LAHORE: Outspoken novelist and intellectual Abdullah Hussain died on Friday after putting up a long fight against blood cancer. He was 84. His funeral was held at his residence in Defence, Lahore, with several literary figures in attendance.
Hussain rose to worldwide fame as a literary giant following the publication of his masterpiece Udas Naslain in 1964. Field Marshal Ayub Khan honoured him with the Adamjee Award for the novel which is considered as one of the greatest contemporary works of Urdu fiction. Unesco published a translation of the novel called ‘The Weary Generations’.
A child of circumstances, Hussain was a towering figure both in terms of physique and writing prowess. “I remember him from our time in Gujrat when he would walk past our playing field in his signature blue shalwar-kameez and black khedi,” said Hussain’s lifelong friend and Pakistan Academy of Letters Chairman Fakhar Zaman.
While working at a chemical factory in Dadukhel, he set about penning down his emotions, partly to kill boredom and partly to vent his frustration at the happenings around him. “I used to spend my time looking at a blank wall,” the late writer had remarked at the Lahore Literary Festival earlier this year.
Sharing an incident related to the late octogenarian’s most influential work, Zaman said once Hussain arrived at his office in Gujranwala. “I, at that time, wasn’t aware that it was he who wrote that novel with a different name. I sang songs of praise for the author in front of him and all he did was smile,” he said, adding Hussain later revealed the secret and he was overwhelmed.
Born Mohammad Khan, Hussain adopted a co-worker’s name when he started writing to avoid confusion with his namesake, celebrated humour writer Colonel Muhammad Khan. A man of letters but few words, Zaman said Hussain rarely talked about his works or turned up to accept awards. He said the writer could ably produce compelling reads in both English and Urdu.
“He told me a few years ago that he has written another novel in English which is with his publishing house. Let’s hope they publish it soon.”
“He completed Udas Naslain in five years. Had he not set about to kill boredom, he’d have never discovered the writer in him,” said renowned playwright Asghar Nadeem Syed. Talking to The Express Tribune, Syed said he had known Hussain for over 30 years. He said while Hussain was working on his own masterpiece, Quratulain Haider’s ‘Aag Ka Darya’ had recently come out. “He chose to express himself in simple language. He was greatly influenced by Haider and glimpses of her writing can be seen in his works too,” he told The Express Tribune.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif expressed sorrow over the sad demise of Hussain. He termed the death a great loss for Urdu literature.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 5th, 2015.