Book Review: Kotawal Nama

In the world of copy, cut and paste, where chat gpt and 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 farfetched anomaly, we come across an anthology of essays in Urdu “Kotawal Nama” (height of decadence) written by Dr. Syed Kaleem Imam and published by the National Book Foundation.
The prologue brings forth the epicenter of the writer’s intentions transparently and lucidly.
Kaleem Imam with humility calls for…

What does one expect from a retired civil servant who is a philosopher and a humanitarian? 

The mere subtitle of Kotawal Nama clearly suggests the concept of decadence which dates 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 autobiography seeking hope and catharsis. The dreamer that he is takes the flight of logically carved snippets to form a whole article. 
He admits now and then that he is more suitable as a teacher as opposed to a bureaucrat. 
The poignant read “Kotawal Nama” is a memoir that analyzes the quest for rule of law, good governance, and a more just society- 
What catches the reader’s eye is the scheme of carefully selected essays configured with respect and regard to social norms of any ethical society.
From dedications to subjugation to the omnipotent relating the story of a man drenched in blood during crossfire, who died in writer’s arms… It is yet another reminder that our life is not ours to live or take!
Mr. Kaleem proceeds with the next article paying homage to his teachers who are worthy of his praise in shaping beautiful minds.
As an essayist, he has attempted to maintain all the fundamental steps of this genre of literature. But at the same time, he has added some new techniques to flourish this mighty branch of Urdu literature.
Empiricism is used avidly in Kotawal Nama. ‘Jo mijaz e yaarmien aaey’ is a good example of the narrator’s empirical synthesis.
The purposes of an essayist are to persuade the audience to accept the thesis on the subject and simply to entertain. The arguments propounded are so reinforcing that the readers cannot help but accept them.
He adopted an aphoristic style of writing. An aphorism is a very short witty clever saying that is intended to highlight the truth. It is used to persuade the audience and invoke reasoning skills. 
 The writer Is sharp and talented and used aphorisms in most of his essays by making a general statement. Some of these statements are quoted in the everyday lives of people. In ‘Afsar shahi ki Afsari’ he opens the article “Naam liena munasib Nahin’.
Similarly, in ‘Doost hota nahin har hath milanay wala’ he writes…. ‘retired sarkari afsaraan ki methi eid itni methi nahin hoti jitni keh hazir service afsaraan ki’
All his ideas are put forth in simple and lucid statements that are short but witty and clear. He uses analytical methods to give lengthy ideas. 
“Brevity is the soul of wit.” Exactly describes Mr. Kaleem’s essays in essence and in spirit.
None of his essays are more than 1000 words in length.
 At the very outset of his essays, Mr. Kaleem declared that his discussion is based on thesis and observation and personal experiences. The beginning of the essay ‘Yoom e 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.’ “Police islahaat - ik khawab”. Nobody could disagree with this statement and could dare to show discontent till the resurrection.
On the other hand, Kotawal Nama’s empiricism or pragmatism or humanism does not forget the purpose of entertainment for its readers. Kaleem’s essays are replete with entertainments like novels, drama, movies, or films.
‘Zarb ul masal aur mhawaray muashray ka aks’ and ‘Safr ya suffer - marzi aap ki’ (though I don’t agree with the thoughts in the later essay) use devices such as anecdotes, striking illustrations, humorous logic and arguments.’
‘Hunar ka kamal’ is one truly humorous article.These devices help the author to create a tone of intimacy with the audience. 
The author almost weighs the pros and cons of every question that he makes where he balances both 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, but readers often draw their own conclusions after reading his essays.
Kaleem uses allusions historic, mythological, religious and literary to add further conviction to his writing. In an essay Kaleem talks about buttering and its vices quoting Marcus Aurelius and the story of his servant who kept reminding him that he too is just another human.
Right from the beginning to end, this poignant and humorous account of a retired policeman is engaging, thought provoking, sometimes antithesis, suggestive, logical and epigrammatic.
His essays on rape, suicide, and addiction brought tears to my eyes.
Mr. Kaleem doesn’t forget to make sure to pay respects and remember and honor the sacrifices of the PSP. ‘Hawaldar Adeel Hussain Kay Naam’ is one such account.
Kotawal Nama is political, social and cultural decay, rendering points to ponder.
Kotawal Nama raises questions!
Are we so inadequate and powerless that we can’t even pronounce the culprit?
And how long would we be able to keep on sailing in these troubled waters?
The presentation of the book is well thought out and designed. Addition of a photographic journal is shared to illustrate the importance of people in author’s life.
It’s easy and gripping for all readers.
A must read and must have -- narrating history in its own way!

Madiha Arsalan

Madiha Arsalan

ePaper - Nawaiwaqt