When Sharma counsels Shabanu to use her good looks to enchant and control Rahim- sahib, she offers the possibility that beauty can be used as a tool for a self-reliant woman to get what she wants. These two interpretations reflect competing thoughts in feminist theory: some theorists focus on how ideas of beauty harm the self-esteem and self-reliance of women, while others argue that a woman can rightly enjoy and cleverly manipulate others with her physical appearance.
Sharma goes even further than this at the mahendi ceremony, suggesting that physical beauty is not nearly so powerful as mystery. Phulan's husband will desire her, Sharma suggests, if he does not know what Phulan is thinking. With her words, she is counseling Phulan to hide her desires from her husband and to keep a secret reserve of peace and pleasure in her heart.
Sharma's witchlike qualities render her words all the more powerful and prophetic. Her conversations with Shabanu and with Phulan recall the witches of Macbeth. The three witches, who gather to sing, dance, and cast spells around a cauldron over a flickering fire, prophesy for Macbeth with mysterious words. Macbeth tragically misinterprets their words and destroys himself as a result. Like the witches offer Macbeth mysterious counsel, Sharma offers the two sisters prophetic words. Phulan fails to understand them, but we see that Shabanu grasps them immediately. In fact, Shabanu has understood Sharma's ideas intuitively even before her conversations with Sharma: she has already hidden her skepticism over Rahim-sahib from Phulan. At the wedding feast, true to Sharma's words, she inflames Rahim-sahib's heart with a solitary pointed glance.
The mahendi ceremony recalls the women's visit to Channan Pir. Both are women-centered experiences in which Shabanu feels safe and protected. While both offer an escape from a society in which males hold most of the apparent power, they both still center on men in some way: at Channan Pir, the women prayed for sons, and at the mahendi ceremony, the women share the secrets of pleasing men. At the same time, these two spaces give the women strength and resources for protecting themselves and furthering their own interests. Both experiences offer Shabanu not a complete escape but wisdom she needs to better negotiate an often hostile and unpredictable world.