One line in a book, one little phrase, a word, a name can bring back memories, sweet and sad. Louis Aragon begins a poem with: Rien n'est jamais acquis a l'homme / Ni sa force/ Ni sa faiblesse ni son coeu (Man can never possess anything, Neither his strength/ Nor his weakness, nor even his heart). And, in dedicating his novel to his wife, he writes, Je dedie Le Monde Reel a Elsa Triolet a qui je dois etre ce que je suis (I dedicate "The Real World" to Elsa Triolet to whom I owe being what I am). In the first lines, there is an absolute negation of one's ability to feel independent of the conditions of one's existence. In the dedication of a work to his wife, Elsa Triolet, he insists that she has that power in relation to him. I suppose poets cannot be bound down to any position. As Faiz Ahmed Faiz used to say, Hum jo mahsoos kartay hain keh daitay hain Aragon's lines reminded me of an occasion when I insisted upon getting into an argument with the late writer and critic, Dr Aftab Ahmed Khan, no small feat, as he never argued. He had said something to the effect that, while Marcel Proust was a great writer, one could not say the same of Ilya Ehrenburg, the author of The Fall of Paris, The Storm, etc. I had to concede that Proust was a much greater artist than Ehrenburg but added flatly that his Remembrance of Things Past was pointless. The Storm, on the other hand, described the high point of the world revolutionary movement. Any other critic of Dr Aftab's erudition and status would have torn me apart. But he said mildly that he was only comparing their artistic quality. On another occasion, I recited some lines of Aragon to him, which he appreciated. So I decided that his disdain for Ehrenburg was literary, not political. Arthur Koestler (of the Encounter fame) gave up a good job in a German daily to become a communist party worker. When in exile in Paris, later in the mid-nineteen thirties, he was reduced to penury, wearing tennis shoes, with his toes sticking out of them. He says that, during his periodic rounds to collect money for the communist party from sympathisers, he always found Louis Aragon full of good advice but never parting with a penny. Well some of our poets had a reputation for miserliness. It did not stop them from writing good poetry. Marcel Proust is right that the excitement of existence is hidden in its ordinariness. But for most of us, literature is an escape from the routine of life: Dikha tau deti hai behtar hayat kay sapnay, / Kharab ho kay bhi yeh zindigi kharab nahin(Firaq) Ilya Ehrenburg had talent, as we see from his pre-1914 novel The Fall of Paris. The Russian literature's great traditions were choked only under Stalin, who, with the slogan of "socialist realism", asked the writers to, first and foremost, make the five-year plans successful. And we can see what that did to talented Russian writers like Fedin or to the later Sholokhov, not to speak of those who were slaughtered on false charges. Maybe the writers cooperated willingly with the state ideology. What was the sacrifice of a few talents, if it contributed to the building of a New World, to the creation of a new man? Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi said so openly, including his own talent among those to be sacrificed at the altar of progress. (Though he did not have to sacrifice his own talent, as we did not have to adhere to "socialist realism"). The regret, of course, is that the New World was not built, the new man was not created. When the Soviet Union died, the man who emerged was as selfish as any product of a capitalist society. But I am wrong. October did carry the humanity a few steps forward. But Dr Aftab Ahmed Khan was right. New art cannot be created by breaking violently with the past achievements. It has to grow out of the old. After all, there should be a line from Chekhov to Roshchin and Vassiliev. Barrington Moore says the peasant pays the price of every big change. Artists too. The writer is a former ambassador