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Shabanu

Suzanne Fisher Staples

Important Quotations Explained

Cholistan

Key Facts

"Dadi," I ask, "were you frightened by the Bugtis?" "I just know that whatever Allah wills, it will be so. And there's no reason to be afraid, because what Allah wills cannot be changed.

Dadi offers this answer when, after a sinister-looking band of Bugtis stops the Sibi-bound caravan for questioning, Shabanu asks him if he had been scared. Dadi's answer demonstrates an attitude toward life which Shabanu has great difficulty internalizing. Dadi's answer displays not only faith, but also a certain level of fatalism: he cannot change—and will not try to change— what will happen. In part, this faith brings him peace. In part, it means he will not question events, actions, or societal norms. Shabanu cannot accept Allah's will so unquestioningly: she rebels at perceived injustices and cannot help mourning tragedies that befall her. By the end of the book, when she chooses both to accept and to resist her fate, she has a deeper and subtler understanding of what it means to accept the will of Allah.

Again, like hens laying eggs, we leave our prayers and hopes for Phulan's sons at the head of the shrine. For the first time, I feel a communion with the saint; his presence is like a soothing hand on my shoulder. Before Auntie nudges me to move along, I pray for wisdom, and my anger with Dadi eases.

While at Channan Pir, praying for Phulan's marriage, Shabanu experiences this brief moment of peace. It anticipates the deeper reconciliation she will make with her father and her fate later in the book. At this moment, Shabanu draws strength from her religion and her heritage: she communes with the saint beatified for a life of simplicity and kindness, and she realizes, momentarily, the strength and freedom that come from accepting one's life uncomplainingly and forgiving those who anger you.

"Mama, what are you talking about in there?" I ask. "If it concerns Phulan, shouldn't she be with you?" "Shabanu, really. What we decide for both of you is what you will do. You aren't old enough to know what's good for you."

Mama admonishes Shabanu in the chapter "Justice", when, after Nazir Mohammad has murdered Hamir, the adults are trying to negotiate a new arrangement that will satisfy all parties involved. Mama expresses the view that adults are better equipped than their children to make decisions about their children's lives. Mama's words emphasize that, while they know that Shabanu may not like the decisions they make, her parents truly believe that the decisions they make will benefit and protect Shabanu in the long run.

"Come on, Shabanu, put it on!" she urges, and I slip the exquisite shimmering ring onto my finger. "The bangles, and the nose pin, too!" I oblige mechanically, and they all dance around and tell me how wonderful I look … I think vaguely of the blackness in my heart—I am wearing all the light that ever was within me on my nose and finger.

In the chapter entitled "The Choice", Shabanu receives and halfheartedly dons jewels from Rahim-sahib. Her words show that she prizes her freedom and inner light much more than riches and physical beauty. She also perceives that if she accepts and enjoys Rahim-sahib's beautiful baubles, she is essentially selling him her freedom and giving up her inner light. If she allows them to make her happy, she is allowing him to make her happy with his money.

Her family's excitement shows the disparity between what they want for Shabanu and what she wants for herself. They want her to be well provided for and secure; Shabanu, however, longs for independence and freedom. Phulan cannot fathom the type of freedom for which Shabanu longs. Her parents understand Shabanu's desires but believe they are impossible. They hope that she will quickly as possible find happiness in her life with Rahim-sahib. They believe that no better options exist.

Phulan, your beauty is great. But beauty holds only part of a man, and that for just so long. Keep some of yourself hidden. You can lavish love and praise on him and work hard by his side. Yes, and have your sons. That will help. But the secret is keeping your innermost beauty, the secrets of your soul, locked in your heart so that he must always reach out to you for it.

In the chapter "The Wedding", Sharma counsels Phulan with these words. She is suggesting to the girl that she must remain mysterious to her future husband and that she must always guard some part of herself from him, so that some part of her remains independent of him. Shabanu, hearing the words, understands them immediately and begins to see her future in a new light. The words offer her hope that no matter what her marriage turns out to be, she will still be able to have an inner life and, moreover, that keeping that inner life alive will give her power over her husband.

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