23 pages 46 minutes read

Salman Rushdie

Good Advice is Rarer than Rubies

Fiction | Short Story | Adult | Published in 1987

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Summary: “Good Advice Is Rarer Than Rubies”

“Good Advice Is Rarer Than Rubies,” a short story written by Salman Rushdie, was first published in The New Yorker in 1987 and then reprinted in East, West, a collection of Rushdie’s short stories published in 1994. This anthology divides the stories into three sections: “East, “West,” and “East/West.” “Good Advice Is Rarer Than Rubies” can be found in the “East” section. Most of this story takes place in a shantytown next to the British Consulate in Pakistan—and therefore sometime after the dissolution of the British Raj. Narrated in close third person from the perspective of the deuteragonist, Muhammad Ali, the story explores themes of migrant and postcolonial identity, gender and marriage, and transformations of culture and language, critiquing colonial rule through irony and satire.

The story begins on a Tuesday as Miss Rehana, the protagonist, rides to the British Consulate at dawn. The bus is emblazoned with phrases in both English and Urdu. As Miss Rehana approaches the gates of the Consulate, Muhammad Ali watches her closely. Miss Rehana is beautiful, and when Muhammad Ali registers Miss Rehana’s eyes, he feels rejuvenated.

Miss Rehana asks the lala guarding the Consulate gates what time they will open. His answer is imprecise but less gruff than usual. She makes her way to the shantytown to purchase some chili pakoras from a snack stand while she waits. Meanwhile, other “Tuesday women” come to the Consulate seeking passage to England as dependents. Most are accompanied by male relatives, but Miss Rehana is alone. As she eats her pakoras, Muhammad Ali, who makes his living conning these women out of their rupees and jewelry, moves toward her despite himself and offers his services as an “advice expert.” “Good advice is rarer than rubies” (6), she replies, telling him that as an orphan, she cannot afford what he has to offer. Entranced by her beauty, Muhammad Ali offers to give her advice for free, saying destiny has brought him to her. She accepts, telling him, “When Fate sends a gift, one receives good fortune” (7).

He guides her to his office, a small desk within the shantytown. Other male residents of the shantytown look on with what Muhammad Ali considers to be envy. He asks her name, and she provides it, adding that she is betrothed to one Mustafa Dar of “Bradford, London.” Muhammad Ali corrects her, telling her that London is a town. He asks to see her application for a permit to travel to London, and as she passes her papers to Muhammad Ali, she seems anxious. Muhammad Ali tells her that her papers look correct, and she readies herself to leave. However, Muhammad Ali pleads that she stay, telling her the process won’t be as easy as she might imagine. He explains that the sahibs at the Consulate believe Tuesday women attempt to gain passage to England through dishonest means and therefore ask them a litany of invasive, crude questions. He tells her that Mustafa Dar has already answered these questions and that she will not receive her permit if her responses diverge from his.

Normally, this is the moment Muhammad Ali promises he can grant passage to England for a fee. This time (and once again despite himself), Muhammad Ali tells Miss Rehana “his greatest secret” (11): that he has a British passport. Shocked that he would suggest she commit a crime, she denies his gift and tells him his advice is not good: She would rather not reinforce the already low opinion the sahibs have of the Tuesday women.

Frustrated, Muhammad Ali calls her a “fool” as she walks away, but she nevertheless enters the Consulate. Muhammad Ali waits for her to emerge against his better judgment. When she finally exits the gates, she is calm, and Muhammad believes she has passed the rigorous questioning. He congratulates her, and she offers to buy him some pakoras to thank him. Together, they walk back toward the snack stand and the bus.

As they sit together eating their pakoras, Miss Rehana explains her relationship to Mustafa Dar. The marriage was arranged when she was only nine—and Mustafa 30. In the years since then, her parents died and Mustafa moved to England, promising to send for her eventually. Muhammad Ali tells Miss Rehana that she may come to love Mustafa once she spends time with him. Miss Rehana asks Muhammad Ali why he assumes she was granted passage to England, as she did not answer the questions correctly. Muhammad Ali is upset and tells her that even if she wanted the passport he could offer, she could no longer take it now that they’ve filed and denied her application. He asks what she will do, and she tells him she will go back to Lahore, where she is an ayah (nursemaid) to three children. She advises him not to be “sad,” and the smile she offers as she leaves strikes him as supremely “happy.”