Good Advice Is Rarer than Rubies

by Salman Rushdie

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Character List

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Miss Rehana—a very beautiful Indian woman with little money. She arrives at the British consulate in Lahore to obtain a permit to join her fiancé in London.

Muhammad Ali—a good-hearted trickster. He is an old man who makes his living by advising women who arrive at the British consulate.

Character Analysis

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Miss Rehana opens the story, and her beauty more than anything else initially characterizes her, especially the beauty of her eyes, which are “large and black and bright enough not to need the help of antimony.” The use of “antimony,” with refers to metallic elements, turns her eyes into jewels so bright they need nothing to make them more beautiful. In celebrating her eyes, the text celebrates India itself. Even the usually rude lala at the gate of the consulate extends some courtesy to Miss Rehana. As for the elderly Muhammad Ali, her eyes make him feel young again, they are so powerful, and he succumbs to their power when he offers to arrange a free passport for her. But she is more than beautiful: she is also self-assured and independent. Unlike the other Tuesday women, she arrives at the British consulate unescorted and unveiled “and [does] not seem at all alarmed.” She smiles easily as Muhammad talks to her, never losing confidence—except perhaps when he tells her that the British consulate is a “worse place than any police station.” However, her response, “is it so, truly,” is full of ambiguity. Muhammad thinks his remarks make her “a captive audience,” afraid and needing his assistance, but as we later discover, her response more likely indicates the beginning of her plan to use the information Muhammad gives her to make sure she does not go to England. Thus, Miss Rehana carries much of the irony of the story, with her eyes taking on symbolic value. The narrator does not allow the audience her perspective, so the reader’s view of her is as limited as Muhammad Ali’s, and one does not learn of her intentions until she explains her success to him. Withholding this information adds to her power, for she exercises a control over him as well as the audience. The empowerment the story gives Miss Rehana parallels the empowerment the author gives India, suggesting this woman is in a “postcolonial” relationship to the men in the story, especially Muhammad Ali. She does not allow herself to be defined by him nor by anyone; instead, she intends to live a life of independence, unmarried, as ayah to children she loves.

An “old grey-hair fraud,” Muhammad Ali may be the story’s antagonist but he is certainly sympathetic. The audience cannot help but respond warmly to him as a result of the way this old man allows a pretty woman to seduce him into doing something that he thinks helpful. He likes to portray himself as important. “Tip-top,” he tells Miss Rehana as he examines her papers, playing the role of an official. Indeed, he builds his identity on his ability to give advice, in this way giving himself an empty importance that in the past has harmed other Tuesday women. This aspect of his character parallels that of the British colonials who, according to a postcolonial perspective, fraudulently assumed authority over a country. However, unlike Great Britain’s relationship to India, Muhammad Ali ends up truly caring for the welfare of Miss Rehana, offering her at the end of the story “felicitations, daughter, on what is obviously your hour of triumph.”

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