It was a la mode then. When the Queen-to-be Victoria married a German prince (apparently, they were available by the dozens in that era), marriages between the British and Germans became fashionable, as did learning of the German language. So William Thackeray, son of a former Collector of Calcutta (and author-to-be of the still in vogue Vanity Fair) was sent to Weimar to learn the language. Near his coaching centre lived this very pretty girl, Amalia, who was a love of all the boys including Mr Thackeray. He later talked of her to his two daughters when they visited Weimar. He showed his daughters her house, even though fair maiden of the house had long gone away, being married out of town. He did come across her some years later in Venice, though. Having seen her name on the guest list of the hotel he was staying in, he asked a waiter to point her out to him. The waiter pointed to this obese woman accompanied by a fat child. They were having eggs. Mr Thackerays daughters encouraged him to speak to her. But he did not find it in him to speak to the fat woman and child who ate their meal uninterrupted and left. If I should meet thee after long years How should I greet thee? With silence and tears? (Byron) If Thackeray had married her when they were young, she would still have grown fat but his sight would have got used to her growing girth over time. The culprit was not she but the time which is free of bondage with human lives. If one had loved a woman enough, one does not cease to do so for her having been deformedeven of her own volitionby time. Kabhi naa chain say rehnay diyya tamanna nay Kharab-o-khasta mein iss dil ki arzoo say hua No one blames Venus for being unfaithful to Vulcan as she did not choose him. Neither is she held responsible for the death of Adonis because even mythological stories have some moral framework. They are based on some law of nature, however obscured or blurred in storyline, for human conduct. Therefore to demand that a woman, once adored, preserve her appearance so that the youthful admiration she had once evoked in her (now aging) admirer remains intact is to deny her the right to decide about her own appearance. Amalia, one imagines, had had enough of admiring glances. Now she just wanted to enjoy her meals. In our folklore that dates back to the age before the modern short story, the young prince (only princes and princesses fell in love back then), who was usually no more than fifteen, usually fell for the good looks and the maquillage of the princess, not caring a fig if she had any intelligence, or could cook or sew. In Suroors Fasana-i-Ajaib, one of the two heroines, Anjuman Ara, though she likes Jaan-e-Alam, is hesitant to marry him because he comes from another country about which she knows nothing. Her mother, in persuading her to agree to the match, does not address the questions bothering her daughter. Instead, she says that a daughter is destined to leave the house of her parents and it is, in fact, dishonourable for the father to not marry off a daughter, even though he may be a king. At the end, she says to her daughter that Jaan-e-Alam was good-looking. William Thackeray should have been thankful he was born in a civilized country, not in a cesspool of decaying feudalism. As any good stoic would have told him, the thought and memory of beautiful young Amalia should have sufficed to keep him happy, whatever she grew up to be later. -M. ABUL FAZL, Islamabad, August 1.