Abdullah Hussain: A giant in Urdu literature

Follow Shabnaama via email

Hassan Ahmed

Over fifty years have passed but it is still a daunting task to determine whether Abdullah Hussain created Udaas Naslain or it was the very novel that gave birth to Abdullah Hussain, who is still lives on despite the fact that he passed away last week. A chemical engineer by profession, Abdullah Hussain won the revered Adamjee award for his debut novel Udaas Naslain at the age of just 32, and that speaks volume about his excellence in writing.

His other literary works like Baagh, Nadaar Log, Qaid, Raat and collection of short stories named as Nashaib and Faraib further earned him acclaim during his life. He took as many as twelve years to write his second novel Baagh. He used to say that none of his other books was as dear to him as Baagh because he was of the view that a novelist was only as good as his second novel.

Born on 14th of August, 1931, in Rawalpindi where his father was posted at that time, Abdullah Hussain shifted to his hometown in Gujrat at the age of five. He passed his BSC from the Zamindar College, Gujrat, in 1952 and got a job as a chemical engineer in a cement factory in Daudkhel (Mianwali) in 1953. Once unveiling a chapter of his life in an interview, Abdullah Hussain told that had he not gone to a far-flung area like Daudkhel, it would have been impossible for him to become a writer. He started reading and writing in a bid to defy the ghost of loneliness that he faced during his posting in remote area of Mianwali and gave us Udaas Naslain, regarded as one of the best novels of Urdu literature alongside Quratulain Haider’s Aag Ka Darya. It is pertinent to mention here that the cover of Udaas Naslain was designed by a renowned artist of his time, Abdul Rehman Chughtai, on the request of Abdullah Hussain.

In 1959, Abdullah Hussain went to Canada for a diploma in chemical engineering and stayed there for one year where he got an opportunity to meet Earnest Hemingway. On his way back, he visited Europe briefly where he was privileged to have meetings with T S Eliot in London and Jean Paul Sartre in Paris. He described himself as a tourist in those meetings and no discussion on art and literature took place at all.

Asghar Nadeem Syed, a noted playwright, while talking to DNA told that Abdullah Hussain himself translated Udaas Naslain into English to keep intact its central idea. He further remarked that more than fifty years had passed and three generations had witnessed the era of Udaas Naslain but the debate on this novel was getting wider with every passing day. Asghar went on to say that when Abdullah Hussain was writing Nadaar Log in Murree, Pakistan Academy of Letters (PAL) requested him to complete the novel by staying in Academy’s office and a special room was prepared for Abdullah Hussain there. In Asghar’s view, Nadaar Log was a commendable depiction of political and social issues faced by Pakistan but that novel was not discussed in length and breadth like Udaas Naslain. The preceding book of a writer is a sort of hindrance for the subsequent one as it becomes difficult for a critic to forget the prior work of a writer. The same happened with Qurat-ul-Ain Haider’s Aag Ka Darya, he concluded.

Why did Udaas Naslain earn too much fame? Answering the question, a well-accomplished critic Dr Amjad Tufail told DNA that after 1947, Aag Ka Darya was considered as the best novel in Urdu. After the departure of Qurat-ul-Ain Haider from Pakistan in unfavourable circumstances, the critics of that time were fervently looking for another novel of the same worth. The critics found in Udaas Naslain all the traits that Aag Ka Darya had in its approach and artistic style. In Dr Tufail’s view, Abdullah Hussain became a writer in the pursuit of getting rid from self-isolation that he faced during his stay in Daudkhel cement factory. He thinks that Abdullah Hussain had a very strong political reference in his writing at that time, this when progressive writer’s movement was dying which is a proof of his uniqueness.

Abdullah Hussain, whose real name was Muhammad Khan, lost his mother when he was just six-month-old. He tried to make a sketch in his imagination by asking his other relatives about the physical appearance of his mother. When Abdullah Hussain was 25, his father died and this incident left tragic imprints on his mind. He himself once told that after the death of his father he fell prey to nervous breakdown and was admitted in a hospital in Lahore. Two major developments took place in his life after getting well: firstly, he completed the first chapter of Udaas Naslain; and secondly, he fell in love.

In the view of Dr Ghafir Shehzad, a critic, he personally did not bear the hardships of migration like other writers but the way he portrayed the imagery of partition was laudable. He was a writer having his finger on the impulse of society, Dr Shehzad remarked. Amjad Islam Amjad, a noted poet and playwright, told DNA that Abdullah Hussain narrated the story of subcontinent in a way he witnessed the events of partition as a villager of Punjab. Amjad found him very polite and innocent in public as well as private meetings.

Abdullah Hussain, who spent forty years in London and ran a pub there, married a medical doctor and left one son and daughter behind after battling blood cancer. He was very critical towards the critics of Urdu literature in Pakistan by saying that he had not ever seen a single piece of criticism worth reading on his Udaas Naslain. He was reluctant to go in public but regularly participated in literary functions arranged by Lahore Arts Council. He received Kammal-e-Fan Award, the highest award of literature in Pakistan this year.

Masood Ashar, fiction writer and translator, told DNA that he along with Intizaar Hussain went to Abdullah Hussain’s residence just a few days before his death. He acted like a healthy man and tried to hide his illness as he wanted to depart with grace from this world. According to Ashar, he narrated them his days spent in London with Noon Meem Rashid in which Rashid used to recite his poem “Hasan Kooza Gar” throughout the night in his typical artistic tune. Ashar claims that every writer wants to change the world according to his own dreams and wishes. However, when he fails to achieve it, he becomes depressed and dejected.

Abdullah Hussain is no more with us but the research on his literary work will keep him alive forever. He was in constant touch with his readers and friends through social media. His last message is quoted here as it was:

“Went for my four chemo. Painful. I hope it would go away. I abhor pain. But then I abhor most of the world, and it hasn’t gone away. So there. Writers are unhappy lot. They want to change the world to their vision, and can’t even begin to make themselves understood. Tragic.”

Hassan Ahmed, “Abdullah Hussain: A giant in Urdu literature,” in Pakistan Today, July 10, 2015. Accessed on July 12, 2015, at: http://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2015/07/11/features/abdullah-hussain-a-giant-in-urdu-literature/

The item above written by Hassan Ahmed and published in Pakistan Today on July 10, 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 12, 2015, is available here. Faiz-e-Zabaan is not responsible for the content of the external websites.

Recent items by Hassan Ahmed:

Help us with Cataloguing

Leave your comments

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s