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Authors: Abdullah Hussein

The Weary Generations

BOOK: The Weary Generations
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‘Altogether a brilliant work: one of the great fictional portrayals of the Raj and a sobering, very moving human document.'

Kirkus Reviews,

‘Hussein is a wonderful storyteller … the narrative moves at an exciting pace, with its brief, unusual lives of the socially insignificant. These vignettes also evoke the volatility and violence of the last days of British India … the novel is a grim reminder that little has changed in the Indian sub-continent: tyranny continues to prevail and Naim's struggle is repeated, generation after generation, by the weary generations, by the inheritors of British India's troubled legacy.'

Literary Review

‘His decision to recast himself in English may be an attempt to create a new work, relevant to our times, which universal in its particularity, forces us to look back and remember. The First World war in which Naim loses an arm is powerfully evoked … Hussein's strength lies in the rich, sombre depiction of war, nationalist upheaval and exodus. The author has the ability to remind us, by turning this century's raw and agonizing events into moments of collective epiphany, that history and story are in many languages the same thing.'

Times Literary Supplement


Published ahead of Paul Scott's
Raj Quartet
and long before
Midnight's Children,
Abdullah Hussein's ambitious saga of social struggle
The Weary Generations
was a bestseller in Urdu. Published in 1963 and now beyond its 40th edition, it has never been out of print. A vivid depiction of the widespread disillusionment and seismic upheavals of the Partition era that lead to the creation of Pakistan and Bangladesh, there has never been a more opportune time to discover one of the most important writings about the post-colonial trauma in the region.

Although it has appeared in translation in several Indian languages as well as Chinese, it wasn't until 1999 that it first appeared in English, when the author's translation was published in hardback in the UK by Peter Owen to major critical acclaim, and subsequently by HarperCollins in India.

Naim, son of a peasant, marries Azra, the daughter of a rich landowner. Fighting for the British during the First World War he loses an arm. Invalided home, he becomes angered at the subjugation of his countrymen under the Raj and aligns himself with the opposition. His ideals are swept away after Independence in 1947 when he realises that, as Muslims, his family is no longer safe in their Indian home and that they must migrate to the newly created Pakistan.

This edition has never been more timely and its significance more apparent. Regarded as one of the half-dozen most influential novels dealing with Partition or post-colonial malaise, it is an immensely powerful novel in its own right and is essential reading for English language readers seeking to comprehend the historical origins of the tensions in the Indian sub-continent.

For my grandson
Ali Bahadur

Acknowledgements are due to Dr Amer Sarfraz and Zahoor Ahmad Khan who gave help with computer work in the production of this book.


And [the people] shall look into the earth; and behold trouble and darkness; dimness of anguish; and they shall be driven to darkness.



horseback, holding aloft a leaking jar of honey in his hand, had staked out a large tract of land and laid claim to it. In the middle of this expanse he, Roshan Ali Khan, had founded a village and called it Roshan Pur after himself. In all these years, the village had not grown beyond a hundred dwellings, the houses leaning, as if for mutual support, against each other, sharing walls and roofs of grey, uneven mud dug out of the earth. Narrow dirt paths led to the village from several directions, criss-crossing each other at unnatural angles, formed not by deliberate effort but as a result of the natural course of journeys undertaken by the villagers each day between the houses and the land they tilled. A stranger travelling on these paths would often get confused and, bypassing his destination altogether, end up in the wrong village. But the inhabitants of the ‘wrong village', long used to errant travellers, would cheerfully offer him a pot of lassi and a cot to rest his weary back on before putting him back on the right track. Most of the time the paths lay quietly baking under the harsh sun, their belligerence showing only when an ikka or a bullock-cart passed over them, its wheels crushing the earth, which billowed upwards in the form of a dust cloud that hung forever in the still air, stinging the faces and eyes of men and women like hot needles.

Prior to the laying of the railway line that connected the town of Rani Pur to Delhi on one side and cities to the north on the other in the late sixties, years before even the ‘Mutiny' that took place in 1857, it was already a crossroads for travellers in these parts thanks to the location it occupied right on the main road, the ancient, wide dirt track that ran for hundreds of miles from the south to the north of the country. Many paths, of different widths and angularity, proceeded from the town, leading to the two hundred outlying villages in the surrounding country. Taking one of these paths, you rode out, or walked, westwards to Roshan Pur. Outside
each village that lay on the way, you met with dogs. Regarding every passer-by as an invader, the dogs, ill-fed and ill-tempered, stirred from their slumber and, keeping their distance, uttered barks of terrible ferocity. Some among the travellers would stop and bark back or throw stones at them, making the beasts all the more persistent in their vociferous attack, while others who knew the habits of these animals and wished not to be diverted into erring on the muddled paths ignored the dogs and passed by. Travelling thus for full fourteen miles, you reached Roshan Pur unharmed, although not uncovered by layers of thin dust from head to foot. The population of the village was divided into two communities of roughly equal size: the Muslims and the Sikhs. For purposes of land administration and taxes the village was part of UP, short for the United Provinces, although its actual location was a matter of dispute and folklore. Harnam Singh, head of the Sikhs, claimed that the village in fact lay within the bounds of the province of the Punjab, while Ahmed Din, the oldest resident and chief of the Muslims, maintained that it was indeed part of UP. It was a topic of ongoing argument, frequently contested by the two sides in the village chopal, more by way of passing time of an evening than as a point of principle. It may, however, be safely assumed that the settlement lay at some undefined spot on the very border of the two provinces.

