The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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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 months shut but talk to them politely.

There are a few rules that 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 and so on. 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; instead, make the person you are talking to speak 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 realize he has made a fool of himself. There are many other things I would say about the art of conversation but instead I will name a couple of people whose visits I always look forward to because they make good conversation.

There must be something in the air of Hyderabad which nurtures good, intelligent conversation. There was the Bilgrani family from Lucknow which migrated to the Nizam’s dominion. The last Nizam, who was into Urdu poetry, invited the head of the Bilgrani family to his court. He was charmed by the man’s tehzeeb (culture) and his way with words. He made him his musaahib (companion) and invested him with the title Nawab Hoshiar Jung.

The Nawab Sahib’s progeny inherited their sire’s sweet tongue. Among those whose visits I look forward to is Anees Jung. When she is present, there are no deadly silences or dull moments; she talks and makes everyone else talk. She is 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 Seventies 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 for 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 realized that he could laugh at himself.

Mujtaba has a vast number of admirers in the Urdu-speaking world. One of them, the Chicago-based Hassan Chishti decided it was time a selection of Mujtaba’s writings came out in book form. So we have two volumes of Mujtaba Hussain ke behtereen tehreeran.

One is largely on his experiences while travelling, life in Delhi and Hyderabad and the odd-balls he met. They are all very amusing but never unkind. The second is largely made of profiles of 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 a balm for the ears.

Straight from god

Arun Kapur of Calutta has sent me a delightful little piece — an imaginary interview with god, entitled “High on Waves”. I would like to share it with the readers:

“I dreamt 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'’ ‘What surprises you most about mankind'’ I asked. God answered: ‘That they get bored with being children; are in a 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.’

“God’s hands took mine and we were silent for a while. Then I asked, ‘As a parent, what are some of life’s 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 to others. All will be judged individually on their 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 dearly, but simply do not know how to express 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 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: ‘I’m here 24 hours a day. All you have to do is to ask for me and I’ll answer.’

People will forget what you said.

People will forget what you did,

but people will never forget how you made them feel.

The sad lot of humans

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


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 temperamen-

tal malady

Of habitual melancholy

The truth of human life is


For one, man himself is his own


For another it is man who is

primarily responsible for man’s misery.

Through greed, grabbing,


Hatred, the offspring of

religious superiority

Or caste and community

And their daughter violence,

hypocrisy, pretence.

It is our passionate creed


That is burning the pages of


And there seems to be no end to Nature’s curse or human folly

As they dance their dance of


In Gujarat and the valley.

(Courtesy: Kuldip Salil, Delhi)

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