h]is type never [risks] their necks for women,” and that any retaliation against Malli would only be a matter of “[settling] scores.” Juggut’s sacrifice breaks his family’s criminal reputation and saves his village from infamy, revealing that even a former dacoit is capable of redemption.
Through Juggut, Singh illustrates how anyone is capable of performing feats of heroism—that is, acts that benefit others without offering immediate personal reward. Iqbal, meanwhile, presents himself as someone who wants to help Mano Majra, but who in reality only wishes to use the village to facilitate his own fame. He desires heroism yet shrinks from the sacrifices that he must make to earn it. The fact that the villagers, including Meet Singh and other elders, assume that Iqbal is a good man despite his selfishness raises the question of what it doing “good” actually means, as well as what mistaken assumptions people make based on social status. Singh’s study of heroism through these two men ultimately reveals the complexity of morality as well as the price of honor.
Honor and Heroism ThemeTracker
Honor and Heroism Quotes in Train to Pakistan
Iqbal stood up and looked all around. From the railway station to the roof of the rest house … the whole place was littered with men, women, children, cattle, and dogs …. Where in India could one find a place that did not teem with life? Iqbal thought of his first reaction on reaching Bombay. Milling crowds—millions of them—on the quayside, in the streets, on railway platforms; even at night the pavements were full of people. The whole country was like an overcrowded room. What could you expect when the population went up by six every minute—five millions every year! It made all planning in industry or agriculture a mockery. Why not spend the same amount of effort in checking the increase in population? But how could you, in the land of the Kama sutra, the home of phallic worship and the son cult?
What could he—one little man—do in this enormous impersonal land of four hundred million? Could he stop the killing? Obviously not. Everyone—Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Congressite, Leaguer, Akali, or Communist—was deep in it. It was fatuous to suggest that the bourgeois revolution could be turned into a proletarian one. The stage had not arrived. The proletariat was indifferent to political freedom for Hindustan or Pakistan, except when it could be given political significance like grabbing land by killing an owner who was of a different religious denomination. All that could be done was to divert the kill-and-grab instinct from communal channels and turn it against the propertied class. That was the proletarian revolution the easy way. His party bosses would not see it.
It all came from his belief that the only absolute truth was death. The rest—love, ambition, pride, values of all kinds—was to be taken with a pinch of salt. He did so with a clear conscience. Although he accepted gifts and obliged friends when they got into trouble, he was not corrupt. He occasionally joined in parties, arranged for singing and dancing—and sometimes sex—but he was not immoral. What did it really matter in the end? That was the core of Hukum Chand’s philosophy of life, and he lived well.
Iqbal realized that it was the company of Jugga and the constable, who were known Sikhs, that really saved him from being stopped and questioned. He wished he could get out of this place where he had to prove his Sikhism to save his life … He cursed his luck for having a name like Iqbal, and then for being a… Where on earth except in India would a man’s life depend on whether or not his foreskin had been removed? It would be laughable if it were not tragic … If only he could get out to Delhi and to civilization! He would report on his arrest; the party paper would frontpage the news with his photograph: ANGLO-AMERICAN CAPitalIST CONSPIRACY TO CREATE CHAOS (lovely alliteration). COMRADE IQBAL IMPRISONED ON BORDER. It would all go to make him a hero.
He felt a little feverish, the sort of feverishness one feels when one is about to make a declaration of love. It was time for a declaration of something. Only he was not sure what it should be. Should he go out, face the mob and tell them in clear ringing tones that this was wrong—immoral? Walk right up to them with his eyes fixing the armed crowd in a frame—without flinching, without turning, like the heroes on the screen who became bigger and bigger as they walk right into the camera. Then with dignity fall under a volley of blows, or preferably a volley of rifleshots. A cold thrill went down Iqbal’s spine. There would be no one to see this supreme act of sacrifice. They would kill him just as they would kill the others … They would strip him and see. Circumcised, therefore Muslim.
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.