No more than sixty years having passed since the settlement, and thirty from the time the canal was dug that now irrigated the lands, the old men who came to till the lands as young lads were still alive. Their sons and grandsons now working the land, as share-croppers or farm labourers just as their fathers had done, for Roshan Ali Khan, the owner, known simply as ‘Roshan Agha', a title he had inherited from his late father, the original Roshan Ali Khan I. Roshan Agha lived in a large house in Delhi and seldom visited the village. The story of the beginnings of the village was thus young and still fresh in the memory of the first tillers of the wilderness. The account of it heard from the mouth of Ahmed Din was accepted by all as true. It went like this: at the time of the ‘Mutiny', one Roshan Ali was a clerk in the District Collector's office in Rohtak. Being ‘Middle Pass', he was considered an educated member of his small community. He lived in an inner mohalla of the old city with his mother, a wife and infant son. As the armed Indian troops rose up against their British officers, the population was seized by a sense of terror. People gathered in their mohallas, keeping their ears pricked all day for rumours coming from the direction of the cantonment. In the evening of that day, Roshan Ali was returning from the street next to his after a visit of condolence to the family of a friend who had been killed in
an accident. As he emerged from the house of the deceased, Roshan Ali saw a dark figure running up the street. Suddenly, it stumbled and fell. Roshan Ali went up to look. Night had fallen and all that he could make out was that it was a man who had wrapped himself up in a blanket. Thinking that it was some poor creature come to the end of his tether, Roshan Ali, a strong man of thirty, gathered up the fellow in his arms, flung him on his shoulder and carried him home. As he lowered the man on to a bed, Roshan Ali saw that it was a fair-haired white man in a British officer's uniform, a revolver in its holster tied to his belt at the waist and his uniform soaked in blood. Roshan Ali's own clothes, he now saw, were spattered with spots of blood. His mother and wife started weeping. Roshan Ali bade them to be silent and give him help in tending to the wounded man. The women handed him towels and brought tubfulls of water and clean clothes, but beyond that they would do nothing for the ‘farangi'. Indeed they would not show their bare faces near the man, covering themselves with thick cloth with only the eyes showing through slits, although the sick man was unconscious. Roshan Ali had to remove the man's uniform, clean the long breast wound inflicted with a sharp object, although luckily not too deep, and wrap a sheet of cotton tightly round his chest to stop the bleeding, all on his own. Then he dressed the man in his own suit of white cotton shalwar-kameez. After he was finished, Roshan Ali covered the log-like but still breathing body with a fresh blanket and slipped the revolver under the pillow. He had hardly had the time to change his own clothes and hide them, along with the uniform of the white man, who had not gained consciousness, in a large trunk under many old clothes before Roshan Ali heard a commotion out in the street, followed quickly by a fierce knocking at his door.

What he saw through a crack in a side window made Roshan Ali's blood run cold. There were a dozen Indian sipahis, armed with rifles and daggers. One of them, who was holding a hurricane lantern in his hand, was pointing to the trail of blood that led to the house. The soldiers were talking of breaking the door down. Roshan Ali could not find the energy even to go and put objects against the door to stop it opening. He stood transfixed, knowing the futility of such efforts in the face of twelve murderous soldiers. At that moment, five men, the oldest in the street – two Muslim, two Hindu and a Sikh – appeared out of their houses and cautiously, fearfully approached the mob, coming within talking distance just as rifle butts began to fall on Roshan Ali's door. The soldiers stopped. What they told the old men was this: a farangi officer had broken out of
the mutineers' lines and, shooting down four Indian sipahis and suffering a sword wound in return, had managed to escape. He was pursued, and the trail of blood from his wound entered this house. If the farangi officer was not handed over to them, said the soldiers, they would break the door down and set fire to the house. The elders, fearing that the whole street would go up in flames, took their heavy turbans off their heads and, placing them at the angry soldiers' feet, begged them to stay their hands while they tried to get the culprit out of the house.

From this point on, the story line got snarled; rather, it grew into several different strands. One version was that Roshan Ali, brave man that he was, stood his ground and said he would rather lay down his life than betray a man who had taken refuge in his house; another that Roshan Ali had dug a hole in the ground of the small courtyard in the back of the house while the negotiations were going on outside and ‘buried' the wounded man in it by covering him loosely with bricks from the courtyard, upon which the door of the house was opened and the soldiers failed to find their quarry. Yet a third version, perhaps the least credible, told how Roshan Ali flung the unconscious white officer on his shoulder once again, took the revolver in his hand and, shooting ahead of him, fought his way out to the safety of the cantonment with his charge. All versions sought, however, to reinforce Roshan Ali's virtue and provide anew a focus that would take the story forward.

BOOK: The Weary Generations
9.66Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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