Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Home Essentials

When reading Rushdie’s Good Advice is Rarer than Rubies, I was struck by Miss Rehana’s attitude throughout the story. She enters an unfamiliar place, and from the moment she descends the stairs of the bus, she carries herself with grace and confidence, attracting the attention of those around her. Initially I believed that she must simply be encouraged by her beauty and her engagement to a sophisticated London man. However, as I read on, I realized that the source of her self-assurance was not quite so external.

Miss Rehana meets Muhammad Ali and seems to be somewhat fidgety after he corrects her mistaken reference to Bradford, England as Bradford, London. Rushdie writes that she thanked him, “responding gravely” (8). She then allows the old advice-wallah to peruse her paperwork, asking “Is it OK?” and “for the first time there was a hint of anxiety in her voice” (8). Her apprehension, however, is slight and brief. The moment of concern is later overshadowed by her remarkable composure upon explaining her story to Muhammad Ali and divulging her utter failure during the passport test: “I got all their questions wrong…Distinguishing marks I put on the wrong cheeks, the bathroom décor I completely redecorated, all absolutely topsy-turvy, you see” (15). In this instance I understood that not only did Miss Rehana get all of the questions, but she didn’t care. Although she tells the old man that her fiancée is a stranger to her, the type of questions she was asked could have easily been discussed over the phone to ensure success. She seems to have purposely avoided sufficient preparation for the test and, I suspect through her allowing Muhammad Ali to double-check her papers, even went to extra lengths to ensure failure.

What is her explanation for all of the self-inflicted sabotage and apparent indifference to failure? “Now I will go back to my Lahore and my job. I work in a great house, as ayah to three good boys. They would have been sad to see me leave” (15). Despite this response, Muhammad Ali continues to grieve dramatically. Miss Rehana calmly tells him, “I do not think…I truly do not think you should be sad” (15). The final image we are given of the lovely Miss Rehana is of her smile, which Rushdie describes as “the happiest thing he [Muhammad Ali] had seen in his long, hot, hard, unloving life” (16).

This story’s message about “home” seemed to me to have many facets. Like works we have read in the past, home here involves familiarity, comfort and most importantly, love. For Miss Rehana London was a complete lack of all those “home essentials.” However, the most striking idea about home I took away from this tale, and my among my favorite I myself have come across thus far, is that where you consider home is a place you want to be so desperately, so badly, that you would do anything to be able to stay there. When your home is equipped with all the “home essentials” (a list which varies among individuals and can go on and on), the joy you feel there and the longing when you are away are inexpressible. Home is what people mean when they say, “There’s nowhere else I’d rather be.”

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