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Shabanu

Suzanne Fisher Staples

Yazman and Justice

The Landlord and Spin Gul

The Choice and The Wedding

Summary

Yazman

The next morning dawns with a stormy sky. Shabanu's mind reels with the events of the day before. Dadi and Murad sit staring into the fire, wearing scrubbed but bloodstained tunics. Rain begins to fall, and Mama and Shabanu hurry to bring their belongings inside and to cover the fire. Auntie speaks sharply to Shabanu, implying that Shabanu is to blame for Hamir's death. Shabanu resolutely ignores her. Mama tells her that Dadi and Murad have spent the night talking on the radio with Nazir Mohammad's brother, Rahim- sahib. Nazir Mohammad, in his anger, is threatening to cut off the water to Murad's land. Rahim-sahib is a landowner and politician and strongly desires that his brother make peace with Bibi Lal's family. Shabanu escorts the benumbed men in from the rain. She blushes under Murad's gaze.

Spin Gul arrives and informs them that the previous night, Bibi Lal's family fled to Yazman, a Desert Ranger post. They and Rahim-sahib are waiting there for Shabanu's family to join them and help negotiate a solution. Spin Gul assures them that he and the Rangers will escort Shabanu's family to Yazman as soon as the rain stops.

The family waits out the cold, wet day. Phulan sleeps and moves about in a daze. Shabanu grieves and fears for Phulan. Shabanu watches Murad work, and joy steals up inside of her. She blesses her good fate even while mourning for Phulan.

The next day, the family travels to Yazman. Mama assures the distraught Phulan that she and Dadi will take care of her. When they reach Yazman, a colonel leads the family into their living quarters. For the first time, Shabanu wonders if Bibi Lal's family blames them for Hamir's death. Kulsum and Bibi Lal, however, greet them warmly. They pull Mama into the room with them and send Sakina into the room with the children and the two sisters.

Sakina tells the sisters the story of Hamir's death. When Dadi had arrived and told Hamir and Murad about Nazir Mohammad's demands, Hamir was outraged. Hamir picked up a gun, and, when Dadi and Murad tried to calm him, he called them cowards. Murad had told the women to pack and flee to Yazman, where the Desert Rangers would protect them. As Dadi and Hamir argued about what to do, Hamir had gotten angrier and angrier.

Nazir Mohammad's jeep had pulled up out of the night. Two shots exploded, and the men scrambled into the jeep and drove off. Hamir was dead. The family buried him quickly and fled to Yazman.

As Sakina finishes the story, Shabanu hears her young cousins shrieking outside. She looks out the window and sees they have used a ladder to climb the mango tree, but they have knocked the ladder down and cannot climb down. Shabanu runs out, knowing that Dadi will be angry if she is in the courtyard when Rahim- sahib arrives, but she cannot ignore their cries. She leans the ladder against the tree and climbs up, just as Rahim-sahib's jeep pulls up.

She strains to reach the frightened boys when Rahim-sahib approaches her. He holds the ladder and helps her get the boys down from the tree. He teasingly scolds her for climbing trees, and they laugh. When he comments that country girls usually cover their mouths when they laugh, Shabanu, baring her teeth, impudently tells him her teeth are beautiful, and she has no reason to cover them. He laughs again, and Shabanu leads her cousins inside.

Justice

The men seal themselves in a room and talk until the end of the next day. Mama, Bibi Lal, and Kulsum talk in another room. At the end of the second day, Mama emerges from the room, and Shabanu accosts her. She tells Mama that Phulan should be with them if they are discussing her fate. Mama scolds her, telling her that Shabanu and Phulan will do whatever the adults decide. Shabanu's heart pounds as she realizes that, somehow, her own fate hangs in the balance as well. Mama retreats into the other room, and Shabanu wakes Phulan in her panic.

