“The Great American Novel” is a concept that every American novelist aspires to at one point or the other. Over the years everyone from Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby to Salinger’s Catcher in The Rye have been named as the “Great American Novel” of their times. Although we do not have a similar concept for Urdu literature, we can, however, find the Great Urdu Novel by applying the same standards to those written in Urdu.

The essence of the Great Urdu Novel would be that it is representative of the society at the time it was published and reflects the state, culture, and perspective of the common citizen of the time. Once you are clear about this concept, only two novels fulfil these standards: Udaas Naslein and Nadaar Log. The epic masterpieces by Abdullah Hussain take you on a journey through history, through the eyes of a common man. A journey that you will never forget.

It brings tears to my eyes to accept that Abdullah Hussain has left us, and with him, we have lost the Great Pakistani Novelist. For, it wasn’t just his novels that reflected our society; everything he wrote was pure Pakistan. It was Pakistan without any veils, without the magic of doublespeak and without the “Behtar Qaimi Mafad”. Nothing kept him from telling the truth as it was.

Abdullah Hussain’s career started with his short story, “Nadi” and the novel Udaas Naslein, and it only went up from there. Through the eyes of Salim, Hussain gave us an unmatched view of the First World War and how it affected the generations that fought in it from the subcontinent area. The theme of truth was especially apparent and recurs in his entire body of work. He criticized the brutal disappearances and torture tactics used by the cruel regimes in “Bagh” and laid bare the wounds of the society in his short story collection, “Nashaib”.

I remember listening to him in Lahore where he wanted to ask the administration of the festival, how come they have started inviting us, "servants" in these festivals. He told us about his meeting with a youngster on his way to Lahore who was answering all of his questions in English and when Abdullah Hussain asked him whether he ever speaks Urdu or not. The kid replied, "Yes, with servants."

Abdullah Hussain went through the typical censorship laws by the establishment twice. Once when Nawab of Kalabagh decided to ban Udaas Naslein on the report of his junior that the novel had moral flaws, but before he could do that Field Marshal Ayub Khan, on the advice of Writers’ Guild, announced the once prestigious Adam Ji Award for the novel. It was then censored by the Zia regime when some lines in his novel Baagh were dubbed “anti-God”.

“After the (Adam Ji) award ceremony, Ayub Khan called me and after appreciating my writing advised me to write some ‘Qaumi novel. He said you should write some good moral stories...” Abdullah Hussain said.

Some portions of the Hamoodur Rehman Commission report on atrocities committed by the army in 1971 were incorporated in his novel ‘Nadar Log’ which were supplied to him by some of his friends in India where the report was partly published. But we denied it then and we are still in a denial mode.

He also wrote about Operation Gibraltar in novel ‘Baagh’ when the state was not admitting it, adding that had it happened in the West the novelist would have been much lauded for showing such courage.

Professor Karrar said that “The best death is the kind when you die while you’re still alive”. In fact, Abdullah Hussain had died a long time ago and all of us were complicit in his murder – from the people who thought that Urdu is the language of “servants” to people who never gave any importance to Urdu literature. The people who forgot every lesson history taught us and the people who took the self-obsessed bureaucrat and his clan as the be-all and end-all of Urdu literature.

And so it comes to pass that the last great Urdu novelist is dead and we are cursed with Umera Ahmad and the descendants of the Cult of Deputy Commissioner Jhang Mr. Q. U. Shahab. I hope that the day will come when our generation, or the one after us, will dust off these last great Urdu novels and finally realize what led to our downfall. Maybe then, there will be a revival of Urdu literature. I hope that there is yet another Abdullah Hussain just waiting to be published in our midst. I can only hope.