The extra eight hours that worked for Abdullah Hussain | Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Pakistan Press Foundation

The extra eight hours that worked for Abdullah Hussain

Anil Datta

Karachi: The Arts Council was host to an enlivening evening on Monday with nationally famed Lahore-based novelist Abdullah Hussain who was in town in connection with the 4th Karachi Literature Festival.

Addressing a compact gathering, Hussain talked about his metamorphosis into a novelist. The programme was compered by Wusatullah Khan of the BBC Karachi.Hussain said that what led him into writing was the unwanted solitude. He said he was working for a cement factory at Dandot in the northwest of Punjab.

They had an eight-hour working day there. The other eight hours were devoted to sleep. And one had nothing to do in the remaining eight hours, and that was a real issue: utilising those eight hours.

So, he said, he started writing at random, with no particular direction. However, he added, in due course, a certain story began to crystallise in his mind.

“This got me so involved that I started working on the novel in earnest. I got involved in lots of research, met and interviewed people who were either eyewitness to the events that were to form the core of my novel, or had firsthand account of things,” he said.He said that this took him on a train journey to the district of Gujrat where he disembarked at a small branch line railway station.

The only conveyance available there was the tonga. He hailed one and headed for the house of a World War I veteran, Subedar Khudadad Khan, who had the singular distinction of being the only winner of Britain’s highest military award, the Victoria Cross.

He had to hoof down the last leg of the journey through the fields, as there was not even an unmetalled road leading to the Subedar’s house.He met the Subedar, they conversed for a long time, and even though the Subedar was at most semiliterate, he had a collection of very authentic works on the First World War.

He interviewed Khan in-depth about the war and borrowed some of the books to read. This led him to weave a plot of a love story in the small town in France where Khan saw action that was to get him that unparalleled distinction.

The novel was further extended to include the scenario of the partition of the subcontinent and the trials and tribulations of those who had to leave their hearth and home for an unknown future.

In time, this very novel, ‘Udas Naslain’ (dejected generations), came to be a hot-selling thing and catapulted Hussain to fame as a novelist.The novel was even translated into English while he was resident in England and received very flattering reviews from critics, said Hussain. He has three other major novels to his credit.

Recounting his past, he spoke nostalgically of his association with Marxist and other progressive groups in the days of his youth in Lahore.He said that after having lived in England for a long time, he found the intellectual atmosphere stifling on his return to his homeland.Arts Council President Ahmed Shah said Hussain had been his mentor in the sphere of novel and literature. The talk was followed by a question-answer session.

Source: The News

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