Mallarme sings: Oublieuse de la faucille, L'herbe frissonne dans les pres, L'alouette joue et babille, Babille sans se dire 'Apres'? (Forgetting the sickle, the grass shivers nearby, the lark plays and prattles, prattles without asking itself "what comes next?") Shelley poses it more brutally: "Have ye leisure, comfort, calm, shelter, food, love's gentle balm? Or what is it ye buy so dear with your pain and with your fear?" The materiality of life reaches us with the hard ground beneath us. But it confronts us even before as the daily labour. The irreducibility of the social order to the natural order is the gift of labour. But why must some labour for many? Why must some be deprived of the right to smile? There is the story of a female prisoner of about 50 in a Japanese prison, narrated by her to a fellow prisoner. She was an orphan and was married to a clever peasant, who wanted a wife in order to avoid military service. His family wove cloth "put-out" by the capitalists. After marriage, her husband left for Korea and did not return for 24 years. But she worked the hardest in the family, producing the most cloth and it was entirely with her earnings that her father-in-law was able to rebuild the family home. Since she was so productive, her mother-in-law resented her leaving the loom even for a minute, even for the bathroom or for suckling the baby. Her husband never wrote to her. Neither did her son, when he grew up and joined the army, which sent him to China. In fact, her mother-in-law had kept her so busy that she had hardly been able to look after her son. Neither had she been allowed to attend any of his school functions, except once - for his graduation ceremony, where she had heard him singing: "Nothing can match the happiness we feel." At the time, the school-yard had been full of peach blossoms "and ever after, the mother would weep when she saw the peach-blossoms in flower and remembered the children's graduation song." When her husband returned from Korea, he had a rich mistress with him. He threw his wife out of the house. She then tried to set their house on fire and attempted suicide by jumping into a well. But she was rescued, revived and sentenced to 10 years in prison for the attempted arson. "No one came to see her there. She sat huddled against the cold and the wind and comforted herself with the songs about rhubarb shoots pushing through the snow - the same shoots she once picked for her own mother when she was a little child and her mother in her illness got comfort from them." After reading a story like this, one has a strong desire to go back to old nursery tales, where everything turns out for the best. The princes fall in love only with princesses. Difficulties are overcome easily. Then they live happily ever after. Yes, there are common people under the princes. But we are spared information about their sufferings. As to their living in huts or the servants' quarters, that we see around us anyway. What is the Japanese story about? About tyranny within the East Asian family system or about the rise of capitalism? The putting-out system was the cradle of the industrial revolution. It then moved on to the factory, higher technology etc. Capitalism has carried the mankind (well, about 15 percent of it) from darkness to light. But what a price the early generations paid for it even in the now developed countries? Others are still in darkness. The main thing is that every individual carries insecurity deep inside him due to the basic material shortage. This conditions our behaviour, even of the rich. As a result, when one gets power over another, he exploits him, tortures him. The boy in Chekhov's "Village", whom his grandfather had apprenticed to an artisan, and who beat him mercilessly, wrote to his grandfather begging him to take him back, promising to be always a good boy. He was too young to know his grandfather's address. So he put his name on the envelope and added "the village" as the address. I was reminded of this story years back in Swat when I saw a begum from the plains with a local boy of about 10 in her car. We were told that she was taking him with her to be a domestic servant, after paying a thousand rupees to his parents. The writer is a former ambassador.