The Choice

Five days after fleeing Mehrabpur, the family returns. To their surprise, they find that Rahim-sahib has had his servants build new huts and cottages for Shabanu's and Bibi Lal's families. A man on a white horse rides up. He presents the family with a servant girl. He hands Shabanu an elaborate box filled with beautiful jewelry. Shabanu eyes the gift sullenly, hissing that Rahim-sahib is trying to buy her. Dadi, exasperated, retorts that Rahim-sahibhas bought her. Shabanu is shocked to learn that Rahim-sahib paid a bride price for her; the money will provide for Mama and Dadi for the rest of their lives.

The women crow around her, marveling over the beautiful jewels. Shabanu reluctantly dons them. She views her sparkling reflection in the mirror impassively, feeling completely dark and lifeless inside.

Bibi Lal, Kulsum, and Sakina go to their new dwellings to begin the customary forty days of mourning for Hamir. The house in which they buried Hamir becomes a shrine as pilgrims eager to pay tribute to the heroic young man who brought such good fortune to his family visit the house. According to custom, the family receives guests paying their condolences.

After twenty days, the families begin to prepare for the wedding. Relatives arrive, and the monsoon rains fall. Phulan becomes even dreamier and more overbearing. Mama and Shabanu massage her skin and hair with oils, and she adorns herself with makeup. Shabanu envies Phulan. Rahim-sahib sends more gifts, which Shabanu resents. She steals into the desert with her camels and begins to teach Mithoo to dance as Guluband danced.

Finally, Sharma and Fatima arrive. She immediately sees that Phulan is deeply happy, despite Hamir's death. Sharma quickly and vehemently condemns Dadi and Mama of selling Shabanu for their and Phulan's happiness and prosperity. Sharma points out that Rahim-sahib's other wives will despise and abuse Shabanu and that Shabanu's sons will inherit nothing. She argues that the selfish man may grow tired of Shabanu and marry an even younger girl. Dadi storms out of the house.

That night, Shabanu steals over to Sharma's house. The women sit around the fire, the shadows playing on their faces. Sharma smokes a cigarette. Sharma brushes Shabanu's hair and paints her face, telling her that she is more beautiful than Phulan. She assures the despondent girl that she does have a choice. Shabanu practically shouts in her anxiety to know what the choice is, and Sharma explains: she can learn to beguile and manipulate Rahim-sahib. She can also, if he abuses her, leave him and live with Sharma in the desert.