Udaas Naslain novel by Abdullah Hussain
Updated: May 29
Abdullah Hussain rose to roar fame after writing his debut novel Udaas Naslein, first published in 1964 and translated into English with the title “The Weary Generations”. Everyone was surprised after Udaas Naslein (Lonely Generations) was published; people were wondering how a 25-year-old boy with no prominent name in the literary world and who spent his whole life living in a village with no background could come out of nowhere and write such an astounding piece of work.
At Karachi Lit Festival in 2013, he spoke to his audience. He said: “Although all the novels that I’ve written in my life are love stories, including Udaas Naslein, whatever I write always has a background of history, politics, and many other things.”
Upon being questioned about how he started writing, he answered:
“I used to work 8 hours in the cement factory and slept for 8 hours, and the rest of my hours would be spent sitting in this remote place, and I got bored. So, I started writing to pass the time until one day. I realized that I was shaping a story (Udaas Naslein). I thought I couldn’t get rid of it until I completed it, so I started meeting people, visiting faraway nameless villages, and collecting stories I could use in my novel.”
The novel has been both loved and criticized by many over the years. It took Hussain 5 years to complete this novel, comprising over five hundred pages which tells the story of the lost generations before, during, and after the partition. But its main focus remains on the tragedy of rural Punjab and how it suffered under colonial rule and during the partition. It is a novel that raises more questions rather than gives answers. When it comes to the years revolving around the partition of 1947, every nook and corner of India and Pakistan has a story to tell. Every street and every city is drenched with the colors of the event that changed the life of a whole nation. The story focuses on approximately 40 years that led up to the Partition through the eyes of numerous characters with scenes that will leave your bones cold.
The book starts with the author describing the village where the lead character Naeem comes from. He tells us about the history of the small village surrounded by Punjab. Naeem comes from an average family background, but when he attends a party in the spectacular and famous Roshan Mahal on the edge of Queen’s Road, he is mesmerized by Azra, who later becomes his wife in the novel. He is forced into the elite community of undivided British India due to his marriage to Azra, but he keeps yearning for simple village life. Throughout this saga, there are many events related to him in one way or the other. Hussain is good at taking common characters and interlinking countless major incidents with them, turning them into an important entity you can’t take off your mind forever.
Regarding what we call manzar kashi (drawing visual scenery with words), no one can beat Hussain. You will feel you are with the character when he describes a view. Hussain’s writing showcases what James Baldwin said: “Don’t describe a purple sunset to me; make me see that it is purple.” For example, portraying the horrific scenes of World War, I will make you shiver. And he referenced, at one point during the First World War, when Naeem is standing and listening to the breathing of his friend in the deafening silence, he draws an analogy for it to the sound of wind gushing through a pine jungle and then, at another point, the writer said ‘badalte mausam mein kesa jadoo hota hai, jese jawan aurat muhabbat karti hai.’ This can be roughly translated as the changing season has magic similar to a young woman falling in love.
This novel tells the tale of how Partition wasn’t just the only thing that made that generation lost and sad; the sadness still runs in our veins like blood. There were many other countless events as well. The British used to take youngsters from rural areas and small towns to wars and the violence they witnessed there; the stuff they saw happening in front of their eyes was a trauma they couldn’t shake off their minds and hearts for the rest of their lives. It followed them everywhere like a dark cloud even after they had finally come home. The words are hard to swallow at times, and it is a disturbing but beautiful book. The exquisite scenery illustrated by the writer will make you wish you could get somehow into the book. Whether it's walking on a dusty road with trees drooping over it, the reflection of a starry sky in a stream, the warmth of a mother’s hug on a cold evening, or a house between a field of mango trees, everything is so sublimely and intricately written. It is a perfect book to read on a bright, sunny winter morning, sitting on your veranda with a cup of chai!
Udaas Naslein won the Adamjee Literary Award. Other famous works by Abdullah Hussain include Nadaar log, Bagh, Qayd, and many more.
After battling blood cancer for several years, Abdullah Hussain left us on 4th July 2015. Although we slowly drifted apart from Urdu and Urdu literature, Abdullah Hussain’s voice and words will always be missed. Udaas Naslein will always remain arguably one of the best books ever written in Urdu, and Abdullah Hussain will always remain one of the best writers this land ever gave birth to. May his soul rest in peace and harmony.
This blog has been penned by Miss Rida Fareed Baloch.