Rushdie and Jinnah: More alike than different?

I was reading Salman Rushdie's memoir, Joseph Anton, when it struck me that Pakistan's Mohd Ali Jinnah, the Muslim hero, and India's Rushdie, the Muslim villain, shared a few things in common. Here they are:

First: Both were South Bombay boys, the most sophisticated part of India that spoke Gujarati. In a city where an 800 square foot two-bedroom flat may cost up to a million dollars today, Rushdie lived in a bungalow on Warden Road. Jinnah built a mansion on the even more posh Malabar Hill, worth perhaps US100 million today. Both men liked the city. Rushdie's father was a member of the exclusive Willingdon Club, while Jinnah liked lunching at Gaylord, off Marine Drive. Both men thought they would easily keep returning to their Bombay, Jinnah after Partition, Rushdie after Satanic Verses. Both were wrong.

The two share many similarities

Second: Both of them lived many years in Europe, having gone there in childhood and early youth. Both were at home there. Gandhi was awkward in London and tried without success to fit in, taking dancing and violin lessons. Jinnah was so elegantly turned out in his beautifully-cut suits and two-tone shoes, that the Labour Party refused him a ticket for being "too much of a toff". Rushdie went to the elite Rugby school, followed by a stint at Cambridge University.

Third: Neither man could communicate with the people their work affected most, the Muslims of the subcontinent. Both were essentially monolingual, speaking only English. Rushdie sprinkles his novels with Hindi and Urdu words and names, but cannot really speak the language. Jinnah spoke no Urdu and his native Gujarati he did not speak very well. He delivered his two-nation theory and separatism speeches in English. This means 99 percent of Indians couldn't understand him (though people often reminisce how his audience heard Jinnah in awestruck attention), nor did he understand 99 percent of them.

Fourth: Neither man was particularly devout. Rushdie was not religious at all, as most intellectuals tend to be. Jinnah was not attracted to the orthodox traditions, though nobody can say for sure that he was totally put off by organised religion. In my experience Ismaili Khojas (Jinnah became voluntarily a twelver Shia later in life) are fairly conformist as all mercantile cultures tend to be. I wonder what Jinnah would have made of the fact that a Deobandi maulvi, Shabbir Usmani, led his funeral prayer.

Fifth: Though they were personally not very attracted to faith, both used it effectively. Jinnah to create a state and effect the Partition of India; Rushdie, who without doubt would have known what his blasphemy would produce, to make himself a literary martyr. Both turned to it as a last resort. Jinnah after he thought Congress was being intransigent, Rushdie after going through a period of intellectual barrenness following Midnight's Children. His writing "was not going well", he writes in his memoir, a couple of years before Satanic Verses was published.

Sixth: They had a strange connection through Alexander Dumas. I translated an interview Jinnah had given to Gujarati magazine Visami Sadi (20th century). In it, written in his hand, he said his favourite novel was "Monte Cristo" (Count of Monte Cristo, by Dumas). Reviewing Rushdie's memoir, Jake Kerridge wrote: "He repeatedly refers to himself as a prisoner and there is something of the Count of Monte Cristo about him, keeping himself going by thinking of the revenge we will take on those who have wronged him when he's free."

Seventh: Both were able to fire up India's Muslims. Jinnah in the cause of loving Pakistan and Rushdie in the cause of hating Rushdie. Both men bring out strong feelings on the opposite side too. Rushdie's supporters, the intellectual elite of Europe, writers like Martin Amis and Christopher Hitchens, love him as much as Jinnah is disliked in India by non-Muslims.

Updated Date: Oct 03, 2012 16:19 PM

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