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GOOD ADVICE IS RARER THAN RUBIES by Salman Rushdie

East, West by Salman Rushdie (hier online bestellen)

Extract from Salman Rushdie "Good Advice Is Rarer than Rubies"

The text is the last part of the short story "Good Advice is Rarer than Rubies" from the collection East, West (1994) by Salman Rushdie.

Old Muhammad Ali makes his living by giving advice to people at the British Consulate who are trying to get permission to immigrate to the UK, which is not easy. However, Ali usually tricks his clients without really helping them. When Miss Rehana arrives, unaccompanied, Ali is so taken with her beauty that he finds himself offering his advice for nothing. He stresses how important it is to give exactly the right information about intimate details concerning oneself and the people one is going to live with in Britain, which will be checked at the other end to make sure they are really close contacts. In the end Ali even offers to give her a stolen passport.
'Let me understand you,' she was saying. 'You are proposing I should commit a crime...'
'Not crime,' he interposed, 'facilitation.'
'. . . and go to Bradford, London, illegally, and therefore justify the low opinion the Consulate sahibs have of us all. Old babuji, this is not good advice.'
'Bradford, England,' he corrected her mournfully. 'You should not take my gift in such a spirit.'
'Then how?'
'Bibi, I am a poor fellow, and I have offered this prize because you are so beautiful. Do not spit on my generosity. Take the thing. Or else don't take, go home, forget England, only do not go into that building and lose your dignity.'
But she was on her feet, turning away from him, walking towards the gates, where the women had begun to cluster and the lala was swearing at them to be patient or none of them would be admitted at all.
'So be a fool,' Muhammad Ali shouted after her. 'What goes of my father's if you are?' (Meaning, what was it to him.) She did not turn.
'It is the curse of our people,' he yelled. 'We are poor, we are ignorant, and we completely refuse to learn.'
'Hey, Muhammad Ali,' the woman at the betel-nut stall called across to him. Too bad, she likes them young.'
That day Muhammad Ali did nothing but stand around near the Consulate gates. Many times he scolded himself, Go from here, old goof, lady does not desire to speak with you any further. But when she came out, she found him waiting. 'Salaam, advice wallah,' she greeted him.
She seemed calm, and at peace with him again, and he thought, My God, ya Allah, she has pulled it off. The British sahibs also have been drowning in her eyes and she has got her passage to England.
He smiled at her hopefully. She smiled back with no trouble at all.
'Miss Rehana Begum,' he said, 'felicitations, daughter, on what is obviously your hour of triumph.' Impulsively, she took his forearm in her hand. 'Come,' she said. 'Let me buy you a pakora to thank you for your advice and to apologise for my rudeness, too.'
They stood in the dust of the afternoon compound near the bus, which was getting ready to leave. Coolies were tying bedding rolls to the roof, A hawker shouted at the passengers, trying to sell them love sto40 ries and green medicines, both of which cured unhappiness. Miss Rehana and a happy Muhammad Ali ate their pakoras sitting on the bus's 'front mud-guard', that is, the bumper. The old advice expert began softly to hum a tune from a movie soundtrack. The day's heat was gone.
'It was an arranged engagement; Miss Rehana said all at once. 'I was nine years old when my parents fixed it. Mustafa Dar was already thirty at that time, but my father wanted someone who could look after me as he had done himself and Mustafa was a man known to Daddyji as a solid type. Then my parents died and Mustafa Dar went to England and said he would send for me. That was many years ago. I have his photo, but he is like a stranger to me. Even his voice, I do not recognise it on the phone.'
The confession took Muhammad Ali by surprise, but he nodded with what he hoped looked like wisdom.
'Still and after all,' he said, 'one's parents act in one's best interests. They found you a good and honest man who has kept his word and sent for you. And now you have a lifetime to get to know him, and to love.'
He was puzzled, now, by the bitterness that had infected her smile.
'But, old man,' she asked him, 'why have you already packed me and posted me off to England?' He stood up, shocked. 'You looked happy - so I just assumed. . . excuse me, but they turned you down or what?'
'I got all their questions wrong,' she replied. 'Distinguishing marks I put on the wrong cheeks, bathroom decor I completely redecorated, all absolutely topsy-turvy, you see.'
'But what to do? How will you go?'
'Now I will go back to Lahore and my job. I work in a great house, as ayah to three good boys. They would have been sad to see me leave.'
'But this is tragedy!' Muhammad Ali lamented. 'Oh, how I pray that you had taken up my offer! Now, but, it is not possible, l regret to inform.
Now they have your form on file, cross-check can be made, even the passport will not suffice,
'It is spoilt, all spoilt, and it could have been so easy if advice had been accepted in good time.'
"I do not think,' she told him, 'I truly do not think you should be sad.'
Her last smile, which he watched from the compound until the bus concealed it in a dust-cloud, was the happiest thing he had ever seen in his long, hot, hard, unloving life.

Annotations:
babuji Indian English: babu means father, often used to address an old man, and -ji is a term of endearment (like 'dear')
Bibi Indian English: polite form of address to a girl or young woman
lala Indian English: uniformed official working for the Consulate
pakora a snack meal, rather like what is known in Germany as Döner
Lahore city in North West India
ayah Indian English: nurse, governess, nanny

Possible assignments:
1. Outline Muhammad Ali's assumptions about Miss Rehana's hopes and wishes and show how they are proved wrong. (Comprehension)
2. Examine how the author creates suspense and enables the reader to understand the characters' feelings. Consider point of view, setting and the use of language, (Analysis)
3. You have a choice here. Choose one of the following tasks:
3.1 Comment on the ways in which Miss Rehana and Jess Bhamra (from the film Bend it like Beckham) deal with stereotypical expectations of female behaviour. Make sure you take into consideration the different cultures they live in.
(Evaluation: comment)
3.2 After her return to Lahore Miss Rehana phones her fiancé in Bradford to explain that she has failed to get the permission to join him in England. Write a telephone conversation in which her fiancé points out his situation between two cultures.


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