Shabanu Essay, Research Paper
It has not rained for two years, so Shabanu s family starts to pack for Dingarh
because there is not enough water to survive much longer. Phulan is to be married to
Hamir, and Shabanu is to be married to Murad, Hamir s brother. That night while they
are sleeping the rain comes and they now have water to survive until the wedding, when
they will go to town.
The winter sky is hazed with dust. There has been no rain in nearly two years,
and the heat of the Cholistan Desert is as wicked as if it were summer. (Staples, 2)
Shabanu finds a female camel that is having a baby, but the mother is dying
because the baby camel is stuck. Shabanu remembers when someone was having a baby
that someone would lay on the pregnant woman s stomach, and try to get the baby to pop
out. Shabanu tries this and tries and tries, and finally gets the camel to have the baby.
Then the mother camel dies and Dadi is angry because that camel was to be part of
Phulan s dowry. Shabanu names the camel Mithoo. Shabanu takes care of Mithoo and
now she feels like Mithoo is her camel. None of the other female camels would let Mithoo
nurse, so they had to hand feed him. A feed Mithoo fast enough with just putting milk on
their fingers and letting him lick it off, so they would stick their hand in his mouth and
pour milk down their arm into his mouth. But after a while even that is not enough to
feed him, so they get a goat skin, fill it full of milk and hang it from a tree so he can nurse.
A memory takes shape in my mind of fetching boiled water to a room with moans
and soft cries slipping like ghosts through the shuttered windows, of Mama lying across
Auntie s heaving stomach, a woman pulling at something between Auntie s splayed, bent
legs. (Staples, 15)
The days are getting longer and a lot warmer, and Shabanu is eager to go to the
Sibi Fair. Shabanu turns twelve and gets a new dress for her birthday. Shabanu sees Tipu
mating with a female camel and wonders if that is what it is like with humans. Tipu fights
with a young male named Kalu from their herd. Luckily, they break up the fight before
one or both of the camels are killed or injured. Mithoo starts to run away, and Shabanu
disobeys her father and goes after Mithoo. Shabanu has to marry Murad in a year and she
is afraid. Her parents tell her that she must learn to behave or there will be big trouble.
Shabanu, you are wild as the wind. You must learn to obey, Otherwise…I am
afraid for you. (Staples, 28)
Shabanu, Dadi, and most of the camels are all dressed up and ready to leave for the
Sibi Fair. Dadi and Grandfather have clipped all of the camels hair so they look nice.
Shabanu and Phulan have dyed black designs on the camels so they look fancy. They also
decorated all of the camels with bolls, bracelets, mirrors, and gold and silver buttons.
They want to sell saddles, blankets, and camels at the fair. Shabanu now has to wear a
chadr to cover her face and her head. She is old enough now that she has to act and dress
like a woman. They reach Derawar Fort and some of the Rangers want to buy Guluband.
Shabanu loves Guluband a whole lot and Dadi promises her that he will not sell Guluband.
Dadi buys Shabanu her first set of glass bangles for her wrist.
My heart thunders in my chest. Surely Dadi won t sell Guluband! (Staples, 37)
Shabanu and Dadi cross the powerful Indus River. There are buses, cars, and
trucks speeding across the bridge. All of the camels get frightened, but they make it
across the bridge without any problems. They meet another group of men that are
traveling to the great Sibi Fair, and they decide to travel together. They come across a
group of Bugtis, they all have guns and are not friendly. Dadi and the other people get
permission to pass through the area safely. They make it across Bugtis territory safely.
The Bugtis were looking for a girl and a man who eloped and they were going to kill them
both when they found them.
Some of the men tell Dadi that people are paying fifteen thousand rupees for an
average camel. They reach the fair and everybody agrees that Dadi and Shabanu have the
best camels at the fair. Everyone is especially excited about Guluband.
