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Volume 10

From Pulp To Postmodern: A Tribute - July 2012


Imam Shamil

Written by
Imam Shamil

Imam Shamil (Shamil Shams) works for radio Deutsche Welle's Urdu and Asian English services in Bonn, Germany. He has done MSc from London School of Economics (LSE) in Media and Communications (2010), and an MA in English Literature from Karachi University (2000). He has worked for Pakistan's leading English newspaper The News, and has contributed articles for Dawn, Newsline and other Pakistani magazines and newspapers. Originally from Karachi, Shamil has worked with various non-government development organisations in Islamabad including the policy research think-tank, Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI).


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For eight days and eight nights, I repeatedly stood on an old, worn-out hardback of the Complete Works of Shakespeare. Shakespeare was sacred to me, holier than anything holy. Why this irreverence then? I wanted to see if standing on the works of Shakespeare would decrease my mad devotion to the bard.

So how did I feel when I first put my left foot on the book? Nothing. Yes, I did not feel anything. Neither any sense of disrespect nor disgust. It was just another insignificant act. It was like brushing your teeth in the morning or peeing in the toilet bowl. Then I tried to feel the book under my feet. I tried to imagine Lear for a moment. How would he have felt about this insult? Well, isn’t it all about good manners? You don’t spit in the plate you eat from. You don’t masturbate in a public park in broad daylight. Lear definitely would have minded this act of insolence. More so the lovely women Shakespeare sculptured over the years. How would they have reacted? I could not even imagine any discourteous mannerism or uncouth behaviour toward Rosalind or Juliet or Ophelia. Only a demented prince of Denmark like Hamlet could have abused tender, nymph-like Ophelia. I felt as if I was pointing my feet toward the celestial face of Juliet. The more I imagined such things, the more I felt uneasy. I put the book back on the bookshelf.

For eight days and eight nights, I performed the same act again and again until I felt the same nothingness again. Shakespeare or Sartre or Genet, what is there in a book? Words, words, words. The physical nature of the book was not at all significant. Perhaps the words in it were. I was trying to liberate my mind from this sanctity of physical objects. The content mattered. Only the content mattered. But wasn’t this similar to believing in the supernatural? If physical things were not important than what was? Content. As if content was not matter. Wasn’t the content also a physical thing? Was the content immaterial, ethereal, supernatural? Shakespeare’s were not words of God. Why this rabid obsession with content, with words, and not the very physical presence of the dirty hardback? At least it was there. One could touch it, one could smell it, feel it. I wanted to get rid of the content. I had to eliminate it. The book and the words were inseparable.

For eight days and eight nights, the struggle was not just to rise above the material presence of the Complete Words of Shakespeare, but to also do away with the whole idea of worship. The book was not holy. The content was not sacred. I could tear the book, spit on it, pee on it, but how could I erase the love of Shakespeare from my mind? And not just Shakespeare. I wanted to erase the idea of love, not only from my mind, but from everywhere. My enemy was the content.

It occurred to me on the eighth day that neither the book nor the content was a problem. The problem was my mind, something inside it. The moment I realised this, I felt relaxed. I abandoned the exercise. Left the book on the floor, had a glass of red wine, read Elia for a bit.

It was the ninth day when I shot myself. Nothing was sacred. Shakespeare was lying on the marble floor. The half empty glass of wine on my desk. I was lying on the bed. Something existed outside my room. There was no content.



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