Decoding decadence

August 13, 2023

A memoir analyses a quest for the rule of law, good governance and a more just society

Decoding  decadence


n the world of copy, cut and paste, where AI has taken over the only trait supposedly distinguishing the human race from other life forms – the power to think, create, expound and put forth a concrete example for the use of the world seems to be a far-fetched anomaly – we come across an anthology of essays in Urdu, Kotawal Nama, written by Dr Syed Kaleem Imam.

The prologue brings forth the epicentre of the writer’s intentions transparently and lucidly.

The subtitle suggests the concept of decadence, dating back to the 18th Century, especially from the writings of Montesquieu, the enlightenment philosopher who suggested that the decline(decadence) of the Roman Empire was in large part due to its moral decay and loss of cultural standards.

The writer explores the same theory on his own, narrating a career and seeking hope and catharsis. The dreamer that he is takes the flight of logically carved snippets to form a whole article.

He admits here and there that his strengths were more suited to a teacher than a bureaucrat.

A poignant read, Kotawal Nama is a memoir that analyses a quest for the rule of law, good governance and a more just society.

Relating the story of a man caught in crossfire, who died in the writer’s arms, is a reminder that our lives are not our own to give or take.

The author next pays homage to his teachers who are worthy of praise for shaping beautiful minds.

As an essayist, he has experimented with several techniques. Jo mijaz-i- yaar mien aaey is a good example of empirical synthesis.

An essayist aims to persuade the reader to accept his thesis and to entertain. The arguments advanced should leave the reader no other conclusion.

Imam also writes aphorism. An aphorism is a concise witty, clever saying intended to highlight a truth. It is used to persuade the audience and invoke their reasoning skills.

The writer is sharp and talented and uses aphorisms to make a general statement in most of his essays. Some of these statements are quoted in the everyday lives of people. He opens Afsar Shahi ki Afsari with “Naam lena munasib nahin…

Similarly, in Doost hota nahin har hath milanay wala, he writes, “retired sarkari afsaraan ki meethi eid itni meethi nahin hoti jitni keh hazir service afsaraan ki.”

All his ideas are put forth in simple, lucid, short, witty and clear statements. He uses analytical methods to describe complex ideas.

All ideas of the author are put forth in simple, lucid, short, witty and clear statements. He uses analytical methods to describe complex ideas. 

“Brevity is the soul of wit” describes the spirit of Kaleem Imam’s essays.

None of his essays are more than 1,000 words in length.

At the very outset, Kaleem declares that his writings are based on a thesis, observation and personal experiences. The beginning of the essay, Yaum-i-aazadi Kay lamhat....kal, aaj aur kal gives us the idea of the experience-based discussion.

“The vices of authority are chiefly four: delays, corruption, roughness and facility.”

Nobody can disagree with this statement.

Given its empiricism, pragmatism and humanism, the book is also entertaining.

Zarb ul misl aur mahawaray muashray ka aks and Safar ya Suffer- Marzi aap ki (though I don’t agree with all the ideas in the latter essay) use devices such as anecdotes, striking illustrations and humorous logic.

Hunar ka kamal is a truly humorous essay. These devices help the author achieve a sense of intimacy with the audience.

The author weighs the pros and cons of every proposal he mentions. He balances the merits and demerits of a love marriage in Aqal par pardah. He tries to give a definite answer to the issue after balancing it with both advantages and disadvantages. However, readers can reach their own conclusions after reading his essays.

Kaleem Imam uses historical, mythological, religious and literary allusions to bring resounding conviction to his writing. In one essay, Kaleem talks about buttering and its vices quoting Marcus Aurelius and the story of his servant who kept reminding him that he, too, was human.

His essays on rape, suicide and addiction bring tears to one’s eyes.

Kaleem Imam pays his respects to the sacrifices made by his police colleagues. Hawaldar Adeel Hussain Kay Naam is one such account.

Kotawal Nama raises important questions. It asks why authorities cannot sometimes identify the culprits. The book is available from National Book Foundation and its website. The presentation of the book is well thought out and designed. The addition of a photographic journal is shared to illustrate the importance of people in the author’s life.

It’s easy and gripping reading. It is a must-read and must-have account of contemporary history.

“Hope, no matter how elusive, does give us strength to keep swimming.”

Kotawal Nama

Author: Dr Syed Kaleem Imam

Publisher: National Book Foundation, Islamabad

The reviewer is a poet, feature writer, educationist and traveller. A collection of her poetry, Bhadoon, has been published recently

Decoding decadence