Abdullah Hussain: ‘Under the wing of a seagull’

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Peerzada Salman

KARACHI: Ten days before his passing away, novelist Abdullah Hussain phoned me. He said he had seen a dream in which there were three white seagulls on the seashore. One of them spoke to him and informed him that the seagull in the middle was his [the novelist’s] mother. And then the one in the middle took him under its wing.

This was narrated by writer Irfan Javed at the well-attended condolence reference at the Arts Council on Tuesday evening held for distinguished fiction writer Abdullah Hussain who died on July 4 in Lahore.

Mr Javed said despite suffering from cancer himself, when Hussain (whose real name was Mohammad Khan) on June 6 got to know about writer Mustansar Husain Tarar’s illness, it disturbed him more. He would constantly inquire after Tarar’s health until Tarar was discharged from hospital.

What perturbed him on the literary front, he said, was the fact that in his view people had stopped reading, which was why his novels Nadar Loag and Bagh were not as well received as Udas Naslein. He added the novelist was a loner (tanhaee pasand).

Prof Shamim Hanafi, who spoke via telephone from Delhi, said ever since Hussain passed away, there was eerie silence on the literary horizon. He lamented that there was already a paucity of quality fiction writers, and his death proved even more hurtful. Prof Hanafi claimed that he had always maintained Udas Naslein was among the three best Urdu novels of all time. He remarked that the novelist’s work was a creative metaphor against social injustice.

Poet Iftikhar Arif, who is in Tehran these days, also addressed the gathering via telephone. He said Hussain was a noted fictionist. The poet disclosed an interesting thing. He said when he was working for the PTV, it was decided that some worthy novels be dramatised for television. Udas Naslein was one of the three books that he [Arif] suggested. For that purpose, permission was sought from Hussain who was in London in those days.

The novelist obliged. Saleem Ahmed was assigned to dramatise the story and work on five episodes was already done when the then martial law regime intervened saying that people belonging to the Left were exerting their influence on television, therefore action should be taken against them.

Those who were involved in the project were asked to present themselves before the authorities, but Aslam Azhar said they shouldn’t and only he should be answerable to the authorities because Azhar was the one who had given the go-ahead to the plays.

Writer and journalist Mohammed Hanif refuted a few previous speakers’ assertion that Hussain was a reclusive man and did not like to talk much. He clarified that he liked to strike up conversations with the people that he was fond of.

He pointed out that Hussain was of the opinion that there was no critic worth his salt in the country because they (critics) were not well-read. Hanif found this true when he read Hussain’s obituary in an English newspaper in which it was mentioned that the novelist liked to use ‘swear words’ in his stories and was ‘uncouth’. He added critics in our part of the world concentrate on finding ‘swear words’ in novels instead of reading them.

Prof Sahar Ansari said Hussain was one of the top-notch writers in Urdu. He mentioned it’s been 50 years since Udas Naslein hit the bookstores and yet its popularity had not waned.

Books of lesser quality were forgotten in five days, but it was a testimony to the quality of Hussain’s book that even after half a century it was being talked about, he said. He commented that although his other novel Nadar Loag had a bigger canvas, Udas Naslein reached a larger audience.

Giving a personal account of Hussain, novelist H. M. Naqvi said whenever in Karachi the novelist would visit his [Naqvi’s] place. After reading Mr Naqvi’s novel, he insisted “You need to send me your next novel” to which Naqvi replied that he would if Hussain allowed him to go through the book that he was working on. Hussain responded with magnanimity, “I will send you my novel, but you must critique it.”

He also told the audience that despite his age, Hussain would climb up to the second floor at Naqvi’s place where they would gather for chit-chat.

Broadcaster Raza Ali Abidi in his telephonic address said instead of bemoaning Hussain’s death, he was celebrating his successes as a writer.

Poet Imdad Husaini said he had met Hussain on a few occasions at the Karachi Literature Festival. Although he did not like to speak much, his silence would speak for him. He lamented that in our times individuals of high merit were leaving the world without being replaced by men of comparable calibre.

Playwright Asghar Nadim Syed said Hussain used to rue the fact that critics had not paid attention to his later work. Nadim told the writer that Udas Naslein did to him what Aag Ka Darya did to Qurratulain Hyder, that is, it hampered his progress (raasta rok dia).

Kishvar Nahid, Zeb Azkar, Mubin Mirza, Bakhtiar Ahmed, Ghulam Nabi Mughal and Prof Anwar Ahmed Zai also spoke. Ahmed Shah conducted the event.

Peerzada Salman, “Abdullah Hussain: ‘Under the wing of a seagull’,” in Dawn, July 8, 2015. Accessed on July 9, 2015, at: http://www.dawn.com/news/1192987

The item above written by Peerzada Salman and published in Dawn on July 8, 2015, is catalogued here in full by Faiz-e-Zabaan for non-profit educational purpose only. Faiz-e-Zabaan neither claims the ownership nor the authorship of this item. The link to the original source accessed on July 9, 2015, is available here. Faiz-e-Zabaan is not responsible for the content of the external websites.

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