As I was reading the short stories in East, West by Salman Rushdie, two of them stood out to me. “Good Advice is Rarer than Rubies” and “The Free Radio” focus on beauty, its positive and negative effects, and the idea of youth listening to their elders.
“Good Advice” focuses on a young, very beautiful woman, Miss Rehana, and her attempt to find her fiancé in England. Betrothed in an arranged marriage, Miss Rehana doesn’t truly want to be her fiancé, but she tries to receive her passport from the Consulate in order to travel to London for her deceased parents; it’s her duty as their daughter. Miss Rehana is used to getting things by relying on her beauty, although she has the spunk and life experience of taking care of herself and doing things on her own.
Muhammed Ali’s offer of free advice and illegal passport stemmed from Miss Rehana’s beauty, he admits it to her, and if she had truly wanted to meet her fiancé in London and get married, she would’ve taken him up on his act of kindness, but Miss Rehana was both too proud to listen and didn’t plan on succeeding with her mission. With her fiancé so old and never having met him before, Miss Rehana attempted for her parents but had no intentions of passing the Consulate’s test. That’s why she said she wasn’t worried when she turned down Muhammed Ali’s offer. She relied on her beauty to “act dumb” and get the questions wrong like the other “Tuesday women” trying to get a London passport so she could stay in her home and keep her job taking care of children she loves. Miss Rehana gave a half-hearted attempt to do right by her parents, but in the end couldn’t subject herself to truly listen to them or Muhammed Ali because she didn’t want a life with a much older, unknown man. She likes her life, so she went against them by not putting in all the effort she could to pass the test. She used her beauty to, this time, not get what she supposedly wanted.
“The Free Radio” follows a young rickshaw-wallah named Ramani and an old “thief’s widow” according the sahib, the narrator. The thief’s widow tricks the young, beautiful boy into falling in love with her because the young boy is respected and has a successful job that gets him money, and she has five children to feed. She manipulated Ramani into taking care of her and her family because she’s too lazy and isn’t respected by anyone in town. She encourages his crazy dream of being an actor in movies because he’s so handsome. Besides the money he has, that’s all the thief’s widow cares about, his looks.
The sahib wants to save Ramani but doesn’t know how because he won’t listen to him, so he confronts the thief’s widow. She claims that she spared Ramani because he asked her to marry him, but she no longer wants children and didn’t want to stop him from being a father one day. Ramani then does the unthinkable, getting a nasbandi just so the thief’s widow would marry him. Ramani doesn’t think through either of the decisions; he was only powered by his “love” for the thief’s widow. The free radio was a scam the government was doing years ago so people would perform the nasbandi. Ramani clings to the idea of the free radio in order to avoid the consequences of his actions. Once the man who performed the procedure finally tells him he’s never getting a radio, Ramani deflates a little and decides to leave in order to become a big movie star in Bombay. Ramani can no longer deal with his failures since he can no longer hide behind his consolation prize, and now the thief’s widow is shamed once again. Moving far away is done to avoid the humiliation of his mistakes for the both of them, but Ramani can no longer escape them. His tall tales in his letters to the sahib prove that he’s just as unhappy without the lies as he was when he ignored the sahib's warnings and the truth. Ramani relied on his looks and love to provide wisdom and a path in life, but he should've listened to the wisdom fo the sahib and the other people in town.