He stood a head taller than the thousands of other camels at the fair. Everyone
had agreed that he was the finest camel at Sibi. (Staples, 46)
When Shabanu and Dadi get to the fair they are shown where they will camp and
sell their goods. Shabanu notices that she is the oldest girl at the fair, and she realizes that
she is becoming a woman now. Shabanu takes Guluband to go buy fodder for the camels,
and when she comes back Dadi says that they will go to the carnival now, and he will buy
Shabanu some paan. Shabanu is excited because only grown-ups eat paan. The lady
selling paan was really a man and Shabanu was surprised. When they get back to camp
there are men waiting to buy camels. Shabanu is afraid of them because they have guns,
the leaders name is Wardak. Dadi says that he will sell Guluband to Wardak for
twenty-eight thousand rupees, more than twice the price that he told other people.
Shabanu is mad at him because he promised her that he would not sell Guluband.
Perhaps Dadi is right: Wardak will never pay that much! (Staples, 56)
Dadi sells seven camels to the man from Zhob, and Tipu to another man for a total
of forty-eight thousand rupees. They are so happy they buy four chickens for dinner.
That night Wardak comes and buys Guluband and all of the other camels except one old
female for one hundred-fifty thousand rupees. Shabanu runs after Guluband and Dadi
catches her and slaps her. The next night they have a party.
We are richer than we have ever been. From the sale of fourteen camels, Dadi
has made enough for Phulan s wedding and dowry and for mine next year. He and Mama
will have an easier life. They still have a fine herd of camels at home. (Staples, 63)
During the party Wardak shows up and Shabanu wants to tear his eyes out of their
sockets. The next morning Dadi wakes Shabanu up with a surprise. She gets a baby
puppy. Dadi and Shabanu make it to Rahimyar Khan with no problems, except for being
tired. Shabanu and Dadi decide to name the puppy Sher Dil, which means lion heart.
Shabanu and Dadi shop for the rest of Phulan s wedding dowry in Rahimyar Khan.
Shabanu goes in to a shawl shop and the shop keeper gives Shabanu a shatoosh. Dadi
gets the presents from Uncle and they set off for home. Shabanu is very depressed until
they reach the Cholistan Desert. Even though they are far away from home, Shabanu feels
happy because she is back in the desert where she belongs.
Cholistan, I am home! (Staples, 76)
Shabanu and Dadi get home and everyone is happy they are. Twenty-two new
baby camels have been born while they were gone. Sher Dill and the cousins are very
happy now, because they all have someone energetic and fun to play with. Shabanu talks
to Grandfather and he is feeling much better than before. Grandfather tells Shabanu that it
is okay to cry for Guluband, because they are very proud of their animals. Auntie had
slaughtered a goat to celebrate their return. They eat a great dinner and Dadi gives Phulan
her gold bracelets and Mama her first gold necklace.
We are proud people, and there is nothing that gives so much pride as our
animals. You can grieve for Guluband–he was the finest we ve had. (Staples, 80)
Shabanu goes to the toba to get water and take a bath. Shabanu notices that her
breasts are starting to grow. Shabanu the sees that Phulan s breasts have grown to the
size of apples and she is very jealous. Shabanu tells Phulan about the girl and man that ran
away and were being hunted. Phulan is shocked. They peg Xhush Dil s nose and then the
next few weeks they make final preparations on Phulan s dowry and watch their water
supply decrease daily.
Over the next week we watch our water dwindle. In the heat of the afternoons,
before the wind and dust kick up, we work on Phulan s dowry, adjusting everything to
fit. (Staples, 90)
The whole family leaves for Channan Pir, a desert shrine where women pray for
sons and good marriages for their daughters. Grandfather tells the whole family about the
battles he fought in and about his camel that saved the day. They meet up with another
group of women during the night and Mama tries to find her cousins. At dawn the reach
Channan Pir. Shabanu finds her aunt Sharma and her cousin Fatima. Some people think
they are a disgrace to the family because neither of them are married or intend to marry.
All of the women go to the shrine and buy a garland for Phulan. They go into the shrine
and join all of the other women praying for their daughters to have good marriages and to
bear sons. Then they have a big celebration with dancing, food, and other fun stuff.
Shabanu takes Xhush Dil to go get water and she hears a crowd roar and looks across the
horizon to see a large group of men, with two in the center wrestling. Shabanu realizes
one of the men fighting is Dadi. She wants to go over there and make them stop, but she
will get into big trouble if Dadi sees her. Shabanu is angered because she does not know
how Mama can let him touch her when he wrestles with other naked men.
