A nostalgic odyssey

October 22, 2023

With Naima Rashid’s English translation, Ali Akbar Natiq’s Naulakhi Kothi is now available to a broader readership

A nostalgic odyssey


li Akbar Natiq’s Urdu novel Naulakhi Kothi is now available to a wider audience through an English version by Penguin India, translated adeptly by Naima Rashid.

Narrated from a third-person perspective, which the author reveals in the final chapter, the novel is an odyssey of nostalgia and broken dreams. William serves as a young assistant commissioner in the small town of Jalalabad, Punjab, during the twilight years of the British Raj. He hates London, where, in his opinion, the only crop is snow; even a janitor can speak his mind before high-ranking officials and power is best enjoyed over black Indians.

Unlike his predecessors, including his grandfather and father, William aspires to rule over the land and its people with absolute authority. Naulakhi Kothi is located in Okara. A posting in Okara is the first of William’s dreams not come true. William had mistakenly believed that the assignment would be easy to secure; however, never in his entire career did he get the coveted position. This rankled because the place meant all of India and the world to him.

William is also angry about the English ‘surrendering’ India after investing so heavily in the colony. He believes that the locals should have been kept illiterate and ignorant. Instead, the English had empowered them through education and this had ultimately led to their ouster.

His ideas of a benevolent ruler frequently clash with some of his superiors. He has transformed the region from a barren rural setting into a flourishing agricultural economy by introducing an irrigation system.

An old rivalry between landlords Ghulam Haider and Sodha Singh mars William’s career. Sodha kills four of Haider’s men, who had set fire to his crops and stolen his cattle. Justice is then delayed, prompting Haider to take matters into his own hands and killing Sodha and dozens of his associates. He then seeks sanctuary with Nawab Iftikhar Mamdot, one of Jinnah’s trusted confidants. Taking advantage of the waning British authority, these men use Haider as their henchman.

Jinnah pleads with the Viceroy to drop the charges against Haider, commute his death sentence and restore his confiscated property. Mountbatten complies. Haider uses his newfound power to suppress Muslim League’s political rivals, often resorting to violence to keep them away from the polls. His reign of terror is glorified and he is hailed as a hero.

The novel features intriguing characters with their own amusing and satirical stories. 

The transfer of power prompts most English officers to return to their country, but William refuses to leave. His wife and children leave for London and eventually abandon him. William quits his job and spends his remaining days at Naulakhi Kothi, where he regularly entertains guests.

Come 1980, William is quite old. When some corrupt bureaucrats band together to deprive him of the Naulkhi Kothi, he moves to a friend’s house. By now, having exhausted all his savings, he is a pauper. On account of the good deeds he had once done, people take care of him and provide him with food until his eventual death.

The novel features some very intriguing characters each telling their own amusing/ satirical stories. One such character is Subhani, a master of concoction. He tells false tales of heroism and is an expert gossipmonger. To manipulate public opinion, he spreads rumours like the Viceroy’s daughter being in love with Ghulam Haider. Another character, Maulvi Karamat, is willing to preach anything for financial gain.

Many Urdu writers of the subcontinent share a stylistic flaw, i.e. frequent purple patches in the prose and distracting details of some acts, movements, background, environment and surroundings. Too often, the most important ingredient – the story - is missing in their work. They write incessantly about everything but the plot. Natiq does not rely on didacticism, hyperbole, verbosity, unnecessary embellishment or padding. His prose is lyrical and paints vivid images. He holds the readers’ interest through the movement of the plot.

Natiq has had his share of detractors, including some very influential people. He was fired from a government job, remain unemployed for a while and was then offered a job at a private university. However, he was later fired from there, too.

While working as a daily wage labourer in construction industry, he picked up masonry and elements of Mughal architecture. He now uses this knowledge to build Mughal-style buildings for a living.

Natiq has authored 15 books, spanning poetry, short stories and novels. Besides, he is a human rights activist, who advocates minority communities’ rights and freedom of expression. His candid opinions make him a polarising person among literature enthusiasts. Some of his work has been translated into German and Hindi.

Courage is rapidly diminishing in Pakistan, where writers with pens mightier than tanks, guns, and bombs are endangered. In this bleak landscape, Natiq has emerged as a solitary voice of truth and conscience through his work.

Naulakhi Kothi

Author: Ali Akbar Natiq (translated by Naima Rashid)

Publisher: Penguin India, 2023

Pages: 480, Paperback

The reviewer is an Islamabad-based poet and author. He may be reached at


A nostalgic odyssey