Shabanu races out into the courtyard, runs up to the window of the women's room, and peers in, begging to be allowed inside. The women relent and inform Shabanu that they have decided on a course of action already. Shabanu waits tensely as Mama rouses Phulan. Shabanu examines the women's faces, trying to determine the nature of their decision. None of them look at her, and her heart sinks. Phulan enters reluctantly and indifferently. When she sits, Bibi Lal proclaims that the wedding will go ahead "as planned": Phulan will marry Murad. Nazir Mohammad has agreed to leave Murad's land and irrigation canals alone. Rahim-sahib, Nazir Mohammad's brother, has asked to marry Shabanu.

Shabanu is speechless with horror until protests rise in her throat. She refuses to marry him: he is over fifty years old and already has three wives. The women try to calm her, pointing out that Rahim-sahib is rich and a syed, a respected religious leader. Shabanu will be twenty years younger than his other wives. She will be the most beautiful and certainly his favorite: during the talks with the other men, Rahim-sahib could not stop talking about the beautiful young woman he met in the courtyard. Her marriage to him, moreover, will ensure peace between Murad and Nazir Mohammad. Even Phulan joins in the voices placating and begging Shabanu: she and Shabanu will live close to one another when she marries Rahim-sahib. Shabanu turns to her bitterly, rebuking her for forgetting her grief over Hamir so easily.

Shabanu understands that she has been sacrificed to save Phulan and Murad. She flatly refuses to obey her mother. She tells the women that she will go to live with Sharma. Before Shabanu can utter another word, her mother slaps her forcefully, commanding the girl to be silent and obey.

Analysis

Shabanu's fate mirrors the fickleness and unpredictability of life in the desert: just as she began to appreciate her betrothal to Murad, her parents break the betrothal and give her to an older man. The young girl is just beginning to reconcile herself to the idea of marrying Murad and, while the family is waiting in the desert near Derawar, begins to understand how Phulan has so giddily anticipated marriage. Like a child learning to walk, Shabanu moves slowly in her new emotions, amazed at the wondrous capacities of her body and her consciousness. For a moment, she leaves behind her tumultuous doubts and impassioned resistance of adult authority. She begins, tremulously, to anticipate her future with Murad.

Shabanu's timid sexual awakening coincides with a rainfall, only the second rainfall in the entire book. The initial rainfall, in chapter one, blesses the family with enough water to remain in the desert and postpone their departure for Mehrabpur. The second rainfall washes away the heat, dust, and blood of the previous fatal day. For its duration, Shabanu begins to desire Murad and to feel grateful for her anticipated happiness. Water, which often symbolizes sexual passion, also extends the birthing imagery of the previous chapter. At this juncture, Shabanu feels that promise and hope have replaced pain and loss.

Without warning and without her input, the future she had just begun so tentatively to accept disappears. Despite her protests, the difficult labor is finished and final. Mama punctuates the labor with a vigorous slap. Shabanu has been born to a new future. She has lost her childhood dreams. Her fate rises up unexpectedly, like a dust storm.

Shabanu's betrayal echoes the betrayal she endured earlier in the book, when Dadi sold Guluband to the Afghani warrior, Wardak. Like Guluband, Shabanu has been essentially sold to a powerful and wealthy man in order to honor a code of male behavior (remember that when Wardak returned, Dadi had already sold enough camels to pay for Phulan's dowry, but could not rescind his promise to sell the camel to the belligerent man for a certain price).

Many Westerners have difficulty understanding the practice of arranged marriage. Love and desire, we feel, form the basis of our attraction to others and the glue which holds two people together over time. We perceive love relationships as highly personal, something that no one can decide for us. Indeed, love defies all human decisions and machinations: we "fall" in love, it catches us unexpected. We have little control over love and, once in its power, are compelled to suffer and/or act according to it.

However, romantic love as the basis of marriage is a relatively modern concept. For centuries, humans have arranged marriages according to economic, social, and political concerns. Moreover, level-headed adults may have a clearer picture of the long-term advantages and disadvantages of a given match. Staples herself acknowledges that her time in Pakistan helped her understand the appeal of arranged marriages: how can parents leave a beloved child to make such a crucial decision alone, without the wisdom and insight they have gained over the years?

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