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Railways played a crucial role in partition, as Hindus and Muslims took crammed, dangerous and often deadly journeys to their new homes. Those momentous days have now been turned into a devastating show by experimental musicians
In 1988, having turned classical music on its head with his radical minimalism, Steve Reich unveiled what remains one of his most recognisable and admired works. With its three movements of chopping strings, air raid-like drones and repeated snatches of speech, Different Trains was Reich’s meditation on rail travel, the American composer contrasting the easy cross-country journeys he made during the second world war with the enforced transportation of his Jewish kin in Europe.
In that same grim period, just a few years after the liberation of the concentration camps, train travel again became a symbol of human tragedy. An exhausted postwar Britain carelessly scored a line through India, creating Pakistan, and sowed the seeds for decades of bitter conflict. In the chaos, Muslim families crammed themselves into carriages bound for Pakistan, while Hindus travelled in the opposite direction, both fearing for their lives. It wasn’t unknown for “ghost trains” to arrive at their destination ablaze, their passengers burned to death.