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Shabanu

Suzanne Fisher Staples

Safari and The Bugtis

Birth and Kalu

Sibi Fair, The Bargain, and Shatoosh

Summary

Safari

Dadi and Shabanu are ready to leave for the fair at Sibi, where they will sell and trade camels and other goods to help pay for Phulan's wedding. Shabanu worries over Mithoo, the orphan camel she has adopted, slipping him some sugar from breakfast. Auntie presents Shabanu with a chadr, the long cloth worn as a head covering, admonishing her that she cannot go around acting like a boy. Shabanu willfully and rudely throws the chadr to the ground. Mama picks it up and puts it across Shabanu's head, telling her gently that the chadr will protect her from the sun. Dadi wordlessly notes Shabanu's impertinence.

Father and daughter ride out into the desert, singing into the empty land, dozing on the rocking camels, and walking in the hot sand. They pass a ruined fort, and at nightfall reach Derawar Fort. Dadi greets the villagers and the Desert Rangers, Pakistani soldiers who patrol the border with India. Shabanu prepares supper. Shortly after Dadi returns, three Desert Rangers join them. Shabanu respectfully serves them tea. The men admire Dadi's fine camels. One offers to buy Guluband. Dadi laughs at the price he offers, asserting that the Afghan mujahideen, or religious warriors, will pay much more. Shabanu is horrified at the thought of selling Guluband to the mujahideen, who will feed him poorly, abuse him, and, most chillingly, expose him to the military helicopters of the Russians. Shabanu cannot bear the thought, so she stands and runs from the fire.

She finds herself at the village wall and walks around it to the mosque. In back of the mosque, she looks into a ruined garden. According to legend, the Abassi prince kept seventy wives in extravagant underground cells beneath this garden. Shabanu imagines the beautiful but enslaved consorts laughing and flirting beneath the trees. When she returns, Dadi is asleep. She unrolls her quilt and falls asleep.

In the morning, after praying in the mosque, the two travel onward. The next night they stay in another small village, where Dadi buys Shabanu several beautiful glass bracelets. She puts them on, admiring their color and their sound.

The Bugtis

Shabanu and Dadi cross the Indus River on top of an irrigation dam. Shabanu is anxious as they compete with buses and cars careening over the bridge. Once across, they meet another group of Cholistani nomads. Dadi greets his countrymen warmly, and the men sit to smoke from a hookah. They agree to travel together through the dangerous Baluchistan.

The tribes of Baluchistan used to live by robbing the people of the Punjabi plains, though they now live as herders, like Shabanu's family and people. However, people passing through Baluchistan try to avoid contact with the unpredictable Baluchistani tribes. Dadi is glad that he and Shabanu will travel with a larger group.

Shabanu dozes off as they travel onward, only to wake to the sight of a band of Bugtis, one of the Baluchi tribes. Dadi greets them respectfully, but they ignore his courtesy. They are looking for a young woman of their tribe who has eloped with a man from another tribe. Dadi calmly explains that Shabanu is the only female in the group. The Bugtis leave, and Dadi, with a warning in his voice, points out to Shabanu that the men will kill the girl when they find her.

That night, they camp with several other caravans. Around the fire, the men discuss the prices camels will fetch at the fair. One man insists that the Iranians and Arabs will pay fifteen hundred dollars—an unimaginable sum- for camels. He explains that the Iranians and Arabs sacrifice camels and eat their meat for the feast following the Muslim month of fasting, Ramadan. Shabanu is revolted at the thought of killing a camel for meat. She remembers that last year, Guluband had been by far the finest camel at the fair, and Dadi had turned down a lucrative offer for him. She anxiously wonders if this year, with the wedding pending, he will do the same.

Analysis

Shabanu and Dadi's trek through the desert introduces us to the physical and historical realities that divide Pakistan as well as the customs that bind it together. They pass a deserted and crumbling fort from an earlier war, they speak with the soldiers who patrol the border with India, they cross the fertile Indus on a bridge crowded with motorized vehicles, they meet and avoid conflict with the nomadic Bugtis. They pass from the desert, through the Indus valley, and back into desert highlands populated by another tribe. The varied people Shabanu and Dadi meet do not seem to be united by any common way of life or set of ideals: the border guards are interested in Dadi's camels, the trucks on the bridge are rushing to deliver goods or passengers, the Bugtis are bent on finding and punishing a recalcitrant girl, the other herders are interested in what price their camels will fetch at the fair. Information travels slowly, through stories, legends, and gossip around the fire. Tribes on the other side of the valley seem as distant and threatening as people from another country.

At the same time, certain customs and expectations do bind the people together. Shabanu shows hospitality by preparing tea for all who visit at their fire. Men establish trust by smoking at the hookah together. Dadi greets other Cholistani herders—though they are strangers to him—warmly and with complete trust. The men are eager to share news and stories around the fire or while traveling. They share a deeply rooted love for the desert and their nomadic way of life.

Shabanu continues to struggle to make sense of the implications of being a woman in her culture. When Auntie first gives her the chadr, she rejects it outright, preferring to "act like a boy", in Auntie's words. As the morning traveling in the desert progresses, however, she grudgingly acknowledges that the chadr keeps her cooler. When the Bugti men demand to know if the travelers are hiding a woman in their midst, Shabanu hides her face from them with her chadr. Little by little, she understands and makes use of the chadr. The chadr proves useful in keeping off the sun and allowing her to hide from the threatening men, but it also emphasizes that she is a woman and has the need to hide from threatening and powerful men. Similarly, Shabanu is thrilled by the beauty of the bracelets Dadi has bought her. However, when she "shakes them to hear them clink," she is like the camels, which wear beautiful clinking brass bracelets around their ankles. She is Dadi's property, and he is responsible for delivering her to her future husband.

Stories and legends inform Shabanu's understanding of the world around her. In stories and the lives of those around her, Shabanu sees and understands what is possible for her. During her travels, she narrates two tales: the tale of the prince's seventy wives—beautiful, merry, and comfortable, but completely enslaved—and the story of the young Bugti woman—risking her very life to marry a man she loves. These stories offer Shabanu two equally unappealing options. She understands that to disobey her parents and marry for love, like the Bugti girl, will result in severe punishment and possibly death. She also begins to understand that her future husband's material support of her means that, like the prince's consorts, she owes him her very freedom.

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