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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?