Anyone, one supposes, can write about anyone. But one must be an exceptionally good writer to create a portrait. Thus, I found Khushwant Singh’s “Women and Men in My Life” (1995) extremely interesting.

There is one Devyani Chaubal, a film critic. According to Khushwant, she “had no respect for the men and women she wrote about.” And “she was a wonderful mimic and made film celebrities appear as silly as they were.”

Then there is an Indrani, who could have married a Sikh general, but did not do so, explaining “how could I live the rest of my life with a man who mispronounced every word that he spoke?”

Ghayoorunnisa, who was very firm about how far unmarried people could go in getting to know each other, also held “once you fall in love with someone of another community, you fall in love with all her people.”

According to Khushwant, she proved to him that members of two communities (Muslims and Sikh) could love each other. And it was after knowing her, and Manzur Qadir, that he himself came to the naïve conclusion that an Indian Muslim could do no wrong. He concludes that, once you fall in love with someone of another community, you fall in love with all her people.

Ah well, there are memories and there are moments. Can we control or check our memories?

“De notre pauvre amour, dans la nuit profonde,

Nous avions sur nos coeurs si doucement berce!

C’etait plus qu’une vie, helas! c’etais un monde

Qui c’etait efface!”

– Alfred de Musset

(Our poor love, that we so gently rocked with our hearts in the depth of nights,

It was, alas, more than a life; it was a world, that rubbed itself out.)

Kunwar Mahendra Singh Bedi Sahar recounts stories about a lot of people, but without amorous interludes. There is the story of a Sikh and his Muslim wife. Bedi does not say if she was one of those Muslim women, who had been abducted forcibly during the 1947 riots in Punjab and had then married their abductors. Well, she now, many years later, wanted to visit her parents in Pakistan. The husband did not prevent her going, but was very worried that she would not come back. Bedi argued that, having children here, she would return. She did.

We do not know who decided upon the transfer of population in Punjab following independence. It was not the Government of Pakistan, as the Quaid repeatedly appealed to the minorities not to leave. But it was a cruel time and the “exchange” was barbaric. How easy it is for humans to treat fellow humans as inanimate!

On the other hand, our short-story attained its height in that period, as sensitive writers gave ineffaceable accounts of what individuals suffered during the 1947 riots. Yes, it is the individual. It is he who at that moment discovers his complete helplessness before a mob. It is beyond grasping why this hatred, this violence?

“Jab insanon kay din badlay to insanon pay kia guzree.”

– Sahir

Baudelaire finds tears, others’ tears, charming, as they flow down the cheeks like streams in the countryside. How much pain that image contains:

“Que m’importe que tu

sois sage?

Sois belle! Et sois triste!

Les pleurs

Ajoutent un charme au visage,

Comme le fleuve au paysage!

L’orage rajeunit les fleurs.”

(What do I care if you are wise? Be beautiful and be sad! The tears add a charm to the face like a river to the countryside! Storm rejuvenates the flowers.)

Yes, our poetry is not the only one to find sadness beautiful.

“Bara ghazab ho jo ashkon ki kahkashan na rahay.”

– Firaq

There does seem to be a grandeur about it in some other literatures too. Apparently, sadness somehow carries more dignity than does joy. Firaq may insist that there is a qualitative difference between “philosophical pain and female wailing.” Yes, objective sadness and purely personal pain are different. But pain is pain.

Perhaps, the reason behind the general sadness is that, over his entire existence up to now, the man has known more pain, more misery than joy, than plenty. But that should not endear tears to us. However, now there is hope. As Majaz says:

“Zehn-e-insani nay ab auhaam kay zulmaat mein,

Zindigi ki sakht toofani

andheri raat mein,

Kuchh nahin to kam say kam khwab-e-sahar dekhha to hai,

Jis taraf dekhha na thha ab tak udhhar dekhha to hai.”

The writer is a retired ambassador. Email: abul_f@hotmail.com