"The Last Resident"
By Dr. Shahzad A Rizvi. Critical note by Maria S. Rost
(Here is a review of Dr. Shahzad A. Rizvi’s book "The Resident" by noted American Professor and critic Dr. Maria Rost, who taught English Literature for many years.)
Dr. Shahzad A. Rizvi’s latest novel, The Last Resident, is set in the northern city of Bhojpal, India. Its young hero, Nigel Hadley, is a British diplomat who is given the responsibility of overseeing Bhojpal in the office of “Resident” during the last days of British rule over India, and is hence the last British civil servant to serve in that capacity. It may be difficult to decide where in a modern book store this work should be shelved, for it is a romantic novel as well as a cross between historical fiction and fictional history.
There is a good deal of rich visual detail to place us in the exotic city of Bhojpal and to serve as the background for the many twists and turns the plot takes. Young Nigel is the ideal romantic hero, intelligent, courageous, full of idealism and good will, quickly popular for his ability to speak Urdu and his understanding of and compassion and fondness for the Indians he is eager to serve. He is more comfortable living simply among the people than with the pomp and circumstance his position traditionally entails. It is not surprising that even Gandhi himself takes a liking to him and that he and the beautiful and virtuous Indian princess, Mehru, fall in love, nor that, as in any romantic novel, they have many obstacles to overcome before they can be together.
More surprising than these two are the characters of the Nawab of Bhojpal and his Cambridge-educated Prime Minister, the brilliant Jewish scholar Jacob Joseph. In the belief that one cannot be a good Muslim without thoroughly understanding Judaism and Christianity, the other two major Mosaic religions, the enlightened Nawab had searched for a qualified scholar of Judaism and hired Joseph to tutor his daughter. Mr. Joseph, who is also referred to as Master Sahib, a respectful form of address to teachers, earned the esteem not only of his employer, but, as Prime Minister, of the whole princely state. It was largely through his efforts that Jews fleeing the Nazi regime found shelter in Bhjopal, as later did Hindus fleeing from what was to become the Muslim country of Pakistan, thus making the city a model of tolerance and integration.
At a time when the two political parties in our own country seem incapable of reaching agreement on almost anything and when there is rampant fear of Islam following 9/11, Dr. Rizvi’s novel is balm to the soul. It introduces us to a culture outwardly very different from our own, but, though not overtly didactic, means to teach us that we all share a common humanity.