Pakistani writer remembers time spent in Indian town

New Delhi: “We never thought we would never be able to return to the places of our birth”, is how veteran Pakistani writer Intezar Hussain describes the sentiment of his family as it joined many others in fleeing the partition riots from a mofussil town in Uttar Pradesh.

In 1947, the sentiment was shared by millions on both sides of the border.  The story of the tearing apart of the Indian subcontinent is the story of Hussain’s life, who at 89, has seen it all – the breaking up of families, lively cities turning into ghost towns overnight and entire ‘mohallahs’ queueing up to catch a train to Pakistan, never to return.

The Urdu writer whose writing automatically acquired the themes of displacement and nostalgia, kept longing for yearsto return, at least once to his childhood home in Dibai in Bulandshahar district of UP.

Some of Hussain’s prominent works  are ‘Hindustan Se Aakhri Khat’, ‘Basti’, and ‘Wo Jo Kho Gaye’. Primarily a shortstory writer, Husaain has also written some widely read novels.

“Nobody had imagined even in their wildest of dreams that returning to their own towns would become next to impossible,that it would depend on passports and visas – visas that would never materialise,” says Hussain.

For him, the desire he had nursed for decades came true some years back when he was invited on Prem Chand scholarshipto visit the towns and cities he wished to see in India and write about.

The pleasure of returning to the town he spent his formative years in, the simultaneous joy and pain of seeing his childhood home, now inhabited by a family who had purchased it from his cousin, became his latest book.

“I reconciled to the changed realities by telling myself that the place had to change, it was inevitable,” Hussain, who is in New Delhi to attend a seminar on Saadat Hassan Manto starting today, told PTI in an interview here.

“I had left here not only my childhood, my youth, but also the memories of my Hindu friends, teachers. I still meet some of my friends whenever I come back,” he said.

On his lips rests permanently a prayer for normalisation of ties between the two countries but he fears the sharks and the hawks on both sides, who he feels will not let things fall in place.”There are people in both countries who do not want relations to improve,” he says ruefully.

“I hope the improvement that has recently begun keeps moving in the right direction,” he says while talking about the re-establishment of dialogue and agreement on visas.
While he still finds himself leaning on hope while talking about Indo-Pak ties, he is less upbeat about the situation in his country.

Sixty years back when the new-born country was picking up pieces to build a new nation, things were bad but hope and inspiration was still on their side.”In my country, the situation is very painful. I feel the first decade was tumultuous but there was a beauty of dreams and hopes of establishing a new nation from scratch. There were ideals our leaders had preached.”

“Those hopes have now run their course,” he says as he talks about the upheavals back home.  While he detests the growth of radical elements and groups in Pakistan that have tried to force their views on the society including women, Hussain is optimistic about the women of Pakistan.”Pakistani women today are acquiring education like never before. They are running their own movement, and in their writings I see a force that is remarkable,” he says.