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Shabanu

Suzanne Fisher Staples

Sibi Fair, The Bargain, and Shatoosh

Safari and The Bugtis

Dowry, Nosepegs, and Channan Pir

Summary

Sibi Fair

Dadi and Shabanu arrive in Sibi. The fairground is a swirl of dust, bright colors, exotically dressed men, and animals decorated with tassels, mirrors, paint, and blankets. Shabanu notices that no women attend the fair, only young girls, boys, and men. She can hardly wait to attend the carnival, so she quickly tends to her chores: making camp, building a fire, and cooking supper.

In the midst of their work, Shabanu asks Dadi if he was afraid when the Bugtis stopped them. He replies that he trusted Allah to keep them safe. Thinking of Guluband, she asks if a person can make something happen by wishing for it. Dadi laughs and repeats that a person must trust the will of Allah.

After they build camp and feed the animals, Dadi and Shabanu go to the carnival. Shabanu rides a carousel, and she and Dadi ride a man-powered Ferris wheel. She eats her first paan, a grown-up treat with slightly narcotic qualities, served to her by a cross-dressing man. She sees a tent in which, according to the barker, beautiful women are dancing and "doing forbidden things." Dadi hurries her home.

When they return to camp, four sinister Afghani men are waiting for them. Dadi and Wardak, their leader, bargain over Dadi's fine herd. When they leave, Shabanu begs Dadi not to sell Guluband. Dadi says he will do his best not to. She is especially afraid, because she knows that the warring Afghani men will not treat the camel well.

The next morning, when Shabanu returns from buying fodder for the camels, she sees Wardak and her father talking. When Wardak leaves, she rushes at her father, sobbing that he has betrayed her. Dadi, angered at her impertinence, shakes her fiercely. He explains to her that the price he has asked of Wardak is far too high; Wardak will never raise the money to buy the herd. Shabanu runs to the canal to be alone and imagines what will happen if she runs off with Guluband into the desert, but she recalls the fate of the young Bugti girl who ran away and knows she has no choice.

When she returns to camp, Dadi is bargaining with a friendly herder from Zhob. Dadi offers the camels to this man at a much lower price than the price he offered Wardak. Shabanu begins to hope that, indeed, Wardak will not be able to afford Guluband.

The Bargain

In the morning, Dadi sells most of the camels to the friendly man from Zhob. Later in the day, he sells Tipu for a large sum of money. Overjoyed, he and Shabanu begin preparing a feast. Shabanu busies herself cooking food.

Later that day, a dust storm rises. After securing the camp, Shabanu falls asleep. When she wakes, she sees Wardak outside with Dadi. Wardak angrily waves stacks of paper money at Dadi. Dadi takes the money dejectedly, and Wardak walks toward the camels.

As Wardak begins to untie Guluband, Shabanu flies at him, sobbing. Dadi catches her in his arms, and she beats and claws at him, screaming and crying. She screams out as Wardak leads him away.

Shabanu enters a state of shock. She can neither eat nor drink, and though she helps Dadi prepare for the feast, she feels numb and empty. "With Guluband," she states, "my joy, my freedom, all of who I am has gone."

Shatoosh

Neighbors wanting to celebrate Dadi's extraordinary success at the fair and hoping to share in his luck gather in Dadi's camp. Shabanu numbly watches the musicians and dancers. Finally, the feast ends, and Shabanu and Dadi begin to pack for home.

The next morning, Dadi presents Shabanu with a puppy, whom they name Sher Dil (lion heart). She plays halfheartedly with the puppy, still overwhelmed with grief. As they begin their long trek homewards, Dadi tries to engage Shabanu in conversation, but she remains completely silent and apathetic. She thinks of Guluband but feels detached even from his memory.

After eight days, they reach Rahimyar Khan, where Uncle lives and where they will do their shopping for the wedding. Dadi sends Shabanu into the market to buy shawls for Phulan. Shabanu finds herself in a shop with beautiful shawls and a friendly old shopkeeper. Thinking of Phulan's eyes, Shabanu selects a pale green pashmina shawl but is shocked at the price. Her family cannot afford it. Defeated, she turns to leave, but the old man stops her. He shows her an exquisite shatoosh, an elaborately embroidered shawl of finest cashmere. He explains that it belonged to his mother, and since he has no family, it sits in newspaper under his bed. He offers the shatoosh to Shabanu. Overwhelmed, she accepts. Together, she and the man find two suitable shawls for Phulan, and when she leaves, he gives her the pashmina shawl as a wedding present for Phulan. Shabanu is touched and amazed by this man's generosity.

As they near their home in the Cholistan desert, Shabanu begins to feel normal. She laughs and plays with the puppy. At night, she revels in the familiar sounds of her homeland.

Analysis

Dadi and Shabanu both struggle against the demands of their society and the demands of fate. They each at turns try to avoid or run from fate or else haggle with it fiercely.

Dadi wrestles first of all with the question of his camels. He herds partly because he loves animals and the wild, open land in which they live. He treats his camels well and wants to sell his camels to someone who will also treat them well. However, he wants to take care of his daughters more than anything else. He considers selling the camels to the Afghan warriors because the sale will raise such a handsome dowry for Phulan and Shabanu. If he must, he will sacrifice the well-being of his camels for that of his daughters.

He manages to make enough money selling only to kind herders but has already entered into a bargain with the menacing Wardak. When Wardak returns with the money Dadi asked for, he must give up Guluband, although he no longer needs the money. His promise forces him to give up his family's beloved camel.

Secondly, Dadi wrestles with his treatment of Shabanu. On one hand, he dotes on her childish exuberance and passion: he smiles at her excitement over the fair, he carries her on his shoulders to the carnival, and he even tenderly cares for the distraught girl after Guluband leaves, despite the fact that she behaved willfully. On the other hand, he knows his society does not condone such willful and outspoken behavior in a woman: thus, he has punished her at home for disobeying him, and at the fair he shouts at her and shakes her when she first protests over the possibility of Wardak buying Guluband. Dadi loves Shabanu and wants what is best for her; however, what is best for her in this culture, it seems, is a broken spirit. Though he tries to make her obedient, Dadi does not have the heart to break the spirit of his daughter.

Similarly, Shabanu struggles with the strictures of her society and the whims of fate. When they first arrive at the fair, she asks if she can make something happen or stop something from happening by wishing hard enough. She is thinking not only of Guluband, who symbolizes her free, joyful, childlike existence in the desert, but also of herself: she wants to stop time, she wants to avoid growing up and assuming the mantle of an adult woman. The loss of Guluband deals Shabanu a crushing blow, making clear to her that she cannot get what she wants by wishing. For the first time, she is silent and withdrawn, and her surroundings fail to excite her amazement. She has already discarded the possibility of escaping into the desert like the young Bugti woman, and Dadi has told her firmly "whatever Allah wills, it will be so." Shabanu is devastated at the prospect of bending her dreams and her happiness to a god who seems indifferent to her suffering.

At the same time, the encounter with the kind old man in the shop lifts Shabanu's spirit: as devastating blows rain down on her, unexpected blessings spring up before her eyes as well. Shabanu is losing her childhood dreams, but, at the same time, she is learning to perceive and shape her hopes according to the unexpected blessings in her life.

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