The news of Abdullah Hussain’s departure from this world on July 4, 2015, was saddening although it did not come as a great surprise as he had informed his Facebook friends about his fourth chemotherapy. For some time, he had been battling blood cancer that eventually claimed his life at the age of 84.
Abdullah Hussain (real name Mohammad Khan) was tall in life (he was 6 feet 4 inches) and tall in literature. He was the last major chronicler of the Partition to leave us for good. The other three – Yashpal, Rahi Masoom Raza and Bhishma Sahni – passed into the other realm many years ago. The majority view is that his “Udaas Naslein” (The Weary Generations) is by far the best novel ever written on the Partition. It was Yashpal who blazed the trail with his epic novel “Jhootha Sach” (False Truth) whose first part was published in 1958, followed by the second part in 1960. Abdullah Hussain too was writing his novel “Udaas Naslein” exactly at the same time.
Working as a chemist in Daud Khel, he embarked on his maiden literary journey in May 1956 and reached his destination in June 1961. Published in 1963, his epic novel soon attained the status of a classic. Although it was followed by Rahi Masoom Raza’s “Aadha Gaon” (Half-a-Village) (1966) and Bhishma Sahni’s “Tamas” (Darkness) (1973), it has not lost any of its magic and continues to be on the top of the chart. It remains one of the most widely read novels among Hindi readers.
While “Udaas Naslein”, “Aadha Gaon” and “Tamas” now belong to the stable of Rajkamal Prakashan, “Jhootha Sach” has been published by Lokbharati Prakashan.
In an interview published in the Pakistani newspaper The Friday Times in February, 2014 he described himself as an “accidental writer”. Says he: “Having nothing to do in my leisure hours I started reading and writing to break the monotony. Had I been based in Lahore or any other culturally vigorous urban centre I would have frequented cafes and gone to movie theatres, and the writer in me would probably have remained dormant.”
When I read “Udaas Naslein”, I was struck by the simplicity and directness of its language. As is the vogue in Hindi, works of Urdu fiction and poetry are transliterated into Devnagari script and Hindi meaning of difficult Persian or Arabic words are provided in footnotes. Reading “Udaas Naslein” was also an unhindered literary pleasure in a totally different sense for a Hindi reader like me as I did not have to encounter more than three or four such words on a single page. It was the spoken Hindi/Urdu that everybody who was from the so-called Hindi belt could easily follow.
What Abdullah Hussain saw as a disadvantage proved to be an advantage for him and his readers, although most literary critics in Urdu frowned on his earthy, “non-literary”, expletive-using, language. He later explained that as he did not have a comfortable command over the “verbose” language in vogue at the time, he invented his own simple language and style.
To the people of the sub-continent, the Partition is what Holocaust is to the people of Europe. Even those who viewed it as a political victory could not escape its horrendous effects. All the communities were subjected to rape, arson, looting and massacres. At one place, a community was the perpetrator of these inhuman acts, while at another place it was the victim. The scars of those years are yet to heal although three generations have tried to do just that.
Abdullah Hussain’s is the only novel that begins the Partition story from the years just prior to the outbreak of the First World War and ends it with the years just after the cataclysmic event. Like Yashpal’s “Jhootha Sach” and Bhishma Sahni’s “Tamas”, its locale is undivided Punjab. In this sense, Rahi Masoom Raza’s is the only attempt to understand and analyse what really happened in the Muslim-minority provinces that were the real hotbeds of Muslim separatism. Yet, in his village Gangauli, separatism enters as an external element that disturbs the internal, well-integrated world of its residents.
In contrast, “Udaas Naslein” becomes a metaphor for the painful journey of three generations that struggle with their uncertain destiny. It also lays bare the tension between rustic and urbane cultures that cannot exist without the other.
Kuldeep Kumar, “The last chronicler of our Holocaust ,” in The Hindu, July 24, 2015. Accessed on July 26, 2015, at: http://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/the-last-chronicler-of-our-holocaust/article7460926.ece
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