Saturday, November 9, 2002
T H I S  A B O V E  A L L

Cultivating the art of conversation

WE Indians do not make the necessary effort to cultivate the art of conversation. Some talk too much; many more get tongue-tied when in company. Parents do not instruct their children that when they have visitors they must not gape at them with their mouths shut but talk to them politely. There are a few rules which must be observed to make conversation a meaningful dialogue. Most important is to be well-informed on a variety of subjects: current affairs, books, theatre, films, sports etc. A person who reads nothing cannot have anything worthwhile to say. Illiterate people make illiterate conversation. An important point to bear in mind is that you must not talk about yourself, and instead make the person you are talking to talk about himself. Boasting is bad manners and off-putting, making others indulge in self-praise will win you accolades as a good listener and an intelligent person. You must not allow conversation to turn into an argument. If you have strong views on any subject, do not let off steam; let the other rave and rant. When he is finished he will realise he made fool of himself. There are many other things I would say about the art of conversation but instead will name a couple of people who I look forward to visiting me because they make good conversationalists.

Thus spake Sant Kabir
November 2, 2002
What is the strongest thing on earth?
October 26, 2002
Have you seen God?
October 19, 2002
Mocking at oneís own people
October 12, 2002
Keeping Urdu alive
October 5, 2002
How a rapist should be punished
September 28, 2002
Historical research: Punjabi style
September 14, 2002
No one will go hungry
September 7, 2002
Neither blind nor deaf to the beauties of nature
August 24, 2002
More about life after death
August 17, 2002
Importance of being important
August 10, 2002
Land-grabbing in the name of God
August 3, 2002

There must be something in the air of Hyderabad which nurtures good, intelligent conversation. There was the Bilgrami family from Lucknow which migrated to the Nizamís dominions. The last Nizam who was into Urdu poetry invited the head of the Bilgrami family to his court. He was charmed by the manís tehzeeb (culture) and his way with words. He made him his musaahib (companion) and invested him with the title Nawab Hoshiar Jung. The Nawab Sahibís progeny inherited his sweet tongue from him. Among those whose visits I look forward to is Anees Jung. When she is present, there are no deadly silences, nor a dull moment. She talks and makes everyone else talk. She is erudite, being well read in English and Urdu which she speaks in a charming Dakhani dialect. She is widely travelled, witty and has a malicious sense of humour. I am never sure how much of what she says is factual, but it does not matter very much.

The other person is also a Hyderabadi: Mujtaba Hussain, special correspondent of the Urdu daily Siasat. I got to know him in the 1970s when he joined the National Council of Educational Research. He stayed in Delhi till his retirement and is now back in Hyderabad working full-time with Siasat. He is also well-read, widely travelled and has a keen eye for detail. He hardly ever talks about himself. It was only after I read his travelogues that I realised that he could laugh at himself. Mujtaba has a vast number of admirers in the Urdu-speaking world. One of them, Hassan Chishti based in Chicago, decided it was time that a selection of Mujtabaís writings came out in book form. So we have two volumes of Mujtaba Hussain Kee Behtereen Tehreeren (Educational Publishing House, Delhi). One is largely on his experiences while travelling, life in Delhi and Hyderabad and odd-balls he met. They are all very amusing, but never unkindly. The second largely profiles his writer friends, invariably laudatory and without malice. I read whatever Mujtaba gives me to read but I prefer engaging him in conversation. Reading him strains my eye hearing him is balm for the ears.

Hello God!

Aruna Kapur of Kolkata has sent me a delightful little piece on an imaginary interview with God entitled High On Waves. I would like to share it with my readers:

I dreamed I had an interview with God. "Come in," God said, "So you would like to interview Me?" "If you have the time." I said.

God smiled and said, "My time is eternity and is enough to do everything; what questions do you have in mind to ask me?" "What surprises you most about mankind?" I asked. God answered, "When they get bored with being children, are in rush to grow up, and then long to be children again. That they lose their health to make money and then lose their money to restore their health. That by thinking anxiously about their future, they forget the present such that they live neither for the present nor for the future. That they live as if they will never die, and they die as if they had never lived..."

Godís hands took mine and we were silent for a while. Then I asked, "As a parent, what are some of lifeís lessons you want your children to learn?" God replied with a smile, "To learn that they cannot make anyone love them; what they can do is to let themselves be loved. To learn that what is most valuable is not what they have in their lives, but who they have in their lives. To learn that it is not good to compare themselves with others. All will be judged individually on their own merits, not as a group on a comparison basis! To learn that a rich person is not the one who has the most, but is one who needs the least. To learn that it only takes a few seconds to open profound wounds in persons we love and that it takes many years to heal them. To learn that there are persons who love them dearly, but simply do not know how to express or show their feelings. To learn that money can buy everything but happiness. To learn that two people can look at the same thing and see it totally differently. To learn that a true friend is someone who knows everything about them... and likes them anyway. To learn that it is not always enough that they be forgiven by others, but that they have to forgive themselves".

I sat there for a while enjoying the moment. I thanked Him for his time and for all that He has done for me and my family. He replied: "Iím here 24 hours a day. All you have to do is to ask for me and Iíll answer.

People will forget what you said.

People will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made than feel."

Of human suffering

Whereas man is comic

His lot in the world, they say, is tragic.

He must either lick the wounds he is born with or wither

Under the pitiless gaze of the blazing sun,

The parched earth, the death of some dear one

And even if you mention not the obvious universality of hunger, disease and poverty

And overlook the temperamental malady of habitual melancholy

The truth of human life is tragedy.

For one, man himself is his own adversary

For another it is man who is primarily responsible for manís misery.

Through greed, grabbing, cruelty,

Hatred, the offspring of religious superiority

Or caste and community

And their daughter violence, hypocrisy, pretence.

It is our passionate creed paradoxically

That is burning the pages of history,

And there seems to be no end to Natureís curse or human folly

As they dance their dance of death

In Gujarat and the valley.

(Courtesy: Kuldip Salil, Delhi)