I stare at her and wonder, How can she stand him? How can she let a man who
would fight another naked man touch her…and do what the camels do? (Staples, 102)
Shabanu wants to be like Fatima, and not get married. All of the women talk
about preparations for Phulan s wedding and Sharma tells them a story about her friend
that was stoned to death because her husband accused her of looking at another man.
Sharma sings a song about the Channan Pir. Shabanu notices that Auntie is pregnant.
I say little and try hard not to stare at Fatima. How I long to be like her–never to
marry, to stay in the warm, safe circle of women. (Staples, 104)
Grandfather starts to feel bad again, but Dadi says he will get better again like he
has for years now. They reach home and the toba is starting to dry up, but Dadi says there
is enough water to last for the two months that they will need to spend in the desert until
Phulan s wedding.
Phulan wakes Shabanu up during a sandstorm to have her help seal up the tent.
They notice that Grandfather is not there and Shabanu and Dadi go looking for him,
Mithoo, and Sher Dil. Sher Dil is safe with Auntie and the cousins in her house, but Dadi
tells them to stay with Mama and Phulan. They cannot find Grandfather or Mithoo, and
their eyes are sore and their skin is raw from the blowing sand. They go inside and wait
for the sandstorm to pass. Shabanu knows that this is the worst sandstorm that
Grandfather or Dadi have ever seen.
The next day Grandfather and Mithoo have not shown up yet so they go looking
for them. Shabanu sees a large lump covered with sand and thinks it is Grandfather, but it
is a dead baby camel. Shabanu talks to Dadi and he says that he could not find the Toba.
Suddenly Dadi starts digging and water starts to fill in the hole that he dug. Shabanu
figures out that the sand storm filled up their toba with sand, so they have no water now.
They Decide that they must leave as soon as possible. Dadi finds Grandfather, Mithoo,
and the rest of the camels at Mujarawala toba. Grandfather is barely alive, and it is a
miracle he is still alive. Grandfather tells them that he wants to be buried in Fort Derawar,
next to the rest of his fellow soldiers. Dadi and Mama promise that they will take him
Here! he says, holding up a handful of damp sand. This is our toba!
Shabanu and Dadi get a little bit of water and they leave for Fort Derawar.
Shabanu and Phulan go out looking for Sito grass, which has a lot of sweet water in its
long, deep roots. While they are out looking for Sito, they see a man s turban tied to the
top of a bush, and they are scared because the legend of the thirsty dead says that if you
do not find the man in time, his ghost will haunt you the rest of your life. Phulan goes and
gets Dadi and him and Shabanu bury the young man. Shabanu feels strange about the
young man. They go to Fort Derawar, but they get there after dark and decide to wait
until morning to find a spot to bury Grandfather.
His face is strong and gentle, and an odd twist of grief turns in my heart. he was
someone s brother–by the grace of God he might have been my own. (Staples, 126)
Grandfather has died over night. The keeper of the tombs was one of
Grandfathers old friends. There is no room inside the fort to bury Grandfather, but they
put his fez and sword inside. They bury him in the desert, near the fort, so he can be near
his old friends.
Your grandfather is too good of a man to lie in such company. He would have
given his life for them, yet they deny him a decent grave. (Staples, 134)
There is not enough water in Derawar, so Shabanu and her family decide to move
to the edge of the desert, where there is fresh sweet water. It will be Shabanu s first year
of actually performing Ramadan, because children do not have to, but she is not a child
anymore. Shabanu and her family reach Hamir s father s land and Shabanu sees an image
of Phulan slaving over the field. Hamir has built a cottage for him and Phulan, and Phulan
is now excited, not depressed about marriage. All of the women except Phulan paint
designs on her house for good luck. Phulan is eager to see Hamir and Shabanu is eager to
Phulan s eyes dance with excitement. Have you seen him? she asks Dadi.
