A Book A Week Challenge – Week 40

Abdullah Hussain was one of the pioneers who narrated stories that were set in the backdrop of Indian Independence. His most critically acclaimed Udaas Naslein (1963), later translated as The Weary Generations, from Urdu to English by the author himself thirty years later in 1999.  The Urdu version of the book received Adamjee Award.

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Book #: 40

Title: The Weary Generations” by Abdullah Hussain

Pages: 427

Set in the backdrop of Indian Independence, the book actively tracks the lifetime of a young boy, Naim Beg. But, it takes no particular attention to realize what we are looking at what, not just random thoughts and emotions of a young boy but the transformation of a country going through its most critical phase of history from the POV of a young boy. The choice of a young boy at the helm of it had a lot to do with the ideology – what you sow is what you reap. What he is after many years is what he experienced and witnessed years earlier.

The book transitions itself into multiple phases but can be grouped together into three specific ones: the early days of undivided Punjab where the issues of caste and feudalistic society were dealt with – this is the probably the most realistic account of the society I have read so far. All the content I read about the feudalistic system puts the sufferings of lower section at its core, not a bad thing, but leaves out a holistic view of existing conditions during those times.

A man on horseback, holding aloft a leaking jar of honey in his hand, had staked a large tract of land and laid claim on it.

Even though, this is not a new thing in Indian culture and mythology, the acclaimed Ashwamedham, the famous yaga conducted by Indian kings was no different to this.

The World War had a huge role to play in Indian history, much more than it was often regarded to. During my early days of education, I saw no connection between the WWI and Indian Independence movement, maybe I was not as intelligent enough to draw the connections between the academic history curriculum, which never blended two major events for us. The Weary Generations takes a much closer look at how the WWI influenced the youth of India back in the day.

The hero is an idealist; he was often called upon by his inner sense of honor and duty. He was born in the system where class identities play a huge role in how they educated themselves, not academically but to morally. He wants to break the shackles that restricted him when he was merely a son of a lazy, good for nothing, relying on their reputation kind of father, whose major concern was never being humiliated by the lender or landlord. He was representative of a generation that accepted the class based system as its norm. But, the next generation, the self-motivated and exposed to the world events, would not hold back.

Despite this enthusiasm, idealism and high-spiritedness, Naim Beg never comes close to being a fulfilled hero. When he returns from the war, what he earns is not just a wooden hand after he lost it during it, but a man that was cleansed of his middle-class inhibitions. This time it is the family’s turn to set up the system in which they struggled for existence. Naim was offered land as an appreciation for his efforts in the war, but his father uses it to regain the lost reputation of the family as being landlords.

The third aspect is the beautiful love story between Naim and Azra. Its roots start even before they were born, with the friendship between Agha and Beg families. Though there was never any dialogue that represents that they want their kids to get married, but the very first meeting of Naim and Azra has a charm around it. The tension between them just starts and it doesn’t even feel awkward- here is where the genius of Abdullah’s book lies.

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The historical narration is a view that was told to us many times, in whatever form or accuracy that was exposed to us, but we have some view of it. But, the transformation of a young love story through the lives of two innocent children by the events that are way too bigger than them to even comprehend. The love and affection are true but the “marriage” is a completely different beast to control.

The young boy, an idealist, struggling to break the class struggles, not gets married to a landlord and his radicalism is transformed. He is now a part of a committee against Jalianwala Bagh massacre, he now makes speeches on public platforms and gets arrested. Here is where the book breaks from its basic genre of being a historical fiction to a psychological thriller. Naim experience tough times to mend his inner conflicts, often breaking down and starts to portray an alter ego in the form of Dr. Ansari. Then come the imminent partition and both the families agrees to move to the newly formed country. But, he stays back, letting his love to go and he himself joins the refugee camp.

Naim is very close and yet very distant from being an idealistic hero that we were waiting for all through the book but he never arrives. He is played around, first by the feudalistic system, then by the ruling government, then by the army, then by his love and finally by his own self.

Abdullah Hussain’s “The Weary Generations”, probably might not give historical references in the standard notation but delivers an emotional roller coaster ride of an individual fighting his own internal demons that felt monstrous than the external events that instilled fear in everyone.

Cover Image Source: Harper Collins India. 

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