The novel traces the life of its hero Naim through about five decades of Indian history, weaving it into the life of its villages and towns in seamless segments. Naim, the son of a farmer, is adopted by his more sophisticated uncle, with whom he spends a secure childhood in Calcutta. After passing his Senior Cambridge exam Naim comes to Delhi, where his encounter with the family of Nawab Roshan Agha, the squire of his village and more importantly, with the Nawab's sophisticated daughter Azra, becomes an important turning point in his life. Naim decides to visit his natural father and ancestral village and is hopelessly hooked to his roots. He opts to stay on in the village, much to his uncle's disgust and quickly sheds his city past. Meanwhile, the Second World War breaks out and Naim, in a burst of bravado, opts to go and fight and returns after losing his youthful innocence and an arm. His flirtation with the nationalist movement and his subsequent marriage to Azra end in bitterness. An old defeated man, he dies in the Partition riots, a forgotten corpse.
The sweep of Hussein's work is grand and it is a tribute to his superb narrative skills that he is able to work at the level of plot and allegory without losing touch with either strand. Naim emerges both as a tragic hero and a metaphor for a struggle against alien occupation. His love for his village and Azra are pitted against the natural background of the elemental world'the rhythms of seasons, sowing, harvesting, floods and drought. The land is a powerful presence throughout the novel, particularly in the character of Naim's farmer-father, a sort of old man of the earth. The old man's bond with the land of his forefathers works at many levels of the novel's subtext, giving the land itself a presence that twists every character into shape. Azra and Roshan Agha's effete ways are depicted through their preoccupation with their garden in Delhi, where only English flowers are planted and tended. On the other hand, Naim and his father speak to each other in the language of ploughing and harvesting, and a drought in the village is followed by the death of its young men in the World War.
The novel's minor characters, the Sikh peasants of the village, the fisherman in Amritsar, the warring wives of Naim's father and Ali, his stepbrother, are all used to great effect by Hussein. They give the novel a breadth and richly-textured landscape, while providing the author with the opportunity to portray his central character without resorting to tedious descriptions. In fact, Naim is a singularly silent character and his voice is only occasionally heard: mostly in tenderness or sorrow with Azra. The chatter of Roshan Agha's parties leaves him cold and his joy in the robust humour of the village is suggested rather than articulated.
Above all, what makes the novel so refreshing is that it was first written in Urdu, not English. It is interesting to speculate what it would have been like had this not been the case. Hussein has translated the text himself fairly competently and so preserved a lot of the original sweetness and roughness intact, giving it a lovely grainy texture.
We at Outlookindia.com welcome feedback and your comments, including scathing criticism
1. Scathing, passionate, even angry critiques are welcome, but please do not indulge in abuse and invective. Our Primary concern is to keep the debate civil. We urge our users to try and express their disagreements without being disagreeable. Personal attacks are not welcome. No ad hominem please.
2. Please do not post the same message again and again in the same or different threads
3. Please keep your responses confined to the subject matter of the article you are responding to. Please note that our comments section is not a general free-for-all but for feedback to articles/blogs posted on the site
4. Our endeavour is to keep these forums unmoderated and unexpurgated. But if any of the above three conditions are violated, we reserve the right to delete any comment that we deem objectionable and also to withdraw posting privileges from the abuser. Please also note that hate-speech is punishable by law and in extreme circumstances, we may be forced to take legal action by tracing the IP addresses of the poster.
5. If someone is being abusive or personal, or generally being a troll or a flame-baiter, please do not descend to their level. The best response to such posters is to ignore them and send us a message at Mail AT outlookindia DOT com with the subject header COMPLAINT
6. Please do not copy and paste copyrighted material. If you do think that an article elsewhere has relevance to the point you wish to make, please only quote what is considered fair-use and provide a link to the article under question.
7. There is no particular outlookindia.com line on any subject. The views expressed in our opinion section are those of the author concerned and not that of all of outlookindia.com or all its authors.
8. Please also note that you are solely responsible for the comments posted by you on the site. The comments could be deleted or edited entirely at our discretion if we find them objectionable. However, the mere fact of their existence on our site does not mean that we necessarily approve of their contents. In short, the onus of responsibility for the comments remains solely with the authors thereof. Outlookindia.com or any of its group publications, may, however, retains the right to publish any of these comments, with or without editing, in any medium whatsoever. It is therefore in your own interest to be careful before posting.
9.Outlookindia.com is not responsible in any manner whatsoever for how any search engine -- such as Google, Bing etc -- caches or displays these comments. Please note that you are solely responsible for posting these comments and it is a privilege being granted to our registered users which can be withdrawn in case of abuse. To reiterate:
a. Comments once posted can only be deleted at the discretion of outlookindia.com
b. The comments reflect the views of the authors and not of outlookindia.com
c. outlookindia.com is not responsible in any manner whatsoever for the way search engines cache or display these comments
d. Please therefore take due caution before you post any comments as your words could potentially be used against you
10. We have an online thread for our comments policy:
You are welcome to post your suggestions here or in case you have a specific issue, to directly email us at Mail AT outlookindia DOT com with the subject header COMPLAINT