Study Guide

Beneath a Marble Sky Manipulation

By John Shors

Manipulation

Gulbadan glances in the direction of her distant home. "And until he's ready we will deceive him, just as Mother deceived us?"

"She only deceived you, child, because she loves you."

"But Mother never lies," Rurayya says.

"You'd lie, Rurayya, to protect your children. And so would you, Gulbadan. You'd tell a thousand lies, tell them each and every day for however long you needed to. And then, one morning, a morning much like this, you would tell the truth." (Part I. 43-46)

Much like changing dirty diapers, sometimes lying is just one of those messy parts of parenthood. It might stink, but you still have to do it for the good of your children.

"We women must be cautious," she advised, stopping at a stand of lemons. She squeezed a few. "Dealing with men is like juggling hot coals. They're fairly harmless if you take precautions, but by Allah, they can burn you if you don't pay attention."

"Have you ever juggled coals?"

"No, but I juggle men every day. And I'm sure coals would be much less frightening." (2.30-32)

And thus begins Jahanara's education as a master manipulator. Don't you think it must be exhausting to think of men as things that need to be constantly juggled? On the other hand, when has a woman's life not been exhausting, are we right?

Equipped with confidence, I was ready to speak with nobles who Mother claimed were attracted to me. Most men thought my youth and sex made me as threatening as a toothless cobra. They grew gallant when I pretended bashfulness, told me secrets when I prepared to walk away. As the Emperor, Father could have controlled these men in any manner he wished, but it seemed he'd rather sweeten them with honey than subdue them with his fist. And so I wooed them. (3.5)

Ew. Yeah. We know. Sometimes a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do. It's not like there were a ton of options for a young woman, noble or common, back in the 1600s. But this passage made us feel a little dirty, even so.

I imagined myself as Aurangzeb. Mother had taught me this trick, and I had learned to place myself within another's skin with little effort. People, after all, were never as private as they believed. (6.129)

Hey, this is actually a good method of manipulation. If everyone could learn to put himself or herself in other people's shoes more often, the world would be a much kinder place. How about that?

My disgust with by brother [Aurangzeb] deepened. "Good. Because I want you to betray me."

"Betray you?"

"Tell him that last week I stole from my husband." She started to protest, but I tightened my grip on her hand. "Tomorrow morning, whisper to Aurangzeb that I took a golden ring from Khondamir's chest. Tell him that I buried it under a brick in my room."

"It's true?"

"It shall be. Because Aurangzeb will inform my husband of the crime, and when Khondamir discovers the ring gone, I'll be beaten." I paused, wishing some other path existed. "I'll be humiliated in my own home."

"But he'll hurt you! There must be another way!"

"This way I can control the hurt. A beating from my husband will be better than a drop of poison from Aurangzeb, or the knife of one of his butchers. And yet, I think a beating will still my brother's need for revenge." (7.75-81)

What do you think: is Jahanara better off for concocting this plan that puts Ladli in a position to safely spy on Aurangzeb, or does this plan merely set off the series of events that makes her life that much harder?

Ladli spat. "He's no dullard, Jahanara, even if less clever than you. He knows he isn't strong enough yet to rule the kingdom. The nobles follow the Emperor and Dara. If your father died, they'd support Dara. Aurangzeb would have the army behind him, and it might secure him the throne. But he's not one to take chances. He'll wait for your father to die, and, with Dara gone, will become the next emperor." (10.12)

These people just spend their days plotting and scheming. Yikes. Can you imagine what a Thanksgiving dinner would look like at their house? We don't even want to think about it.

I smirked at him, my spirits rising as I thought of our daughter, then our son. "You may be a master of stone, Isa, and the most astounding man I've met, but you know nothing of the guile of women. How do you think we flourish in this world where men decide what we can and cannot do? Because of your rules?" I laughed at the notion, recalling how Mother and my great-grandmother had led Hindustan in all but title. "Khondamir, trust me, shall think himself the father. I am uncertain how I'll do it, but when my honeyed talk is done, he'll boast to anyone with an ear of his deed." (11.91)

This reminds us of that scene in My Big Fat Greek Wedding when the mom says, "The man may be the head of the household. But the woman is the neck, and she can turn the head any way she wants." (source). Now that's what we call effective manipulation.

"Do you think that I have no friends? No spies among your men who would delight in slaying you? You child! You simple, witless child! I've always known this day might come, and yet you think I took no precautions. Am I such a fool?" His face twitched, and he glanced about, almost as if he was looking for cobras. I remembered only then that a gardener had once been bitten by one, and, as children, we watched as the man, crazed with pain and terror, hacked off his poisoned foot. "If you wish to test my words, kill me tonight," I dared. "But know that tomorrow, or the next day, a cobra will draw your blood." (17.97)

Jahanara is bluffing with everything she's got, and she's pretty darn convincing, too. Thankfully, Ladli is there to witness her threat and make Aurangzeb believe it by putting a toothless cobra in the dude's bed that very night.

The passageway," I said, "begins at a house near an old cypress tree. But you won't know which house until my loved ones return. When they do, I'll mark the house for you by arranging for a black stallion to be tethered to the tree." I proceeded to tell the Sultan how an assassin might enter the passageway, and how he would need help to circumvent the ruined trap. The Sultan's questions were offered eagerly and my responses driven by desire. (20.91)

Once again, Jahanara's got an elaborate plan for everything. How else do you think she could make it to the end of the book alive and well?

I shook my head vigorously, for everything was finally as it should be. I'd send Ladli south, with Nizam.

[…]

"You won't go alone. I know someone, the stoutest of all warriors and the kindest of men. He's been there many times. He'll guide you safely."

[…]

As we hugged again, I whispered to her of where and when to meet Nizam. Naturally, I made no mention of his name, for I wanted my friends to be surprised. I'd tell Nizam tonight of my plan, and he'd rejoice tomorrow upon discovering that Ladli was to be his traveling companion. (23.136;140;164)

Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match…find me a find…catch me a catch.

We've got a question, though. This is an escape plan for Ladli, and the lives of Jahanara's family members depend on this plan working. So why would she risk a miscommunication between Ladli and Nizam? Wouldn't you make every possible effort to eliminate risks, such as, oh, we don't know, telling them they know the person they're supposed to meet?

"Do you remember…the golden ring?" When he nodded, I continued reluctantly. "It was my lord's idea that I pretend to steal it."

"What?"

"It was right after I discovered that Ladli had betrayed me by becoming your companion."

"She lies!" Khondamir screamed.

[…]

"It was my husband's idea that I tell Ladli I stole his ring. He thought she might tell you. And he knew you hate me." (23.74,83)

In her final coup de grace, Jahanara manages to get her brother to kill her disgusting husband, and removes herself as a target in one fell swoop of the sword. (No pun intended.) (Okay, actually, yeah, we intended that one.)