Shabanu and Phulan are at the canal filling their water pots when they run into
Nazir Mohammad and three other men with him. They want to pay Phulan and Shabanu
to have sex with the man that shot the most birds. Shabanu throws her water pots on the
ground and mud flies all over Nazir Mohammad s silk pants. They get away and go back
to camp to tell Dadi and Mama. Dadi gets his gun and goes to tell Hamir. Dadi tells them
to pack up the most important stuff and leave the rest behind for now. He tells them to go
to Derawar as soon as possible. Dadi says he will catch up as soon as possible. Shabanu,
Phulan, Auntie, and Mama quickly pack up their things, trying to not let anybody else see
what they are doing. They leave without Nazir Mohammad knowing.
No! says Mama, fear shaking in her voice. She stands and Dadi comes out, the
old country gun glinting gray and ugly in his hands. (Staples, 157-158)
The women ran the camels hard for an hour, and they heard a camels bell coming
up fast behind them, but it was only Mithoo. They only have one goatskin of water, and
Nazir Mohammad could be waiting for them to go to the well in Derawar. Shabanu is
worried because Dadi should have caught up with them a couple of hours ago. At dawn a
shot rings out from very near and Shabanu is scared. But they are Rangers that have come
to help them. The Rangers tell them that a man named Abassi (Dadi) radioed in to tell
them that the trouble is past and to return to Mehrabpur. Mama does not believe him
because Dadi said to meet him at Derawar. The Rangers radio back and tell them to
describe the man that called himself Abassi. The Rangers say that they will stay with them
so no harm will come to them. Auntie does not look like she feels good. They had a hole
in their goatskin and all the water leaked out so they are lucky that the Rangers found
them. Shabanu sees Dadi and Murad rushing toward them on their tired camels. Shabanu
is excited about how handsome Murad is. Dadi and Murad are covered with blood but no
one knows whose blood it is yet. Phulan asks Murad where Hamir is and he says that
someone had to stay behind and watch the house. Mama asks Dadi whose blood it is and
he says Hamir s and then Phulan screams. Dadi tells Phulan Hamir is dead and she goes as
pale as a ghost. They find out that the man that had radioed in was fat and had muddy silk
trousers on. Nazir Mohammad s older brother Rahim was to negotiate a truce between
the two families. Auntie had a miscarriage and it was another boy.
What s happened? shrieks Phulan, throwing herself at Dadi. He puts his arms
Hamir is dead, he says. Phulan sinks against him, sobbing, and he holds her for
several minutes. Mama leads Phulan to the tent. Her face is frozen, mouth open in a
silent, anguished cry. (Staples, 170)
The next morning when Shabanu wakes up she sees that the sky is cloudy and she
sees it as a good omen for the wedding, but then she realizes there will be no wedding
because of Hamir s death. Auntie acts like nothing has happened about her miscarriage.
Everyone blames Shabanu for what happened to Hamir. Nazir Mohammad s brother is
negotiating a truce between the two families and they are waiting to see what will happen.
They have to meet at Yazman with Rahim to negotiate what will happen. Rangers show
up and they escort them to Dingarh. There, another group of rangers escort them to
Yazman. They are then dropped off at the wing command headquarters, where they will
talk with Rahim and his brother Nazir Mohammad. While the women are talking, Phulan,
Shabanu, and their cousin Sakina talk. Sakina tells them how it happened and Phulan gets
very depressed. While Sakina was telling them the story, Shabanu forgot about her
cousins, and they were screaming because they climbed a ladder into a tree and the ladder
had fallen. A man shows up and helps her get the boys down. He is fairly old, about
Thank you, I say, looking into the man s face. He has kind eyes with a twinkle
in them. His hair is gray around his ears, and he is clean-shaven. (Staples, 186)
The men talk all night and part of the morning. Shabanu goes into where the
women are talking and asks them if they are talking about her or Phulan. She said that if
they are they should be in there too. Shabanu gets mad but Mama tells her that she has no
say in what she does, that all of the older women would decide for her and Phulan.
Shabanu finds out that Phulan is to be married to Murad and Shabanu will be married to
Rahim, the old man that helped her get the children out of the tree. Suddenly Phulan is as
happy as she was before when she was going to marry Hamir. Shabanu is very angry.
