There are as many versions of an event as there are number of witnesses, a profound truth Japanese film-maker Akira Kurosawa tellingly conveyed in Rashomon. Thus, people writing their memoirs are prone to concealing embarrassing episodes to cultivate an image they have of themselves. It’s a frailty Salman Rushdie’s memoir, Joseph Anton, too suffers from, on three significant counts.
For one, 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. Two, he has 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 another sister was the wife of a colonel who mercilessly sanitized the official biography of Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Third, 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.
But first, a brief background to a discovery. A fortnight ago, I had written in this paper about the erroneous connection Rushdie makes between a person’s religiosity and his or her choice to opt for Pakistan. I argued that it was men such as Anis, modern and irreligious, who endorsed the idea of Pakistan, which most of the prominent ulema, bitterly opposed then.
In response, I received a mail from an expatriate Pakistani (Call him Mr Anonymous). Claiming 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 names. I called Pakistani journalists, Mariana Baabar, Rehana Hakim and Asif Noorani, who helped me piece the story of Rushdie’s extended family.
During 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, Inam Aziz blamed Col Malik for issuing Pakistan’s “first press advice”. Soon after Jinnah made his famous speech of August 11, 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.
Col Malik also 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 Col Malik. The excised portions are now part of Sharif Al Mujahid’s In Quest of Jinnah.
Rushdie’s another aunt, Tahira, was married to Shahid Hamid, who as Lt Col opted for Pakistan and established the ISI. He became its first director-general. He played an instrumental role in the coup Field Marshal Ayub Khan staged to become Pakistan’s military dictator. 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 and may have conveyed the notion that they took the decision to benefit from relatives who were in positions of power there. It’s also possible Rushdie is deeply embarrassed of his aunts’ husbands and wishes to disown them.
Rushdie also skirts around the story London-based journalist Danish Khan wrote for Mumbai Mirror, in which he quoted from documents obtained from the National Archives in Britain 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.
The author is a Delhi-based journalist