Study Guide

Ladli in Beneath a Marble Sky

By John Shors


We want Ladli to get her own spin-off TV show; she's just such a cool character. She swears like a sailor, looks like a movie star, acts like a CIA operative, and is one of the most loyal friends that ever existed.

Think about this: if your best friend asked you to get close to her nasty brother as a spy, would you do it? Would you pull a Ladli, get close to Aurangzeb, and then take it one step further and become his mistress? Uhhh, no. That's devotion right there, and we don't know many people who would go that far for a friend.

Ladli's devotion to Jahanara gets even more impressive when you consider some of the factors going into her decision to help. First of all, Aurangzeb is hardly appealing. He's mean, he's bigoted, and he chews on raw onions, for Pete's sake. And to make things worse, he's rabidly anti-Hindu, and, uhh…Ladli's totally Hindu. So she has to renounce her religion—which she loves—in order to pretend to be in love with Mr. Grossness. Yeah, that's devotion, all right.

Ladli, however, gets the ultimate payback:

"The beauty of being a prince's mistress, my scheming little friend, is that you're well looked after. I've enough coins to last a lifetime."

"Then leave him! Escape tonight and never return!"

"Most of the money I give to a Hindu monk, who builds a temple." She finished toying with her sari. "Someday, I'll leave him. But only when you're safe, and only when I can brag to the zealot of the temple he paid for with his precious rupees. Brag of all the Hindus he made happy. (10.42-44)

Not only is she brave and loyal, but Ladli is also, luckily, incredibly clever. She might even be smarter than Jahanara. For example, when Jahanara threatens Aurangzeb with a snake in his bed, Ladli takes it one step further:

Two weeks into our imprisonment, perhaps a little more, Aurangzeb revisited our cell. He was upset, his mouth twitching with apprehension as he opened a sack and let a dead cobra fall to the floor. Shuddering, he kicked it toward me. Between his shouts, he hissed that it had been placed alive in his bed. The serpent's fangs had been removed and it couldn't bite him, but when Ladli's screams awoke him, he bellowed for his men to kill it. Though shocked by this revelation, I pretended to be pleased, as if the scare had been my doing. I quickly deduced that Ladli, quite incredibly, had set the serpent within her bed so that Aurangzeb would believe my warning and leave me in peace. (18.4)

Dang. It takes some serious gumption to put a live snake in your own bed. The best part of Ladli's story, though, is that in the end, it all works out beautifully. Jahanara's matchmaking skills put Nizam and Ladli together at just the right time, and they all grow old together, kvetching, swimming, and drinking wine. It seems that Ladli didn't need to wait for her next life to find true happiness, after all.