Pakistan’s literary landscape is dotted with conformists and sycophants, who even when they wrote shimmering prose, did not shy away from siding with conservatism; enjoying state patronage and pelf; stooping to collaborate with the elite and dictator of the day. Yet our benighted land has also produced its fair share of literary rebels. One of our towering intellects, who maintained a steady distance from all power and authority or membership of any ideological camp, and is hardly celebrated at literary festivals anymore, passed away just two years ago. His name was Abdullah Hussein. Born as the only son in the family for the last seven generations to his father’s fourth wife, young Hussein was raised in relative comfort in a crusty feudal family, which nevertheless must have provided raw material for the searing depictions of a dying system in his masterpieces like Udas Naslein, Nadaar Log and Qaid. What began as a straightforward love story became a sprawling saga of the partition of India across generations and classes, presciently titled Udas Naslein, later translated by himself as The Weary Generations. Usually bracketed as one of the quintessential partition novels, it is also a love letter to rural, rustic Punjab, with lovingly elaborate depictions of the region’s customs and traditions, both jovial — racing bullocks and the myriad ceremonies associated with harvesting, sowing and cutting of crops — and brutal: boar-hunting and a ‘turban ceremony’ organised in honour of the lifter(s) of a rival’s animals, in the wake of which retribution from the opposition can often be painful. The novel is also a reliable and unmatched catalogue of some of our seminal national historical events which are taught as little more than footnotes in the Pakistani curriculum, like the first of the two great world wars and the effects it has on men; the haunting six-page description of the 1919 Jallianwala Bagh massacre; and the Qissa Khwani Bazaar massacre in 1930; and the near-universal protests against the arrival of the Simon Commission in India. The novel though holds its own not only as a chronicle of the ‘marginally happier days’ of independence, but also presciently, the predatory class which was to take over immediately afterwards. If Hussein’s most well-known novel does not have a strong female character to partner the memorable protagonist Naim, one of his least well-known novels has given us perhaps his most powerful female heroine — or anti-heroine — or ‘Rajjo Mir’, in his 1989 novella Qaid (captivity). In a hundred-odd pages, Hussein summarises what Zia gifted to Pakistan women during and after his regime — shame, humiliation, torture, punishment and a raft of laws against them which even successive democratic governments have been loath to change or repeal. It is because of the persistence of these anti-women laws and patriarchal norms that courageous women like Qandeel Baloch continue to pay the price for incidents of so-called ‘honour-killings’. I found Qaid to be a more powerful dissection of patriarchy and the toxic nexus between religion and politics than another novel, written in the same period of dictatorship, but in English, and much more publicised than Qaid, namely Salman Rushdie’s Shame (1983), shortlisted for the prestigious Booker Prize that year. For this writer, Rajjo Mir’s acts of vengeance in retaliation for her murdered newborn infant, for which she sacrificed her own life spoke and still continue to speak for a whole generation of Pakistani women battered by the system rather than the crude way Rushdie uses the crutches of magic realism to make his Sufiya Zinobia Hyder the aggressor in Shame. It is because of the persistence of Zia’s anti-women laws and patriarchal norms that courageous women like Qandeel Baloch continue to pay the price in so-called incidents of ‘honour-killings’ In Qaid, Rajjo’s dirge below is not just a requiem for her own benighted fate: “Our lot is born with an inferiority complex. Someone touches us and we begin to look at others with embarrassment. Men declare the arrival of facial hair to the world with pride. The growth of even a single hair on our faces makes us bend our heads with shame. When our breasts grow, we bend our heads with shame. When menstrual blood issues, we bend with shame. When the wedding night passes, we never recover from its shame. What could be a greater poverty than that?” The 70th anniversary of the partition of colonial India has already given new life to Udaas Naslein and its recently-reissued English variant. It is hoped that the Pakistan Academy of Letter’s welcome decision to commission an English translation of Hussein’s favourite among his own novels Baagh will rescue Abdullah Hussein’s unrivalled corpus of work from the clutches of self-serving and pompous literary critics. The writer is a translator based in Lahore. A past recipient of a prestigious 2013-2014 Charles Wallace Trust Fellowship at the University of Bradford in the UK, awarded for his interpretive and translation work on the non-fiction of Saadat Hasan Manto, he is presently working on the English translation of Abdullah Hussein’s novel ‘Qaid’ and has recently reviewed Hussein’s last book ‘Faraib’ for The Friday Times. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org Published in Daily Times, July 4th , 2017.