Study Guide

Nizam in Beneath a Marble Sky

By John Shors

Nizam

Oh, Nizam. You sweet, loyal, soldier, you. It's kind of surprising, really, that this guy is such a wonderful dude. He's been through some terrible times—terrible enough that we might have expected him to become cranky, nasty, and disillusioned:

For when Nizam was only five, a Persian warlord slew his parents and seized him. Boys taken as slaves were usually castrated, but the warlord wanted his underlings someday to fight and was unwilling to stunt their growth with the gelding knife. Nonetheless, he ensured Nizam never pursued women by removing a portion of his manhood that Mother wouldn't describe to me. For several years thereafter Nizam had lived in a sprawling tent, serving the warlord's women. When he pleased them, he was fed. When he failed to accede to their demands, he was beaten. His fate might have been forever unchanged, but praise Allah, our forces had overrun the Persians. Glimpsing Nizam's bruised face, Father plucked him from the captured slaves. And though he became Mother's slave, she cared for his wounds and treated him kindly. (1.9)

Yikes.

From then on, Nizam serves Mumtaz Mahal—and then, after her death, her daughter Jahanara—with a devotion that cannot be matched. He helps to build the Taj Mahal when Jahanara needs workers. He rescues her from prison at great risk to himself, and without his help, she never would have made it to Bijapur to bargain for her family's freedom.

When Jahanara needs spies, Nizam proudly goes to serve in Aurangzeb's army, only escaping when things look completely dire. He even turns down Jahanara's offer to free him, because apparently, serving her is his life's one great pursuit.

"Someday, Nizam, I shall repay you. I know I always say that, and I never do, but as Allah's my witness, I'll reward—"

"You have repaid me."

"No, not yet."

"You gave me the Taj Mahal, my lady. You let me advise the Emperor. I need nothing more."

I warmed at these words, for they were gifts. "Thank you, my friend."
(21.13-17)

He's a good friend to Jahanara, indeed. So it's with relief that we learn that he finally wins the love of his life—Ladli—and gets to live out the rest of his days in peace and happiness.