We lunch in the dining room amidst more of her paintings and books. The setting is quite cheerful as we talk of the Raj, vanishing Anglo-Indians and Lucknow, while the domestics sway hand-fans. She holds that Zia-ul-Haq’s era damaged Pakistan irretrievably. Pakistan, she adds, was progressing before Zia took over. She recalls Pakistan’s first female pilot, Shukriya Ahmad, the day Bhutto was hanged and how Lucknow appears desolate. I am nothing short of enchanted. She saw Bhutto on a steamer-ship in 1954 and remembers vividly how he was ‘wading’ outside the ballroom. Her memory is fantastic.
Lucknow is a constant point of reference that lurks in the shadows of her conversation. Ainee insists that I should visit Lucknow on my next trip – and I will, God (and visa) willing. I am reminded that in Lucknow, religious identities were secondary to those of the secular Lucknavi culture and even the street vendors used language such as: hazoor dekhiye ye jalaybee aap ki mohabbat mein ghulay ja rahee hai . I inform her that the ‘Lucknow nostalgia industry’ is vibrant in some parts of Karachi. She likes my blasphemous remark but wonders how I can be Punjabi, given that I speak Urdu! But I am now used to this identity crisis.
Getting rather familiar, I start discussing her books and, of course, the narrator. Her answers are delightfully original and utterly self-effacing. She recounts how her parents were born at least a hundred years before their time. Her father’s liberal outlook and her mother’s love for the arts were the inspiration for Ainee to devote her life to writing. She never got married; it was quite evident that she could not have met a man capable of complementing her. I suppose the rich inner universe makes up for the ‘loneliness’ syndrome in exceptional individuals.