Skip over navigation

Shabanu

Suzanne Fisher Staples

Derawar and Ramadan

Sharma, Desert Storm, and Thirsty Dead

The Landlord and Spin Gul

Summary

Derawar

Grandfather dies in the night. After Dadi washes the body, he and Shabanu search for a burial place. They want to bury Grandfather before the hot sun begins to make his body decay. They ride to the nawab's cemetary. Over the fence, they catch sight of the elaborate graves of the martyrs and the nawab's wives. The gate to the graveyard, however, is locked. They turn to go when a wizened old man, the keeper of the cemetery, approaches them. Dadi explains their wishes, but the old man seems reluctant to help them. He unhelpfully tells them that the nawab's three sons are arguing over the estate and that no one has been allowed on the property for five years. He finally suggests Dadi ask the keeper of the fort for permission to enter.

At the fort, a dignified and respectful man greets them. He is one of the nawab's personal guards and a compatriot of Grandfather's. However, he cannot help them secure permission to bury the dead man. He directs them to the town's tomb maker. When they find that the tomb maker is in another village, the family travels to the edge of the desert and builds the tomb themselves.

They place Grandfather in the bottom of the grave facing Mecca, throw handfuls of Cholistani sand over him, and fill the grave as the sun sets, praying all the while. They attach brightly colored strips of material to a post at the head of the grave. They walk forty steps from the grave and turn to pray once more, as Grandfather greets the angels.

The family debates what to do next. Dadi wants to leave immediately for Mehrabpur, but Mama reminds him that Hamir's family is not expecting them for another month. They decide they must stay in Derawar, despite unfriendly villagers and poor wells.

Mama and Phulan chatter over the wedding as they cook supper that night. Shabanu notices the topics Mama neglects to discuss: what will happen between Hamir and Phulan after the wedding and how Phulan should behave toward her new family. She longs for Mama to explain these mysteries.

The old guard from the fort joins them for dinner. He promises to watch over Grandfather's grave. Shabanu impulsively asks the old man to place Grandfather's sword and fez in an honored place. He agrees to place them in the tomb of a general whose body was never found. Shabanu feels satisfied that Grandfather's soul will rest in peace.

Ramadan

Time passes, but rain does not fall. The family decides to leave early for Mehrabpur and sweet water after all. Shabanu looks forward to her first Ramadan fast, though she can hardly imagine passing a dry desert day without a single drink of water.

As they draw water at the well on the day of their departure, Xhush Dil pulls off Phulan's chadr and waves it around like a flag. The girls dissolve into laughter, and Shabanu feels relieved that she can still feel happiness.

The family travels for two days and reach Mehrabpur. As they near the town, Dadi breaks away from the group to greet Hamir and Murad. The rest of Hamir's family approaches to greet Mama and the two sisters. Bibi Lal, Hamir's mother, greets them warmly.

Bibi Lal's husband bought a patch of dry desert land from a local landowner. He poured his life into the land, irrigating it and turning it into rich, productive land. The work, however, brought him an early death. He has been dead for two years. Bibi Lal wears white, the color of mourning.

Her daughter-in-law, Kulsum, also wears white. Kulsum's husband, Lal Khan (Bibi Lal's oldest son), was mysteriously murdered a year ago. Kulsum has four children and will be a widow for the rest of her life, although she is only a bit older than Phulan.

Sakina, Bibi Lal's youngest daughter, brings them water, and the travelers thirstily drink their fill. They set about making camp. They build mud platforms and create tents from reed mats and tree branches.

Soon Ramadan begins. The family neither eats nor drinks till sundown. After prayers, they have tea and eat lentils, yogurt, and chapati.

The girls do not see Hamir and Murad. According to custom, Phulan will not see him before the wedding day. Phulan becomes dreamy and absent-minded. One day, Dadi pulls Shabanu aside and speaks to her seriously. He tells her she must stay with Phulan all day. He is afraid of the landowner, Nazir Mohammad. He explains: Nazir Mohammad sold Hamir's father the land when it was desert. Once the land was fertile, Nazir Mohammad claimed that he still owned it. He began trying to force the family to give him part of the crops in payment. They took the problem to court, but the court has been slow in deciding whether Hamir's family or Nazir Mohammad owns the land. Hamir's family suspects that Nazir Mohammad is responsible for Lal Khan's death. When she hears this story, Shabanu worries for Phulan.

Over the coming weeks, the families prepare for the wedding. Phulan is thrilled to find that Hamir has built a cottage for her. The women spend one morning decorating the little cabin. They use white paint to draw good luck symbols throughout the house. The women chatter and laugh. Phulan is pleased and excited, but Shabanu is wary: she watches the young but tired Kulsum, already a widow, and hopes that life is gentler to Phulan and to herself.

Analysis

Grandfather's death marks an important turning point for Shabanu. In him, she loses one companion sympathetic to her sorrows and passions and one ally in her struggle both to understand and to resist the adult world. The family's departure from their desert home and the devastation wrought upon that home by the dust storm heighten Shabanu's sense of loss. She feels increasingly alone. Little by little, she moves away from or loses the comforts of her childhood.

Grandfather's death also marks a turning point in the world around the family. Grandfather takes his stories of Pakistan's past with him. Never again will the family hear his stories of fighting bravely for his country. When he and those noble stories are gone, they find themselves in a lusterless present, in which bickering sons contest the grand nawab's estate and cannot bury a brave soldier in honor. His death causes them to leave behind their wild homeland for an irrigated agricultural valley in which greedy landowners, like Nazir Mohammad, require tenant farmers to pay the landowners a portion of the farmers' crop.

Shabanu continues to try to see into her future. Mama, Sharma, Fatima, Auntie, and the Bugti girl all show her potential courses her life may follow. Bibi Lal and Kulsum offer Shabanu another potential, grim situation: widowhood. Kulsum's experiences especially sadden and frighten Shabanu: Kulsum's husband was killed only a few years after they were married. She has four children, cannot marry again, and must depend for the rest of her life on the good will of her mother-in-law, Bibi Lal. Staples does not make clear what will happen to Kulsum when Bibi Lal dies. Kulsum will, perhaps, live as Auntie does, with in-laws who resent or dislike her. Kulsum's visage, aged beyond its years, haunts Shabanu.

The fate of a young bride rests partly on her mother-in-law. Shabanu herself understands the importance of this relationship: while Mama and Phulan talk, she becomes anxious when Mama does not tell Phulan how to behave towards her mother- in-law. Shabanu observes that Mama "looks relieved" when Bibi Lal greets Phulan with motherly warmth. She knows then that Mama, too, was worried about Bibi Lal's attitude toward Phulan. Shabanu stores away this observation, noticing again the particular ways in which women must depend on chance to provide them with good fortune.

Phulan's behaviors and actions contrast sharply with Shabanu's. Phulan becomes caught up in plans for the wedding: she wanders about absent-mindedly and her head swims with thoughts of the wedding and living in the little cottage with Hamir. Shabanu, on the other hand, becomes more and more serious: she watches Bibi Lal with careful eyes and observes Kulsum with sadness and apprehension. Dadi entrusts Shabanu with the responsibility for watching over her dreamy sister and, moreover, entrusts her with the truth of the danger in which Phulan may be. Shabanu, like Kulsum, is aged beyond her years. Though still a child wondering desperately what her adult life will bring, she must protect her sister and bear the sobering burden of knowledge.

More Help

Previous Next

Readers' Notes allow users to add their own analysis and insights to our SparkNotes—and to discuss those ideas with one another. Have a novel take or think we left something out? Add a Readers' Note!

Follow Us