M. Abul Fazl Waris plainte Sarey kharab mulk Punjab vichoon, maynoon wadda afsose Kasur da aye concentrates on the agony of a whole people. And was he thinking only of his old school? Of his teachers and classmates? Wasnt he also recalling someone he had met outside the school, whom he never forgot? Why must she be consigned to some uninteresting townlet on an arid patch of pre-canal Punjab? I am certain, whether called Bhag Bhari or not, she was from Kasur. We need a literary detective to discover her, like the Russian who unearthed the identity of Lermontovs first love a hundred years after his death. The eighteenth century was probably the worst period in the history of South Asia. The Mughal power was disintegrating rapidly and the British had not yet taken over. European adventurers, civilian, military and plain scoundrels, were crawling all over, making money by any means available. The native states themselves farmed revenue out, often to foreigners. And why only Europeans? Marauding bands of Afghans, Sikhs and Marathas pillaged at will, even making raids over long distances. We do not get a proper idea of the situation of the South Asians of the period from scholarly studies. Banda Bahadurs uprising may have been plebeian. But did not every armed clash involve violence against the peasants? And the armed clash between an Afghan and a Mughal zamindar in the Moradabad district in 1715, about which we read, resulted not only in the peasant casualties, but also the burning of the huts of the poor. Actually we have two better sources for an accurate picture of the situation of a common South Asian of this period: the shahr-ashobes of our poets and the accounts of foreign visitors, if one may call them that. Yeh bagh khha gaee kis ki nazar nahin maaloom? Na janay kis nay rakhha yaan qadam voh kaun thha shoom? Jahan thhay sarv-o-sanober vahan ugay hain zuqoom, Machi hai zagh-o-zaghan say ab us chaman mein dhoom, Gulon kay sath jahan bulbulain karay theen kulool. Here Sauda not only speaks of a deteriorating economic situation, but also complains that all kinds of bad characters from other countries have invaded his land. An English-woman, Eliza Fay, visited South Asia a number of times in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. We get a good idea of the countrys situation at the time from her letters home. (Original Letters from India, Hogarth Press, London, 1986). Since the English had already pulled far ahead of us, these letters have a superior tone when speaking of the natives. But the portraits, descriptions and narratives of the events in them seem to be accurate, though the South Asians are absent from them except as servants, thieves, marauders etc or as shadowy background figures on the edges of the Eurasian world. On the way to South Asia, Fay passes through Egypt and complains that the Egyptians always want to insult the Europeans who visit the country but does not ask herself why do they want to do it. Again, in Calicut, the mob seemed to take pleasure in beholding the distress of white people, those constant objects of envy and detestation. She gives us to understand that the people of Calicut were just bad, driven by an inner wickedness. But surely no people are just bad. The question was why the English and other foreigners were in South Asia and why were they growing richer by the minute and the locals being impoverished at a matching speed? She acknowledges there are white rogues but is firmly of the opinion that the black ones are more impudent, I wish these people would not vex one by their tricks. Actually, the blacks appear impudent if they do what the whites do. Fay refers to South Asia as this land of pillagers, though it was the Europeans who undertook a six-month sea-voyage to pillage this land. The exports of Bengal to England were paid for with the local land revenue after the Battle of Plassey, without a penny coming from England. Who was pillaging whom? She also remarks that the natives were lethargic except where there was hope of cash reward and that the servants were not hard-working. To her credit, she does recognise that the famed wealth of South Asia belonged to a very tiny minority, the rest of the people living in extreme misery. But that did not prevent the greedy foreigners from wanting to share it. It is also to her credit to deny that the custom of suttee originated in the superior tenderness and ardent attachment of Indian wives towards their spouses, and says this practice is entirely a political scheme. South Asia was, no doubt, a miserable place and the worst part of it was that there were no signs that its social system could be changed by forces generated within it. Perhaps the intrusion of a foreign, more advanced, element was a historical necessity. But we paid dearly for it. Yes but the great period of our poetry started in that same eighteenth century. Sauda wrote all his works then, and some of Mirs best poems are from that time. The writer is a former ambassador.