Good Advice Is Rarer than Rubies

by Salman Rushdie

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Provide a detailed character sketch of Muhammad Ali from the short story "Good Advice is Rarer than Rubies".

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In the story, Muhammad Ali is an aging confidence man who schemes to make money from women in desperate need of visas.

The women who go to the British Consulate are known as 'Tuesday women,' and it is Muhammad Ali's usual practice to charge these women for his advice and his help in obtaining the necessary documents for joining a fiance or a husband in England. When Muhammad meets Miss Rehana, he is so captivated by her beauty that he offers to help her for free.

Muhammad looks through her documents to ensure that everything is in order. When he hands the papers back, Miss Rehana quickly thanks him and proceeds to walk away. Dissatisfied with his ability to detain this beauty by his side a little longer, Muhammad tries to elicit some admiration for his supposed inside knowledge of Consulate affairs by frightening the young woman with stories of sahibs (British officials) who view all Tuesday women as liars and opportunists.

He tells Miss Rehana that the officials will ask her about her virginity, the love-making abilities of her fiance, and other intimate questions in order to determine the authenticity of her application. Muhammad presents himself as the only man who can promise her a visa; he mentions that he knows someone working at the consulate who can (for a fee) provide the necessary papers without further ado. What Miss Rehana does not realize is that Muhammad is in the habit of tricking unsuspecting women out of hundreds of rupees for papers that will never materialize.

When Miss Rehana refuses his help, he is incensed. A betel-nut hawker taunts him with the words, 'Too bad, she likes them young,' insinuating that an aging man like him would never stand a chance trying to win the attentions of such a lovely young woman.

At last, when Miss Rehana emerges smiling from the Consulate a while later, Muhammad thinks that she has obtained the necessary visa. He congratulates her, and she smiles mysteriously. It isn't until later that Muhammad finds out that she was refused a visa to England and that she isn't too upset at the prospect of not going abroad to marry a man she doesn't know.

In this story, Muhammad is portrayed as a skillful and ruthless trickster. However, the writer also reveals another side of Muhammad, as a man who is not immune to the effects of feminine beauty and not without compassion for the typical Pakistani woman's plight. Nowhere is this clearer than when he expresses his opinion about Miss Rehana's arranged marriage.

Still, and after all... 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.

Muhammad's surprise and shock when he learns that Miss Rehana has been turned down for a visa appears genuine. The young woman assures her 'advice-wallah' that he needn't be sad. In turn, Muhammad is charmed by her  wonderful smile as she walks away. The author notes that, for Muhammad, Miss Rehana's smile is the 'happiest thing he had ever seen in his long, hot, hard, unloving life.' Muhammad's ability to be affected by the simplicity and beauty of the young woman's smile demonstrates that this seemingly indifferent confidence man is not without heart after all.

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