Mindful of her legendary irritation regarding literary small talk, which she has always considered ‘boring,’ I launch into a ‘natural’ dialogue of sorts. She hurls at me several questions on the state of Indo-Pak relations, the visa policy and my projections on the peace process. I am a bit taken aback, my cynical self not ready to offer coherent replies. Nevertheless, I conjure up answers that are cautiously optimistic or, shall we say, “moderately enlightened.” She appears amused by my assertions and insists that her generation suffered due to conflict; my contemporaries and I have to rise to the occasion. I can appreciate her point given that the world that she has lived in is no more; the composite Indo-Muslim culture is fast diminishing and the RSSs and Lashkars – illegitimate children of the historical upheavals – are better known than Mir and Kabeer.
She also inquires into the state of the Pakistani intelligentsia and I am again a little nonplussed. I lament about the middle class and how it is not playing its historical role (except for crass consumerism) nowadays. Then I mention Kamal, a character from Darya , who is disillusioned by the aesthetics and politics of the 1950s but sees no option but to integrate into the changing Pakistan. She smiles and avoids a direct answer by saying that was an old tale. Earlier in the conversation, I was chided for citing my favourite thesis of territorial re-adjustment (shifting boundaries) as a recurring theme in South Asian history. Ainee, the iconoclast, vociferously opines that medieval trends are over and communications and technology have changed our futures. I am struck by her buoyant thought process and led to question my own historical determinism. I notice that she has a terrific sense of humour, her sharp wit unaffected by her age and illness.