Themes and Meanings
Beneath its simple surface, “Good Advice Is Rarer than Rubies” deals with complex issues of international relations, cultural differences, and the many-sided nature of human desires and goals. At one level, the story deals with the unequal relationship between Great Britain and its former colony, Pakistan. Muhammad Ali’s meager, dishonest living depends on a steady stream of women seeking permission to join husbands or fiancés working in England. When Miss Rehana appears at the gates of the consulate, she is turned away because the sahibs have not yet finished their breakfast. The British officials have complete power to decide whether she will be allowed to enter their country.
It is clear that the British do not understand Pakistan or customs such as arranged marriages. Miss Rehana and the other young women, in turn, do not understand British ways of doing things. Muhammad Ali is able to act as a go-between and to defraud the young women, because he can claim to have some insight into how things are done by the sahibs.
At a deeper level, the story treats the mystery of motivation. Even Muhammad Ali, a greedy and selfish cheat, finds himself motivated to help the young woman without completely understanding why. Miss Rehana herself appears to be motivated to go to England, but in the end she really seems to want to stay home. The difficulty of knowing what people really want makes it hard to say just what good advice is. Muhammad Ali turns out to be right in everything that he tells Miss Rehana. The British do interrogate her, and she is refused permission to go to England when she cannot answer their questions. However, Muhammad Ali is also wrong in assuming that going abroad is what Miss Rehana really wants. In the end, failure has made her happy, and her happiness seems to bring light into the dark life of the old con man, even though he has failed both in his original plan to cheat her and in his efforts to help her.