"The summer of 1947 was not like other Indian summers. Even the weather had a different feel in India that year."
Almost every page has a phrase, a sentence, a paragraph, which I have read and re-read, pleasuring myself with it. The title is from the end pages and the line above, the first sentence, on the first page.
"Mano Majra has always been known for its railway station. This...gives its staff a somewhat exaggerated sense of importance. Actually the station master himself sells tickets through the pigeonholein his office, collects them at the exit beside the door, and sends and receives messages over the telegraph ticker on his table. When there are people to notice him, he comes out on the platform and waves a green flag for trains which do not stop.
Not many trains stop at Mano Majra...All this has made Mano Majra very conscious of trains.
Before daybreak the mail train rushes through on its way to Lahore..In an instant, all Mano Majra comes awake. As the midday express goes by, Mano Majra stops to rest...When the evening goods train steams in, they say to each other, "There is the goods train." It is like saying Goodnight.
Then life in Mano Majra is stilled, save for the dogs barking at the trains that pass in the night.
It had always been so, until the summer of 1947."
My earliest memories of Khushwant Singh are associated with his voice. At least I think it was his voice. Although, a quick search on Google today didn't get me a positive link. This was in the early 80s I think. We were in Delhi. Doordarshan had a documentary on the history of the majestic ruins of the Tughlaqabad Fort. And Kushwant Singh provided the background narration. Its one of those voices which stays with you, deep baritone. Couple this with his obvious command over English and more than twenty year's later, I can still hear it.
The author, eminently readable, definitely opinionated, humorous and honest. The Mark of Vishnu was the first story authored by Singh, that I read. It was in school, in the syallabus for 'English Literature'. I forget in which grade. The children, the tin can and Gangaram. I vaguely recall it. And I remember even at that age tucking him gently in the list of authors I liked. With Malice Towards One And All, The Company of Women and several short stories later, I finally reached Mano Majra today through the Train to Pakistan.
Long on my list of reads and falling snugly into my current phase of literary jottings around partition, having started and finished the book, I am still struggling to emerge from the small bylanes of Mano Majra.
Not that I want to in a hurry.