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Phulan and Shabanu are bringing water from the canal with the help of the camels, Xhush Dil and Mithoo. Phulan chatters about Hamir and her hopes to bear him a son quickly. Shabanu thinks about Hamir, who is passionate and impulsive, but also kind and fair. Shabanu begins to believe Sharma's words: Shabanu and Phulan are indeed lucky to be marrying such decent men. The girls have not seen Hamir or Murad for a long time and can barely remember what they look like.
Phulan, gloating a bit, begins to wash the clothes that she uses during her period. Shabanu, who has not yet begun menstruating, walks away from her a bit with the camels, slightly annoyed with Phulan's boasting. She notices the colors in the sky, and, almost against her will, she begins to see beauty in the irrigated patch of desert that will become her home.
A booming voice interrupts her reverie: Nazir Mohammad, the landowner from whom Hamir's father bought his land, is standing with a hunting party at the bottom of the embankment. The men look at Shabanu with cold, lustful eyes, but one young man in the party objects that she is too young. Panic rises in Shabanu's heart as she realizes what is happening: the men, Nazir Mohammad's guests, are hunting. Before the hunting begins, the men select one of Nazir Mohammad's young female tenants. She becomes the "prize" awarded to the man who shoots the most animals. He will spend one night with her and return her to her family, often with gifts or money as compensation. Shabanu knows that when the men see Phulan, they will want her. Shabanu cannot and will not allow this, and she knows that Dadi and Hamir will not stand for it either.
Sure enough, when Phulan appears, the men lustfully survey her beautiful figure and dreamy face. Shabanu takes charge, shouting that they are not Nazir Mohammad's tenants. The men merely laugh. Outraged and terrified, Shabanu throws one of the great clay water pots down the embankment at Nazir Mohammad. Angered, he tries to clamber up the embankment. His fat belly and expensive clothes slow him. Shabanu knocks the rest of the jars down toward him and climbs atop Xhush Dil, pulling Phulan with her. They begin to gallop off, and Shabanu only hopes they can escape without the men following them and finding out who they are. Unfortunately, Mithoo, panicked, makes a beeline for their camp. The men watch the camel and make a note of where the camp is.
Shabanu and Phulan race home. Dadi listens to Shabanu's story with mounting anger. He fetches a gun from the tent. Mama and Shabanu protest. They know Nazir Mohammad will kill him without a thought. He firmly instructs them to pack the camp and flee to Derawar. He promises to meet them as soon as finds Hamir and tells him what has happened.
The women pack hurriedly, looking up apprehensively whenever they hear the guns of the hunting party. They load their belongings onto the camels and head into the gathering night, using the stars as a guide.
The camels race toward Derawar. Shabanu watches the night sky. She and Mama try to comfort Phulan, who is sobbing in grief. She fears the wedding has been ruined. Shabanu remembers shutr keena, camel vengeance. She realizes, with a heavy heart, that Nazir Mohommad, like an angry camel, has been deeply insulted and will want revenge. Shabanu drowns these thoughts in the work of monitoring the sky. Dadi has not yet caught up with them, and Shabanu begins to worry. On top of all these concerns, they have very little water.
Near morning, a shot rings out behind them. Shabanu urges the camels on their original course, toward Derawar. A band of Desert Rangers rides up beside them. One introduces himself as Spin Gul and informs women that Dadi has sent them a message from Maujgarh to return to Mehrabpur. Mama senses deception; she demands Spin Gul radio Maujgarh and ask the rangers there to describe the man who claims to be Dadi. Spin Gul demurs, saying they cannot use the radio to settle family feuds. Mama accuses him of endangering the imperiled family. Spin Gul offers to stay with the family until they determine the identity of the man at Maujgarh.
Spin Gul gains their trust by pointing out and fixing a leak in their water bag. He and his men prepare tea and chapatis for the exhausted family. Shabanu helps Auntie down from her camel and sees that she is pale and obviously in great pain.
Shabanu's head spins with thoughts of what might have happened to Dadi. Finally, Dadi and Murad appear, clothes soaked with blood. Through her fear, Shabanu notices with shy pleasure how handsome Murad has become. The men deliver grave news: Hamir is dead.
As Phulan's keening wails rise into the desert sky, Shabanu cannot help guiltily admiring Murad's noble physique. Phulan curses Allah for taking away her nascent happiness. They discover that the man at Maujgarh was Nazir Mohammad. The rangers at Yazman are protecting Murad's family.
Auntie groans, and the women turn to her. She has begun to miscarry her fetus. Blood stains her blankets. Shabanu and Dadi ride into Derawar to fetch a midwife. They return with the midwife, who assists Auntie in her fruitless labor. Mama and Auntie see that the dead baby is a boy and walk out into the desert to bury it.
Shabanu narrates her tale in elegant, straightforward language that is passionate yet devoid of drama. She watches seriously as momentous events unfold. She observes her harsh world honestly, insightfully, and without self- pity. Her sentences, whether describing the sky at sunset or the lustful threats of Nazir Mohammad, remain short, direct, and laced with desert imagery. Her language mirrors her character: she cannot hide from the difficulties in her life, yet she cannot help appreciating the breathtaking beauty around her at all times. She cannot stop herself from hoping and striving with what life has given her.
Nazir Mohammad's behavior constitutes an exaggerated example of what Gayle Rubin calls "the traffic in women." In her famous essay of this title, Rubin argues that society's structure results in men treating women as resources and emblems of power. They trade women between them; they fight over women; they strive to demonstrate to other men their power over women. The greedy and heedless landowner fits Rubin's description of society: he sees women as another piece of property that can be bought and enjoyed for a price. He selects the woman he wants with no concern for her desires. Tragically, Phulan's beauty and desirability, which gives her great pleasure, makes Nazir Mohammad want her more.
However, Nazir Mohammad's wishes conflict with Dadi's and Hamir's sense of honor. According to tradition, they are responsible for protecting Phulan. More than anything, they desire to protect her from such indignity. Phulan seems caught in the middle of this struggle between the men, but she has little power to affect its outcome. She is similar to a piece of property that all the men want. If any one of them wins control over her, he asserts his power over the other men.
Disaster and death break out as the wedding draws near. Accordingly, blood imagery appears repeatedly throughout the events and stains the muted, opalescent landscape. The incident with Nazir Mohammad, which changes the future of the entire family, begins with Phulan washing her menstrual cloths. Hamir's blood stains Dadi's and Murad's shirts, and blood from her miscarriage forms a spreading stain on Auntie's blanket. The smell of Hamir's blood fills Shabanu's nostrils as she rides with Dadi to fetch the midwife.
The blood symbolizes the perils involved in all transitions. Change can result in loss or gain and likely results in both. Birth itself, perhaps the archetypal transition, is a bloody and perilous process that, yet, yields new life. The onset of a young woman's period signifies the loss of childhood freedom, and the acquisition of the joys and responsibilities of an adult woman. The family is clutched in the throes of change, and right now they experience only loss: Auntie's labor ends with a stillborn child; Hamir dies to satisfy the anger of an evil and irresponsible man. Loss swallows up Shabanu and her family as they pass through a perilous transition.
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