This essay has been translated by the author from the original French.
In "Good Advice Is Rarer Than Rubies ," from Salman Rushdie's collection of short stories, East West, the very young and very beautiful Rehana is a character, who in spite of her credulity, emerges unharmed at the end of the story. The plot reveals a familiar tale to visa seekers : approaching the British Consulate in Islamabad, a self-styled expert in red-tape-ism offers up his services to the pretty girl, quite obviously at a loss because of the complexity of the visa-obtaining process.
Rehana succeeds in escaping a devastating life, that is by coming very close to marrying a man a lot older than she is and moreover someone she has never laid eyes on because it is her parents who have arranged the marriage. This arrangement took place when Rehana Begum (madam in Urdu) was only nine years old and the groom to be, a certain Mustafa Dar, was aged thirty. The "strange, big-eyed, independent girl" (p.6) liberates herself from this forced marriage deal despite the "advisor," Muhammed Ali's attempts at encouraging her to leave for England to join her husband who lives there. Rehana is fully aware that she has emancipated herself by deciding to stay in Lahore and make a living in her chosen field, as a nanny or ayah (p.15) : "Her last smile...was the happiest thing (Muhammed) had ever seen"(p.16). Rehana like Dina Shroff in A Fine Balance, knows the real dangers of arranged marriage, where the girl very often has little choice concerning who she is about share the rest of her life with in wedlock. Dina is more than mindful of the perils involved : "families decide everything. Then the woman becomes the property of the husband's family, to be abused and bullied. It's a terrible system, turns the nicest girls into witches." (p.492FB).
In the Firozsha Baag Parsi community, the intimate everyday life of the female characters is exposed, revealing the numerous injustices committed against them. We are not about to accuse Mistry of misogyny but we will see the dark side of the modern condition of Indian women through his short stories, and the verisimilitude of his female portraits.
In Tales From Firozsha Baag, the very first short story entitled, "Auspicious Occasion," we learn that fifty year old Rustomji, is married to a young woman called Mehroo, who is in her prime. They married when she had just finished high school at the tender age of sixteen. Mistry underlines, in his familiar comic style, the completeness of the incompatibility between this couple. To begin with Mehroo's stunning beauty and youthfulness contrast strongly with Rustomji's non-existent physical appeal : "no one had anticipated that he would be wearing dentures by the time he was fifty" (p.3). He treats his wife like a gunga or servant, shouting at her when he needs his newspaper.
Gajra, the new gunga, arrives at Rustomji's and he visually indulges himself. The old toothless man, fantasises about her naked body and pays very close attention to her 'independent' breasts, that are ill-contained by a flimsy sari blouse. In a certain way Gajra represents the ideal woman for a man like Rustomji. She is socially inferior to him, and in his eyes, because she is only a woman, he is allowed to watch her lustfully, even secretly dreaming of seducing her. This is Mistry at his comic best (p.11). Rustmomji watches the gunga's voluptuous body, wanting to see her nipples, her breasts in their entirety. His depravity is equalled only by the Parsi priest, Dhunjisha, who excels at sordidness and licentiousness (p.13). Mistry, by dint of his highly comic digressions which act like theatrical asides, reveals the real deceptive nature of what are believed to be chaste holy men, "known to exchange lewd remarks between lines of prayer :
See the tits on that chickie-boo... "(p.14)
No mention is ever made of the sexual life of Rustomji and Mehroo which is evidence that goes to show that their relationship is more like that between a brother and considerably younger sister. Mehroo treats his wife as if her were her father or her brother. She hunts out his newspaper, cooks and prepares drinks for him, a fraternal affection links them together. They lead a monotonous existence, each day is no different to the next (p.20). We have come full circle yet again, back to "Gandhian inversion" where married couples live at best, more like brother and sister.
In Arundhati Roy's novel The God of Small Things, the character named "Orangedrink Lemondrink Uncle" (p.100), the cold drinks vendor, forces the little boy Estha to masturbate him, while the child savours his drink outside the local cinema. Ironically he has just been watching 'prelapsarian' scenes from The Sound Of Music with his mother, Ammu, and sister, Rahel : Estha "got a cold bottle and a straw. So he held a bottle in one hand and a penis in the other. Hard, hot veiny" (p.103). This incident distinctly echoes "the dark side of parent-child relations ". Estha does not comprehend what exactly is going on but instinct informs him that this 'uncle', who claims to know Estha's mother's family (p.109) is seriously overstepping the boundaries of correct avuncular behaviour. Ammu, emerging from the dark movie hall, unaware of what has taken place in her absence asks Estha to stay with the perverted man while she busies herself with her daughter, "Estha, you stay with uncle"( p.110). The boy refuses with an uncharacteristic violence which reflects the full terror of his experience. The little girl Rahel, with her highly tuned sensitivity, notices that this "uncle: possesses a sexually ambivalent behaviour which makes her fearful of him : "As she approached him, he smiled at her and something about that...portable smile...the steady gaze in which he held her, made her shrink from him. It was the most hideous thing she had ever seen." (p.111). What must be stated as being proper to Indian society is that children are asked to call their parents' friends "uncl" or "auntie." Consequently people formerly unknown to the children then become members of a sort of extended family. Taking into account this idiosyncratic name coding, we could go as far as to say that Estha was sexually abused by a parental figure, even if no blood ties exist between the abuser and his victim. This encounter can be used to illustrate the generally recognised fact that sexual abuse committed against minors is often perpetrated by close friends of the family, that is to say, adults already known by the parents of the victim.