Shabanu will be his fourth wife. Shabanu tells mother that she wants to go live with
Sharma and Fatima, Mama slaps Shabanu and sends her head flying.
A minute ago you were grieving for Hamir! I say to her. How can you change
like the wind? (Staples, 193)
They all go back to where they were camped outside Mehrabpur and they do not
recognize the place. Where their lean-to was there is now a village of mud huts. Rahim
sends presents to Shabanu, and the family gets a servant to clean house and cook.
Shabanu gets a set of gold rings, bangles, and a nose ring too. Everyone from the
countryside has come to Hamir s house to see the house of the man who died and brought
good fortune and wealth to his family. Auntie has lost a lot of weight. Phulan is getting
very demanding because she now has nothing to do since there is a servant, so she makes
everybody else get things for her. Sharma comes and tells Dadi that Shabanu will be
Rahim s slave and she will be poor when Rahim dies. Sharma and Dadi argue about it for
a while and then Dadi goes and smokes his hookah. Fatima tells Shabanu to listen to the
other women tell Phulan how to make a man happy and maybe she will be Rahim s
favorite, instead of his slave.
The choice is you make him so happy that he can t bear to be away from you for
a single moment. If he treats you badly come stay with us. (Staples, 209)
Uncle comes from the city for the wedding and so do all of their relatives from the
desert and other places. Hundreds of people come for the wedding. Shabanu just wants
to go back to the desert where she can be happy. Shabanu thinks that Rahim is greedy,
because he has three wives and wants a fourth. Shabanu goes to the mahendi celebration,
and listens to what Fatima told her to. Now Shabanu starts to feel happy for her sister,
and not angry at her, for getting to marry Murad. They dress Phulan for the wedding and
Shabanu is certain that the instant Murad sees her, he will fall into love with her. Phulan
marries Murad and then they go to his house.
For the first time I feel free–free to be happy for my sister, free to think about my
future without him. (Staples, 220)
Most everyone leaves the day after the wedding except Shabanu s family and
Sharma and Fatima. Shabanu is worried that if Rahim loves her, then his other wives will
hate her because he loves her and she is a desert girl. Sharma and Fatima leave and
Shabanu is worried about what to do. She wants to go live with them, but she knows that
will ruin her whole family s lives. When they get back to their house it starts to rain and
Dadi goes to see if the sand in the toba has been blown away and if it will hold water.
Dadi and Mama tell Shabanu that she is too old to look after the camels now, and that she
has to learn how to take care of a house. Shabanu begins to have her monthly bleeding,
but she hides it from her parents. She hears her parents making love during the night and
she thinks of how bad it will be to have Rahim s old body and hands touching her. She
wonders what it would be like to have a man touch her. Shabanu leaves during the night
because Dadi says that he will beat her because she has started her monthly bleeding and
has been hiding it from him. She takes some of his clothes, Xhush Dil, and a pot of water
and leaves. Sher Dil and Mithoo follow her, but she finally gets Sher Dil to go back to the
toba. Mithoo however, will not go away. So finally she gets Mithoo to trot beside her
and Xhush Dil. She goes over the sand hoping the wind or rain will cover her tracks.
They are making good time and Shabanu is getting happier by the hour when Mithoo steps
in a foxhole and breaks his leg. Shabanu decides to wait for Dadi to get there and help
Mithoo. Dadi shows up and picks Shabanu up to her feet. He beats her with a stick until
she is covered in blood, but Shabanu remembers what Sharma had said and does not make
a sound. Shabanu is disoriented and hears crying, but it is not her, it is Dadi hugging her
and crying. Shabanu decides that she will marry Rahim, but she will never be very close to
I stand straight and let the stick fall against my ribs and my shoulders. I am silent.
Keep your reserves hidden. I repeat Sharma s words over and over, drawing on the
strength of my will.
I refuse to cry out, and Dadi in his fury is like Tipu, bloodlust in his eyes. He can
beat me to death if he likes. The pain grows worse as the blows strike already-bruised
flesh. But I take Sharma s advice. I recall the beautiful things in my world and, like a
bride admiring her dowry, I take them out, one by one, then fold them away again, deep
into my heart. (Staples, 240)