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Hamlet, an omelette with ham

For some time I too believed that Hamlet was a culinary innovation ? an omelette with ham filling, writes Upala Sen.

india Updated: Feb 04, 2007 00:58 IST
Upala Sen

I was rummaging through oldpoetry.com when I came across ‘A Silly Poem’ (that is the title, silly) by Spike Milligan. It went: ‘Said Hamlet to Ophelia,/I’ll do a sketch of thee,/What kind of pencil shall I use,/2B or not 2B?’ I think the four-liner captures the spirit of Hamlet perfectly — confused and confusing.

I first read about Hamlet when I was still in primary school in one of Richmal Crompton’s Just William tales. (Check them out on ongoing-tales.com). William Brown was getting a lesson in his more famous namesake’s ‘Hamlet’. When the plot outline proved too confusing, the teacher Mr Welbecker moved on to the debatable ‘sources’ of the great work — how some attributed the work to Francis Bacon etc. William protested, ‘Whenever I say it’s Bacon you say it’s Ham, and whenever I say it’s Ham you say Bacon.’

For some time I too believed that Hamlet was a culinary innovation — an omelette with ham filling. But then as I grew older I improvised and had almost decided on baby pig when an unrelenting English teacher in the family found me out.

Over the years I realised that hamlet was a kindred soul. For one, he was contemplative and his contemplations had far reaching effects.

It was the boards and the first paper was English Language. One essay topic read – Do you like or dislike being a teenager? Now I am as cautious as I am contemplative. So I  asked the invigilators if that would be ‘like or dislike’ OR ‘like and dislike’. I was shushed into silence, so I sat down obediently. When I looked up next I was the only collected person in the whole room and as I later found out, in the whole district. My contemplation had had a seismic effect. Eventually we learnt that the Board had notified examiners that in the face of the trauma it had been decided that they would accept both versions (or and and).

That is a cross I have to bear. But just by way of atonement others who are contemplative about prepositions check out www.new.towson.edu

Then there was another thing with Hamlet. He was too secretive about the little things. It was the death of Ophelia.

John and I were the only two students taking the course in Postcolonial Diasporas. The classes were always before lunch and our tummies would growl once in a while.

Now, half way into the term I got a second-hand mobile. There was just one problem: you could not put it on silent. So most of the time I left it in the locker.

But one day I forgot. Half way through Spivak’s subaltern theory my phone started ringing. Did I mention that the ring tone sounded like a growl? Well, it did.

On the other side of the table John’s face changed from pink to magenta. I stared to reassure, but the more I looked the more he clutched at his stomach. And finally, with an ‘excuse me’ left the class. I meant to clarify, but before that he apologised  and promised never again to come to class on an empty stomach. And that despite that chronic morning sickness.

Should I tell him to consult wikihow.com before changing his diet and life? To tell or not to tell…I couldn’t decide.

Also, Hamlet saw things others didn’t (remember his father’s ghost?). And so did I.

Every day on my way to the metro I saw this man – reed thin, oiled hair, ghastly jacket – bang in the middle of the left pavement. It had to be an apparition. And then one day a mumbling made me turn.

The spook was right behind me, and with a bouquet too. I shrieked and ran. “Was he bothering you?” asked a kindly onlooker.

So he saw things too? And how long had he known that he was clairvoyant? The good Samaritan did not shriek, but he was suddenly walking very briskly in the opposite direction.

I have always wondered why.

Email Upala Sen: upala.sen@hindustantimes.com