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Through Childhood's Eyes

Aruna Chakravarti

Edited by Maloy Krishna Dhar
Penguin Books, New Delhi, India, 2010, pp. 307, s. 350.00


Maloy Krishna Dhar’s Train to India may be read as an antithetical account of another perilous journey described by Khushwant Singh in his Train to Pakistan—both books offering harrowing insights into the colossal human tragedy that engulfed two countries in the wake of the partition of India. Except that the former has a larger, more comprehensive canvas. The book provides an account of the events in the fateful months before and after partition in the voice of the protagonist, a nine year old boy. The author situates his novel within a framework of religious fanaticism, bureaucratic corruption, racial arrogance and violence against ‘the other’—which he senses but understands only partially. However, he presents a complex narrative by weaving in the testimonies of both Hindus and Muslims and shows how a faith in shared coexistence was the norm for both communities.Maloy boards the Dhaka-Sylhet Express from a small station in the newly created East Pakistan—now Bangladesh. As the train enters the platform he notices a tick mark in white chalk on its side—a sign that frightens him. A Muslim friend of his father’s runs along the train as it starts, waving frantically; trying to communicate something. But the clamour around him renders his voice inaudible. However, it does not take Maloy long to discover what it was that the man was trying to say. As the train snakes over the Anderson Bridge a blob of fresh blood hits his cheek and his horrified eyes see bodies tumbling out of the compartments and falling into the Meghna river. It was a train earmarked for massacre. Maloy lives to tell the tale. Maloy and his parents lived in a composite, culturally sublimated society in the village of Bhairab prior to Independence. Hindus and Muslims had common folk deities. Olai Chandi (Ola Bibi to the Muslims) was the goddess of cholera. Bon Bibi, the deity of the forests, was the presiding deity of the people living in the Sunderbans—both Hindu and Muslim. And all were equally fearful of Manasa, the goddess of snakes, and worshipped her with similar rites for her deadly daughters did not distinguish between Hindu and Muslim when they chose to unleash their venom. The dargah of Bhairab’s local peer was visited even by high caste Hindus and its water fed to the sick. They had a common musical heritage. Maloy’s ...

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