In the death of Abdullah Hussain, South Asia has lost a voice that expressed its many tragedies ever so eloquently, as well as arguably the greatest writers it has ever given birth to. After briefly battling cancer, the great novelist and shortstory writer died at the age of 84 in Lahore, leaving this land a little more ‘udaas’ and very empty.
Mr Hussain spoke to the hearts and minds of people with his deep understanding of society and the complexities of human psychology. Known best for one of the most acclaimed novels of Urdu literature, Udaas Naslain, his other distinguished works included Baagh, Naadar Log, Qaid and collections of short stories, Nashaib and Faraib. His short story, “The Return Journey”, was made into a BBC feature film titled Brothers in Trouble. But Udaas Naslain, his first novel, overpowered all other writings as it connected with the hearts of many generations, depicting war and conflict of the colonial era and the great human tragedy witnessed in the wake of Partition. Along with Qurratulain Hyder’s Aag Ka Darya, Udaas Naslain, published nearly 50 years ago, remains among the finest post-Partition works of literature. Mr Hussain began to write the debut novel at the age of 25 and it won him the prestigious Adamjee Award at the age of 32. Today, Udaas Naslain has over 40 editions and has never been out of print.
Mr Hussain’s death is also a sad reminder of the distances that have developed between English and Urdu audiences, with many of our younger generation unfamiliar with the writer and his works because of the systematic way they have been alienated from the Urdu language. This distance is often evident at literary festivals too, where Mr Hussain, arguably the greatest writer at these festivals, would at times be given the smallest room available for his sessions. Pakistan has a history of appreciating its writers better in death, and this may turn out to be the case with Mr Hussain as well. While his death has left a vacuum that will be felt for a long time, he will live on in his writings and his greatness will not be forgotten. May you rest in peace, Abdullah Hussain.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 7th, 2015.
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