Literary Notes: Ali Abbas Hussaini: the early progressive fiction writer
ONE of the Urdu short-story writers who began writing quite early and penned some very fine stories was Ali Abbas Hussaini, albeit forgotten too soon. He was a short-story writer, novelist, playwright, translator, critic and academic.
Hussaini’s short stories had a streak of progressive thoughts even before the formal foundation of Progressive Writers’ Movement was laid in India in 1936. His first story titled ‘Pazhmurda kaliyaan’ was published in 1917, when he was just 20. With the passage of time he became a prominent short-story writer though his early writings did not show much promise as he was under the influence of romanticism, which was the predominant trend in Urdu literature in the early two decades of the 20th century. Almost half the short stories included in Baasi phool, his first collection of short stories, are reminiscent of that early era of his literary career, marked by idealism and romanticism.
A little before the advent of progressive literary trends in Urdu literature, say in late 1920s and early 1930s, Ali Abbas Hussaini’s art took a turn and in ‘Adaalat’, his short story written in 1929, showed signs of progressive and Marxist leanings. And, just to remind you, Angaare, the first collection of Urdu short stories with Marxist and progressive ideas, landed on the calm and serene literary scene with a bang three years later: 1932. The founding session of India’s Progressive Writers’ Movement was still four years away as it was formally convened in 1936.
A marked tendency in Hussaini’s short stories is satire. He writes either in a satirical style or the theme of the story is based on an implicit satirical thought. Though not all of his short stories have satirical ideas neither is he a satirist in true sense of the word, sometimes he is too cynical and his wit becomes too acerbic, especially when deriding the ills of feudalism and capitalism. His wit shines, too, but is soon clouded by the cynical mood.
What sets Ali Abbas Hussaini apart from his contemporaries is his milieu: mostly rural, portraying the villages where poverty and inequality are the most dominant features. This makes Hussaini stand out among the few writers of Urdu who consciously tried to depict life in our villages and rural areas that have been trailing behind for centuries. It is very unfortunate that most of our literature is set in city life as most of our writers belonged to cities.
Those few ones who depicted rural life in Urdu literature are: Munshi Premchand, Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi, Qurratulain Hyder, Qazi Abdus Sattar, Jameela Hashmi, Abdullah Hussain, Balwant Singh, Abul Fazl Siddiqi and some others. Ali Abbas Hussaini is included in that exclusive literary club of Urdu.
In his book Hamra gaaon aur doosre afsane almost all the short stories relate to rural areas and villages. The book has glimpses of the coarse and uncouth manners of villagers as well as the rustic Urdu spoken in UP’s villages, though the undertone is basically sympathetic. But when it comes to independence — almost always referred to as ‘partition’ by the progressives — his short story ‘Aik maan ke do bachche’, alluding to Hindus and Muslims, simply offers the oft-repeated formula, totally ignoring the massacre, brunt of which mostly Muslims had to bear.
Syed Ali Abbas Hussaini was born on Feb 3, 1897, in a village named Para, district of Ghazipur, UP, India. Hussaini’s paternal uncle took him to Patna with a view of better schooling. But he fell ill and was brought to Allahabad from where he did his matriculation. He did his intermediate from Lucknow and BA in 1919 from Canning College, Lucknow, writes Dr Tehmeena Akhter in her book Ali Abbas Hussaini: Hayat aur adabi karname. Hussaini joined the education department and devoted rest of his life to teaching. In 1924, Hussaini did his MA as an external candidate.
Later on, he taught at Government College, Lucknow, and retired in 1954 as principal.
His other collections of short stories include Mela ghoomni, Kuchh hansee nahin hai and Rafeeq-i-tanhaai. Hakeem Baana is a humorous novel. His other novels are Shayad ke bahar aai and Nadiya kinare. Ali Abbas Hussaini was a critic too and his book Urdu novel ki tareekh aur tanqeed is a critique and history of Urdu novel. Nauratan is a collection of one-act plays.
Ali Abbas Hussaini’s contribution to Urdu short story is quite significant but many critics and even researchers have ignored him. According to Malik Ram, Ali Abbas Hussaini died in Lucknow on Sept 27, 1969.