The Past is Finally Here

Intizar Hussain, aged 92, passed away today. For all of Pakistan’s history, Husain remained a voice of hope, loss, reportage, critique, renunciation, vexation. I grew up reading his novels and short stories. When I discovered his columns and his critical writing, I also discovered the particular tension between re-framing past hopes with current despair.

Professor Memon has a fine article discussing Husain’s fiction here and I quote from it to give you a sense of his artistic voice:

This corresponds fairly closely to my own descriptive taxonomy of Husain’s work, which I see, rather, in terms of a metaphor of journey. It starts with the realisation that while something has grievously gone wrong, something else, with abundant creative possibilities, has also been gained. I suggest a thematic triad to delineate the three stages of that journey as: (1) reclamation of memory, some initial success in this project, but, ultimately, failure, leading to (2) man’s moral perversion and fall, resulting in (3) the extinction of all the creative principle in life.

There is a lot to say, and others will say, about Husain’s extraordinary body of work. There is a need to archive his memories and writings. Yet, what one can and ought to say at this moment is that 1947 is indeed becoming the past for South Asia. The generation that not only witnessed it but dealt with its consequences in their words, deeds and thoughts, is leaving. Our understanding of nationalism and our engagement with the rights of citizens in South Asia remain indebted to this generation’s memories and writings.

Without seeing their words, hearing their voice, and being their selves, we can only see the border walls.