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Abdullah Hussain – Personal remembrances …Fakhar Zaman

 It was a sizzling, sweltering early afternoon of June in late 60s. I was posted in Gujranwala as District Officer of population welfare. My office air conditioner had gone kaput and a mechanic was fiddling with it. I was engrossed in some file, when suddenly a voice struck my ears; Hello Fakhar, I looked up and to my pleasant surprise it was Muhammad Khan. I briskly got up from my chair and half circled the office table and we had a warm embrace. After the exchange of pleasantries I asked him where he had been all these years.  He replied that he had a little stint in cement factory and later left for Canada for advance study in industrial chemistry and now returned to Dandot Cement Factory. We talked about Gujrat, Zamindar College and the faculty there. Then he suddenly asked me as to what I had been writing since, I told him that some Urdu poetry, some articles in English and English, Urdu Monthly which were folded by Ayub’s Regime. Then I told him that lately I had read a Novel namely “Udaas Naslain” by some Abdullah Hussain; an epic novel, history retold, pains and pangs revisited. Muhammad Khan smiled shyly and said “I am Abdullah Hussain”. It was like I had touched a live wire. “But I didn’t know that you were in the writing line but why did you change your name”. He again smiled and said “my publisher asked me to change it infact he suggested this name Abdullah Hussain, telling me that there is a dacoit by the name of “Muhammad Khan Dakku”. Saying this he burst into his usual loud laughter. We talked for a long time on different issues, political, social and personal and he departed with the promise to see me again. Afterwards I shifted to Lahore and rented a house in Gulberg. He was mostly in Faisalabad because of his wife, our amiable Bhabhi Dr. Farhat. He occasionally visited Lahore and invariably met me. We used to have memorable evenings together, listening to music and entering into polemics on various national and international issues. The usual group of my friends who used to be present were Mustansar Tarar, Riaz Cheema, Mushtaq Butt, Dil Nawaz Dil, Hussain Shahid, Muhammad Nisar Hussain and Zahur Iqbal. Meanwhile I shifted to my house in Model Town and to my delight he used to come and stay at his nephew’s place which was situated in our street and we spent many afternoons and evenings together, alone and with friends.
Those days I got busy in politics as I had joined PPP. Then I got a letter from him one day that he was in London. I visited him 3-4 times in 80s and had the honor to stay with him and enjoy his wonderful company in London. Muhammad Khan had a brilliant sense of humour and was a very knowledgeable man and had disarming command over English language. Once in London he had a hot argument with the renowned orientalist Dr. Ann Mary Schimmel in a function when he told her that she was a brilliant scholar and it was not expected from her to visit Pakistan and had long meetings with General Zia Ul Haq. He said this gave credibility to a usurper. Dr. Shimmel, naturally didn’t like it and tried to defend her. I am citing this in order to show that our friend Muhammad Khan was a great democrat, liberal, secularist, progressive and a humanist. He never minced words, neither compromised his integrity like a caboodle of opportunist writers who still abound the realm of literature. He hated genuflection of any type to the establishment and to the un-democratic rulers.
A few years back I asked him to visit Gujrat because he had not been there since he left the city long back. He was very thrilled and we went there stayed in my house and visited his ancestral home. He went inside and then upstairs, had a talk with the occupants and then he came out, I heard his voice choked with emotions. I showed him a part of road infront of my house where I used to play hockey and cricket with school fellows. He would come cycling from the adjacent mohalla paddling with heals as he could hardly adjust himself because of his tall height. He would look askance at us give a broad smile and sped to his ancestral land bordering on Gujrat city. Two years back we again went to Gujrat to participate in an evening at the Gujrat University on the invitation of our friend V.C Dr. Nizamuddin. He spoke to the students and the faculty of the university in his typical frankness, humility and humour. The students were thrilled by his presence because he was not only a great writer but also a son of the soil.
When I was Chairman Pakistan Academy of Letters in 1995, I invited him to visit the academy. He was kind enough not only to visit it but also decided to stay there for a longer time in the academy rest house because he wanted to write his Novel “Nadar Log” in complete solitude. He used to write day and night and when he wanted to have a respite he used to come in my office for a cup of coffee and chat. My friend Tariq Khurshid who got pride of performance award for his book “Su-e-Dar”, a superb political autobiography and had spent more than eight years in Jail during Zia ul Haq period. He had gone to Libya and subsequently sentenced by military court and sent to Attock fort, used to have long discussions with Muhammad Khan about his experiences.
I took a delegation of writers to China then, which included Muhammad Khan, Khalida Asghar, Fehmida Riaz, Ata Shad and Professor Ghulam Mustafa. He had long discussions with Chinese writers union and other Chinese writers on world literature, Chinese literature and Pakistani Literature. He was accorded a warm welcome by Chinese writers because they had read his novel into Chinese language. When we returned to Islamabad, I got a call from our UNESCO ambassador, Khwaja Shahid Hussain that UNESCO wanted a representative book from Pakistan to be published by them. I sent “Udaas Naslain” to which Khwaja Sahab told me that they will have it translated into English and publish it. I told Muhammad Khan and he said he himself would like to translate the novel into English, which he did perfectly. The novel was published by London based publisher Peter Owen in collaboration with UNESCO under the title “The eary Generations”.
In 2004, WPC was invited by the Haryana Chief Minister O.P. Chautala to bring a large delegation. I asked Muhammad Khan to accompany us because that would have given more respectability to the delegation. He readily agreed. We spent a few days in Kurukshetra (the place of Mahabharat War) attending the conference. From there, we went to Delhi together and stayed in Haryana House. I remember on our way when we were half way to Delhi, I mentioned to him that my nephew was facing difficulty in getting Canadian visa, to which he said that he would talk to his illustrious daughter Noor since she could do something in Islamabad. We parked the SUV infront of a PCO and he talked to Noor in Islamabad. I was greatly impressed by his love and affection which has always been the emblem of his personality. I remember once he wrote me a letter from London, which is my precious
possession, that had I had a younger brother I would have wished him to be like you.
WPC organized a big international conference on peace in Lahore in December 2013 and he was our honored guest. The speech on the subject of “Writers and peace” he made a memorable speech. In February this year, I invited him to our National Punjabi Conference. He promised to come despite the fact he was not keeping good health. In his speech, he said that he was proud to be a Punjabi, his mother tongue was Punjabi and he wished that he could write some short story or novel in Punjabi. He further stressed on the Punjabi writers to extricate themselves from the quagmire of purism and usage of unfamiliar, archaic words. He exhorted the audience that in order to grapple with the middle class resistance towards Punjabi we had to write such language which is akin to our daily parlance.
About two weeks before his eternal departure, I rang him and he told me the nature of his illness. Naturally, I was very worried because our friendship sprawled on many decades. I wanted to meet him to assuage him in his malaise but time would not allow it. Muhammad Khan, a writer par excellence, the greatest living Urdu writer in the subcontinent was no more. The writer who had influenced the generation after generation was a doyen of literati. To me Muhammad Khan but Abdullah Hussain to rest of the world, will live forever as the identity of Urdu literature and a landmark of humanism, tolerance, friendship and liberalism.
(Fakhar Zaman is a former Minister, Senator and Chairman of Acedemey of Letters, he can be reached at fakharzaman21@gmail.com)

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