The master of realism – Abdullah Hussain

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Intizar Husain

ABDULLAH Hussain is no more with us. He has passed away, leaving behind what was most precious with him. It is now for us to make an assessment of it to the best of our understanding. We should at the same time keep in mind that in literature there is never a final word; often the coming generation takes it upon themselves to reassess a great master of the past and offer a different interpretation according to their newly developed understanding.

Hussain grew popular with the appearance of his very first novel Udas Naslain so much so that many readers are still stuck to it. We may not like this attitude of the readers but there is a reason for it. So while discussing the novel we should keep in mind that no literary work can be understood properly if judged in isolation. Udas Naslain appeared in the second decade of Pakistan when our fiction had come out of the spell of the ’30s and ’40s, and was under the charm of a new trend. There was a shift from the short story to the novel. The first novel to come out immediately after Partition was Qurrat-ul-Ain Hyder’s. Her novel Mere Bhi Sanam Khanay was published in 1949, and was soon followed by Khadija Mastoor’s Angan. Urdu novel in those years appeared to be a feminine business.

When Qurrat-ul-Ain came out with her Aag ka Darya in 1959, it was really a long jump. She had now landed in the ancient ages of Bharat; her characters were seen talking in the idiom of Vedanta and Buddhism — a complete break from the Marxism of ’30s and ’40s. The sociopolitical consciousness of the progressives demanded that the writers stick to their own times, and that they don’t try to escape into the past. But now the Urdu novel had earned the freedom to move in the vast world of history and even to cross into prehistory which was in accordance with what Ghalib had wished for:


It was at this time that a young novelist, hitherto unknown, made his appearance with a novel under his arms, the novel bearing the title Udas Naslain. In this novel characters are seen moving in a vast space; mental horizons seem to have expanded as well. Religion, for instance, is questioned. All religions stand for love and peace. “But why?” asks one character “is it so that when one is associated with one religion, one develops hatred and so many prejudices against others?”But all such discussions appear short-lived. Times pass swiftly form one period to the other leading to turmoil which eventually ends in bloodshed on a large scale. In fact, the whole narrative carries with it something undeniable, which enraptures the mind of the reader.

But apart from this novel, which has a charm of its own, Hussain has written stories — short and long — which speak of the versatility of his creative mind. Perhaps he is at his best in his collection published under the title Nashaib. The collection includes two short novels Nashaib and Wapsi ka Safar. In addition, the volume includes five short stories. All these titles taken together speak of his mastery over the realistic mode of expression.

However, his short novel Wapsi Ka Safar speaks in particular to his being a great master of realism. It is a depiction of a group of Pakistani immigrants, who after arriving in London, have chosen to live together in a small portion of a building. And what a marvelous description it is — of the characters being very accommodative to each other and of living together under the wretched conditions that they are compelled to reside in.

Living in that wretched corner, they can hardly think of anything other than their jobs. However, slowly and gradually, they unintentionally develop contact with a white female living under the same roof. This social contact continues to grow, bringing a change in behavior on the part of each resident; they now start enjoying life and at the same time find themselves in great trouble. Of course they are in great trouble but at the same time they are on the way to a better living.

Indeed Hussain’s Wapsi Ka Safar is a fine portrayal of life changing from wretchedness to a better life — a story of a blessing in disguise.

Intizar Husain, “The master of realism,” in Dawn, July 12, 2015. Accessed on July 12, 2015, at:

The item above written by Intizar Husain and published in Dawn on July 12, 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.

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