Naipaul on Inadvertent Journalistic Heresy

Nusrat had lived through hard times before. I had first met him in 1979, at the time of the Islamizing terror of General Zia. Nusrat, a devout man, had tried to meet the fanatics halfway, but had had little stumbles. And one careless day he got into serious trouble. He was working for the Morning News. It was Mohurram, the Shia mouming month. He thought it was a good idea to run a feature piece from Arab News about the granddaughter of Ali, the Shia hero. The piece was flattering about the woman’s looks and artistic attainments. But the Shias were outraged; to them it was insulting and heretical even to say that Ali’s granddaughter was good-looking. There was talk of taking out a procession of forty thousand and burning down the Morning News. For three days the paper was closed down. Nusrat himself was in danger; he could have been set upon at any time. Some months after this incident I passed through Karachi again. Nusrat had turned gray

When we said good-bye he said, “Can you arrange for me to go to a place where I can read and write and study for five years? Because in five years, if you see me again, I may have become a cement-dealer or an exporter of ready-made garments.”

That, spoken at a bad time, showed his style. And, in fact, he had become a public relations man for an oil company, and done well. The oil-drilling business was not affected by the troubles. But life in the city had been a day-to-day anxiety and Nusrat had developed a heart condition. His gray hair had gone white and short and thin; he was still under fifty.

SOURCE: Beyond Belief: Islamic Excursions Among the Converted Peoples, by V.S. Naipaul (Vintage, 1998), p. 350

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