Stories of women who suffer at the hands of men shape Shabanu's understanding of the world, particularly the story of the Bugti girl, the woman who was stoned for looking at another man, the prince's consorts. Sharma herself was a victim of domestic abuse. Even Auntie, who lives among her in-laws apart from her own mother, father, and husband, provides a negative example of the paths and fates available to women. These stories and fates make domestic abuse seem commonplace and inevitable. Women must endure and attempt to survive men's unpredictability and violence, much as they must endure and survive droughts and dust storms.

At the same time, Sharma demonstrates that other stories and other possible interpretations exist. Sharma tells the story of the Channan Pir, a loving and sainted man. She tells Shabanu that the love of a good man is a blessing from Allah. She insists that Shabanu understand what a good man Dadi has been to arrange her marriage so carefully and thoughtfully. Mama and Dadi themselves offer proof that successful, respectful, and loving marriages exist. As Shabanu prays at the shrine the morning they leave, she feels a sense of peace as she prays for understanding. For a moment, she trusts Dadi, and she trusts Allah.

The dust storm and the dead traveler remind the family that the desert is unpredictable and unforgiving. In one night, the storm erases the very contours of the world they knew, burying the toba and the trees and changing the shape of the hills and the course of their life over the next few months. Mama felt sure that Grandfather would continue his cycle of forgetting his surroundings and then returning to normal, but now the storm has brought him to death's door. The terrain in Shabanu's world changes beneath her very feet both literally and figuratively. The storm foreshadows unexpected and wrenching change in Shabanu's future. What she knows as true today may be swept away tomorrow.

Her family's independent and self-sufficient life renders them especially vulnerable to the vagaries and power of nature. Death surrounds them and reminds them of their vulnerability. Death hovers over them as they travel to Derawar to bury their dying Grandfather. As if their journey were not morbid enough, the desert provides them with a literal embodiment of death: the suffocated young man. Upon finding the young man during their dirge-like trip to Derawar, Shabanu wonders how each of her family members will meet death. This experience contributes to Shabanu's day-to-day consciousness of life's fragility.