Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Good Advice Lasts a Lifetime

The tile of the first short story, “Good Advice is Rarer than Rubies,” sets the stage for Rushdie’s comment on the power of advice and how it defines our relationship to home. I have always considered advice to be a very transformative tool for how it so significantly affects us, leading us toward a particular path in life or away from another direction. It’s something we seem to always say we want, but are seldom pleased with finally receiving – sort of like finding out the answer to something we wish we never knew. Advice has the power to deepen our opinions about something, as well as cause us to reconsider something we once thought was permanent; to say advice was powerful would be an understatement.

For me, I have always identified advice with my Dad. When I think back to every important decision I have had to make or when I just wasn’t sure if my gut was telling me the truth, I have looked to my Dad. Recently, I find myself picking up the phone or e-mailing him more and more often as I search for jobs, consider interviews, and debate relocating cities. He’s my go-to for instant advice, be it for an additional suggestion or the occasional, “Well, I’ll have to think about it some more”…in other words, not so great idea. It wasn’t until I went away to college that I realized the influence his advice has had on my optimism and enthusiasm for exploring a new hobby or taking on a new challenge. In high school it was easy to just drop by his office adjacent to our family’s living room and casually ask him what he thought of my latest idea. Now more than just a room away, I sometimes have to be my own “advice.” Rather than rely on him for every bit of guidance, I imagine myself sitting in his black swivel chair and thinking to myself, “What would Dad say?” The countless pep talks, discussions, and occasional debates between the two of us have become a part of my thought process and my perception of what it feels to be at home. Home is where my Dad’s voice is and the comfort of knowing he just “gets” me.

This is not to say, however, that my dad’s advice was always spot-on, let alone what I always initially gone looking for. It’s very likely that for every time I have been extremely grateful for his words of wisdom, I have resented his ability to so significantly affect my thoughts. Rushdie, too, acknowledges this “hypocritical” nature of advice when Miss Rehana turns the tables on Muhammad Ali and reminds him he may not know everything. Muhammad Ali insists he can help Miss Rehana by offering a fake passport, later lamenting to himself, “Old fool, the oldest fools are bewitched by the youngest girls” (11). He even promises her that he is doing what “I would not do for my own daughter,” creating this falsified document and “solving all your problems in one stroke” (11). Ali Muhammad thinks he is doing Miss Rehana a favor by creating her a new identity, suggesting he himself knows very little about her no cares to learn any more. He assumes he understands her story, insisting “parents act in our best interests,” when she shares with him her arranged marriage (14). In truth, however, he is looking at her from the surface, as just another face he can distort on a passport. Her identity means nothing to him until she offers a self of herself to him personally, in turn bestowing advice on him. Ironically, it is Miss Rehana who says about her fiancée, “I have his photo, but he is like a stranger to me” (14). Muhammad Ali also sees Miss Rehana’s face as a stranger, able to be altered with simple switch of identities.

It is not until Miss Rehana returns and reveals that their plan has failed does Muhammad Ali see her as someone beyond words on a passport. “I do not think you should be sad,” she tells him…Now I will go back to Lahore and my job” (15). “Her last smile,” Rushdie writes, “was the happiest thing he had ever seen in his long, hot, hard, unloving life” (16). Muhammad Ali realizes the significance of advice from a stranger, powerfully enough, as Rushdie suggests, to shape the rest of his life. Similar to the surprises my Dad’s advice always brings, Muhammad Ali is rewarded by another’s words that will last him a lifetime.

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