Nepali Times
Look Out
Revealing Rushdie


People writing their memoirs are prone to concealing embarrassing episodes of their lives to cultivate the image they have of themselves. It's a frailty Salman Rushdie's memoir, Joseph Anton, too suffers from.

It is implausible he did not, as he claims, know or guess the reason why his parents chose Pakistan over India late in their lives. He has also glossed over the controversial role his family members played in Pakistan's early years. A sister of Rushdie's mother, Negin, was married to a general who established the ISI, Pakistan's premier intelligence agency. Negin's other sister was the wife of a colonel who mercilessly sanitised the official biography of Muhammad Ali Jinnah.

Then, Rushdie remains silent on the issue that the probation of his father, Anis, in the prestigious Indian Civil Service (ICS) was terminated because his birth record was found forged.

A fortnight ago, I had written in a Pakistani newspaper about the erroneous connection Rushdie makes between a person's religiosity and his or her choice to opt for Pakistan. Rushdie sounds bewildered in Joseph Anton why his father Anis and mother Negin chose Pakistan after living a life of 'happy irreligion', and thinks their decision was 'fishy'. I argued that it was men such as Anis, modern and secular, who endorsed the idea of Pakistan, which most of the prominent ulema, or religious scholars, bitterly opposed then.

In response, I received a mail from an expatriate Pakistani (call him Mr Anonymous). His parents were close to the Rushdies, he wrote, "Theirs was neither a political nor religious decision." Mr Anonymous said the Rushdies moved to Pakistan because Negin's two sisters and a brother were already living there, furnishing their name. I called Pakistani journalists Mariana Baabar, Rehana Hakim, and Asif Noorani, who helped me piece the story of Rushdie's extended family.

At the time of Partition, Negin's sister, Amina, was married to Col Majeed Malik, who worked as Muhammad Ali Jinnah's aide and became the country's first Principal Information Officer. In his book, Stop Press: A Life in Journalism (translated by Khalid Hasan), Inam Aziz blamed Col Malik for issuing Pakistan's 'first press advice'. Soon after Jinnah made his famous speech of 11 August, 1947, Col Malik reportedly asked the Dawn newspaper's FE Brown to omit the portion in which a promise was made to recognise the right of non-Muslims to practise their religion.

The irony of Rushdie's uncle playing Mr Censor doesn't end there. Col Malik expunged large sections of Hector Bolitho's official biography of Jinnah (Jinnah: Creator of Pakistan). The contract between the Pakistan government and Bolitho made it mandatory for him to submit his manuscript to a specially designated official for approval. The official was none other than Col Malik. The portions he deleted can now be read in Sharif Al Mujahid's In Quest of Jinnah.

Rushdie's other aunt, Tahira, was married to Shahid Hamid. Lt Col Hamid opted for Pakistan and established the ISI, in the process becoming its first director-general. He played an instrumental role in the coup Field Marshal Ayub Khan staged to become Pakistan's military dictator, subsequently retiring in 1964 as Maj Gen. In 1978, he was inducted into the cabinet of President Zia ul-Haq, whom he served for three years.

Yet, Rushdie doesn't mention the role his uncles played in the making of an authoritarian Pakistan, which he detests. References to them could have denied Rushdie the opportunity to impart a touch of mystery to his parents' shift to Pakistan. It could also have made their migration appear a tad opportunistic - it may have conveyed the notion that they shifted to Pakistan to benefit from relatives who were in positions of power there. He couldn't then have created the myth that his parents were cosmopolitan and devoid of Muslim consciousness, forgetting that a person could simultaneously possess the two seemingly contradictory sensibilities.

It's also possible Rushdie is deeply embarrassed by his aunts' husbands, wishing to disown them in the same manner city-slickers do away their country cousins. You suspect this as he is effusive about his actor-aunt, Uzra Butt, a Pakistani citizen, and her famous sister, Zohra Segal, an Indian. Uzra was married to Hamid Butt, Negin's brother, and the couple shifted to Pakistan around the time the Rushdies did.

Rushdie also skirts around the story the London-based journalist Danish Khan did for Mumbai Mirror, in which he quoted from documents obtained from the National Archives of the British government to prove Anis was dismissed from the ICS for presenting forged documents pertaining to his date of birth. Danish's story prompted London's Evening Standard to do an item on it, for which Rushdie was asked for a response. He shot back, "My father died 24 years ago, and was not a public person, the fact that his son is in the public eye is no reason to exhume such ancient matters."

Mr Rushdie, one can say the same thing about personalities you have lampooned in your novels.

Nepali Times begins to carry Ajaz Ashraf's syndicated column, Look Out, from this issue. Ashraf has worked for India's The Pioneer and Hindustan Times newspapers. For the last 12 years he was deputy editor at Outlook magazine.

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1. Raul
was migrating to Pakistan in those days an embarrassing episode ?

2. Koji
Not a full and honest history - of course not. Is anybody really reading this book anyway. I imagine tiny sales. But please intelligent author of this piece please stick to the workings of bureaucracy where you can have traction. Ultimately this article is pointless. 

3. yes, yes, yes, yes
Of course, Rushdie's going to be selective when writing about his family. Not everyone is Orhan Pamuk.

And given his recent Americanising and the token Pulitzer, I also assumed, like the author of this piece, that Rushdie would open the floodgates when writing about the evil, evil Pakistani politics. But knowing that Rushdie has chosen to dub over unpleasant memories, contrary to Italo Calvino's advice that a writer should, I will not buy this book as enthusiastically as I did his last.

Anyways, Rushdie ought to be thanked for writing so venomously, and rightly too, about the grand old witch in Midnight's Children.

4. Prem Sharma
Pointless and poorly written article.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)