The Origin of Sufiya Zenobia in a London Murder

[Added by George P. Landow, Professor of English and Art History, Brown University]

Rushdie opens Chapter 7 of Shame with the following explanation:

Not so long ago, in the East End of London, a Pakistani father murdered his only child, a daughter, because by making love to a white boy she had brought such dishonour upon her family that only her blood could wash away the stain. The tragedy was intensified by the father's enormous and obvious love for his butchered daughter, and by the beleaguered reluctance of his friends and relatives (all 'Asians,' to use the confusing term of these trying days) to condemn his actions. . . . The story appalled me when I heard it, appalled me in an obvious way. I had recently become a father myself and was therefore newly capable of estimating how colossal a force would be required to make a man turn a knife-blade against his own flesh and blood. But even more appalling was my realization that, like the interviewed friends etc., I, too, found myself understanding the killer. . . . We who have grown up on a diet of honour and shame can still grasp what must seem unthinkable to peoples living in the aftermath of the death of God and tragedy: that men will sacrifice their dearest love on the implacable alter of their pride. (And not only men. I have since heard of a case in which a woman committed the identical crime for identical reasons.) Between shame and shamelessness lies the axis upon which we turn; meteorological conditions at both these poles are of the most extreme, ferocious type. Shamelessness, shame: the roots of violence.

My Sufiya Zinobia grew out of the corpse of that murdered girl. . . Wanting to write about shame, I was at first haunted by the imagined spectre of that dead body, its throat split like a halal chicken, lying in a London night across a zebra [pedestrian] crossing,. . . . I even went so far as to give the dead girl a name: Anahita Muhhamad, known as Anna. In my imagination she spoke with an East London accent but wore jeans, blue brown pink, out of some atavistic reluctance to show her legs. She would certainly have understood the language her parents spoke at home, but would have obstinately refused to utter a word of it herself. . . . But finally she eluded me, she became a ghost, and I realized that to write about her, about shame, I would have to go back East, to let the idea breathe its favorite air. [123-124]

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