Study Guide

Beneath a Marble Sky Family

Advertisement - Guide continues below


Whenever I looked at Nizam, he glanced away. Yet I often felt his gaze on my back. In many ways he was like an older brother, protecting me from dangers I was too young to discover. Though Nizam was her slave, Mother treated him sometimes as if he were my sibling. (2.34)

Nizam would have been a much better older brother than Aurangzeb. Or ours. At least he never gave Jahanara wedgies and threatened to put boogers in her ears.

"So, does it ever…has it occurred to you," I whispered, "that when Father dies, Aurangzeb will claim the Peacock Throne?"

Dara dropped a grape. "Really, Jahanara, since when did you start thinking about such things?"

"Mother wants me—"

"To speak of nonsense?"

"You think it's nonsense," I asked, "that Aurangzeb might want the throne? Sometimes, when Father speaks of giving it to you, I see how angry it makes him. He tries to hide it but can't. Aurangzeb has always known that you're Father's favorite, and that no matter how much he excelled, the throne would be yours. How do you think that makes him feel? How would you feel if Father loved you less than Aurangzeb, and everyone knew?"

"But I can't—"

"It would hurt, Dara. And I think it hurts Aurangzeb so dreadfully that he didn't mind watching me die. So dreadfully that he might fight you for the throne."

My brother swiped halfheartedly at a troublesome fly. "I've never tried to hurt him. And I never will." He paused, watching the fly settle on the trunk of a nearby pomegranate tree. "I want to be his friend as much as you do. But he knows the Emperor has the right to choose his successor. It's always been so."

"True. But just because Father intends that you take his place doesn't mean that you shall."

"Aurangzeb won't fight me." (3.39-49)

This is one reason why many kingdoms have the firstborn = next in line rule. Can you imagine what it was like for Aurangzeb to know that the throne could be his, if only his dad liked him better? Aren't parents supposed to avoid favoritism for this very reason? On the other hand, sometimes the firstborn is a real dud, and that creates problems of its own. No system's perfect.

She hugged me tight, and I smelled a trace of musk on her skin. "How I missed you, Jahanara."

My eyes teared, but I sought to remain composed. "Why did you leave for so long?" I asked, abruptly vulnerable to the memories of the past weeks, biting my lip so that I wouldn't cry.

"Father isn't the only one who needs you." I felt childish to speak so, but my love for my mother was like a cub that constantly requires meat, and she had been gone when I longed for her most. (5.34)

No matter how old you get or how grown up you feel, there will be times when you just need your mom. It doesn't matter what your relationship is, or whether that lady is dead or alive. You'll just need her. And that's what makes moms so special.

"They chanted his name and thanked Allah for his presence. You see, he only fights with Muslims. Hindus he sends to me. And they come gladly."

"What does Father think of this split?" I asked, aware of the distant beat of drums.

"Father," Dara responded, "wants to continue the peace between us and our Hindu friends. But he's reluctant to curb Aurangzeb."

"As he should be," Mother said. "A father's strength is revealed in his sons. The artists and politicians adore you, whereas the soldiers flock to Aurangzeb. It's a sound combination." (5.60-65)

Come on, Mom—you know better than that. Father's pride may be swollen, but the odds of your sons ruling Hindustan together are essentially nil. Then again, mothers tend to love unconditionally, so maybe she's blind to her sons' shortcomings.

I didn't move from his touch, but neither did I respond in kind. "You make a mistake," I said quietly, "in treating him like a brother."

"Possibly. But he is our brother and I can't treat him any other way. I won't hurt him, for enough pain already exists in this world without brothers hurting brothers." (10.74-75)

Sweet, sweet Dara. Your ideology is sound, but brotherhood is not always the most peaceable of sibling relationships, especially when a throne is involved. Brothers tackle each other to the ground, smear each other's faces in the dirt, engage in quick rounds of pink-belly and then act surprised when one of them gets hurt. So get ready for some pink-belly, Dara. It's gonna sting.

Foremost atop the orderly pile were several poems from Father, which I glanced at but left unviolated. Beneath the yellowed papers rested objects from our childhoods, including a boy's first slippers, drawings of elephants and a ribbon-bound lock of my hair. I smiled at these treasures, my grin widening when my fingers embraced a clay incense burner that I'd once crafted for Mother. As a child, and indeed, still today, I lacked any semblance of artistic ability. In consequence the burner was so misshapen that I was unsure whether it was a turtle or a toad.  Brushing aside a tear I whispered "thank you," adoring her for having placed such treasured memories in her safe. (11.67)

Moms are weird. They love us for our little quirks and shortcomings as much as for our successes, so it's not strange that Jahanara's mom kept that ugly little incense burner as a memento.

He wrapped my hair about his fingers. "I don't know, Swallow, which will prove more everlasting—the monument we create, or the child who might bless us. Our stone, of course, will endure for centuries. But a child…a child shall let us live forever." (11.83)

Is this why people have kids? We thought it was so they could have an excuse to watch Pixar movies on repeat, but we guess that's just us.

Our child,

As I sit and stare at the Yamuna, you grow slowly in your mother's womb. As barges and clouds drift before me, I ponder you. I want to share this moment with you, want you to hear the words that I now think.

I wish I could handle words as I do stones, for then I could truly speak to you as I desire. I could aptly explain how I long to meet you more with each finished day. I could express my love for you, which, like you, is already alive.

Though I do not yet know you, my understanding of your mother flows strong, and I am certain you will be quite extraordinary, as, indeed, is she. Of the dimensions of your disposition, I can only wonder. Shall you wield her benevolence? Her loyalty? Shall you share her impatient spirit? Perhaps you will possess my eye for precious sights, as well as my oftentimes misplaced optimism.

Assuredly you will inherit some of our traits, just as we inherited those of our parents. Yet you shall also create your own qualities, and these characteristics we will find most endearing. 

I eagerly await your discoveries, your pleasure in their revelation. What mysteries will you unfold each day? What will you see that I do not? I will learn from watching you, learn what I have forgotten, or what I never had a chance to know. I hope to teach you as much, for earning an elephant's trust, painting what is not present, and listening to strangers are more complex undertakings than some would have you think.

Know, our daughter, our son, that you are already beloved. You have blessed us, and I thank you for bringing such joy into our lives. I thank you for being who you are, and who you shall be.—Your father (11.143)

This letter was so sweet. Isa just wanted to let his future child know that kid was loved, and that Isa himself was so excited to be a dad, even though he could never do it openly.

"A miracle," he said in a voice so quiet I might have imagined it. "I see us in her. Not you or me, but us."

My delight increased when he kissed her cheek. How lucky she is to have him as a father, I said to myself. Perhaps not so in name, but certainly in blood and spirit. (11.169)

It's amazing that Isa can recognize himself in Arjumand—most newborns look like angry wrinkled potatoes. #fact

I stroked his hair, which was now white. "Thank you, my love, for making me feel so whole."

"You made yourself."

"Perhaps. But without you there is only me, and with you there is us," I whispered, my tears falling on his chin. (25.40)

That's the best part about family: you can be whole without them, but when you're all together, you can be a different kind of whole. Aww. BRB, we gotta go call our moms.

This is a premium product

Tired of ads?

Join today and never see them again.

Please Wait...