Sunday, September 25, 2016

Rushdie's father's secret humiliation in UK

The eyes have the same intensity as his famously broody-eyed writer son but Salman Rushdie's father Anis Ahmed Rushdie had an almost diametrically opposite reception in the United Kingdom from that of his illustrious son's.

An investigation by this reporter reveals that unlike Sir Salman, knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 2007, his father Anis Ahmed Rushdie was shamed and nearly prosecuted in the UK in 1935 after it was revealed that his birth record details had been fudged to allow him to appear for the elite Indian Civil Service.

Despite his protestations of innocence and cultural misunderstanding, Rushdie senior was dismissed from the ICS on this ground.

After graduating from Cambridge University, like his son did later, Anis Rushdie appeared for the ICS in 1932 and cleared the exam. But following inexplicable reasons he was not selected in 1932. He reappeared the next year and was ranked 4th overall.

His troubles began when he was sent to England on the customary two-year probation and the British began scrutinising his records.

'Entry no 587 which relates to Anis Ahmed Rushdie is definitely not genuine"" and were ""inserted at a later date"", says Victor Hodgson, assistant government examiner of questioned documents, in his report of 20 March 1934.

Mumbai Mirror is in possession of exclusive documents relating to the expulsion of Anis Ahmed Rushdie from the elite Indian Civil Services (ICS).

Following Hodgson's observation, D Reynell, secretary public service commission wrote to MG Hallett, secretary to government of India home department, ""Anis Ahmed was in reality too old to appear at the 1933 examination and that he secured admission thereto by submitting to the commission a copy of an entry of his date of birth in the Delhi municipality register which was fabricated and false.""

The upper age limit to appear for the ICS was 23 and controversy was whether Anis Rushdie was born in 1910 which would have made him just 23 and eligible or 1909 which would render him ineligible.

Rushdie was intimated about this and asked to provide an explanation as an inquiry was to be held in Delhi. Rushdie sent a letter to the secretary civil service commission writing he was ""very much surprised"" and denied any knowledge of the entry being falsified.

Rushdie explained that when he registered at Punjab University his date of birth was wrongly given as 7 August 1909. However his school leaving certificate carried his date of birth as 14 June 1910. This discrepancy, Rushdie claimed arose due to his reliance on the memory of his relatives. ""In India the age of the child is spoken of and not his birth date,"" he replied in a letter dated 8 May 1934.

However, he later asked Punjab University to change his birth date to 3 October 1910 and provided municipal birth records as evidence. This was the date he used to apply for the ICS exams in 1933 and the government agreed to consider it subject to further investigation.

Investigations later found that Rushdie's ""real date of birth was 31 October 1909 as is proved by an entry in the register made on that same day"". Hodgson's report further showed that a ""partially blank entry has been utilised for the purpose of interpolating the now existing details in regard to the birth of Mr. Anis Ahmed.""

What it meant was that on 3 Oct 1910, there were two entries in the register as 586 and 587 of twin girls. The details of the first were duly filled in every column and ditto marks were put for the second twin.

These Hodgson believed were used at a later date to fill out birth details of Anis Ahmed Rushdie. He believed that there were visible signs of fabrication where the gender of the child was changed and details were written over the ditto marks.

An analysis of the ink and handwriting found it to be visibly different from the others and thus raised further doubts on the authenticity of the birth records.

Hodgson also found entry 537 in another register to contain similar details as of Anis Ahmed's father, house and such indicating that it could have been the birth details of Anis Ahmed's elder sibling. However, Anis Ahmed claimed he was his father's only son and hence it was assumed that those details were his own.

Just as the UK government gave protection to his son several decades later, they 'endeavoured' to ensure that the inquiry be not made public 'as it might do great harm to his reputation'.

In a lengthy reply to the authorities in his letter dated 1 January 1935, Rushdie refuted all these allegations and tried to prove how municipal birth records were unreliable and pointed out the drawbacks in the government investigation.

Rushdie explained that according to his school records his date of birth of June 1910 could also be used to verify his age making him eligible for the ICS exams of 1933.

""In India a boy's birthday has no significance in the common social life of the family. It does not, as it does in England, stand out distinct from all the other days of the year,"" he wrote in his letter of 11 January 1935.

Correspondence between Rushdie and the government officers continued for the next few months. It shows how the desperate attempts made by Rushdie to convince the authorities that he was born in 1910 failed.

In another letter Rushdie argued that when he sat for the ICS exam in 1932 (where he was eligible even if he was born on 1909) he ranked 18th on the list and 3rd among Muslims. However he said he was overlooked when three Muslims were nominated and no explanation was given why someone with rank 25 superseded him. He then sat for ICS exams in 1933 and was ranked the 1st on the Muslim list and 4th overall. He requested for ""a little sympathy and kindness"".

But on 5 February 1935, the government of India terminated Rushdie's probation. However, he was not asked to refund his probationary allowance which he received until then. Although the government of India found little doubt that the forgery (3.10.1910) in the register was committed in Rushdie's interest, the criminal charge of forgery, or abetment, could not be proved against him and they did not prosecute him.

After his expulsion as an ICS probationer, Rushdie then applied for a research studentship at Kings College, Cambridge University. He submitted the Punjab University certificate with his date of birth as 14th June 1910. His application was accepted.

After Cambridge Anis Rushdie returned to India and settled in Bombay about which his son was to write memorable novels later on.

Salman Rushdie recently tweeted that he had just finished the final revision to his 2,50,000 word memoir. Wonder if this episode will find a mention in it.


(First published in Mumbai Mirror - Nov 11, 2011)

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