Study Guide

Beneath a Marble Sky Chapter 1

By John Shors

Chapter 1

My Awakening

  • Our narrator Jahanara's just eating yogurt in the Red Fort. You know, like you do.
  • The Red Fort is where everyone in the imperial harem lives, and it's kind of a big deal. It's not a tree house, and boy, were we bummed when we figured that out.
  • Actually, thousands of women live in the Red Fort, all of them supported by the Emperor. This includes all of his wives and their servants, as well as all his concubines…and everyone attached to the Emperor's predecessors, too.
  • Jahanara lives there and thinks it's boring, because as one of the royal children, stern guards are constantly watching her.
  • It sounds really beautiful, though, with cashmere carpets and silk cushions scattered everywhere, not to mention flowering trees and fountains with koi. And everyone—everyone—is positively dripping with jewelry…Wait. That sounds perfectly lovely. Embrace the positive, Jahanara.
  • We meet Nizam, Jahanara's mother's loyal slave, who was rescued from horrible circumstances (including a form of castration that seems particularly cruel), and Dara, Jahanara's favorite brother.
  • Dara is a gentle soul. He's an intellectual who loves to study art, history, and philosophy—particularly Hindu thought—in order to better understand others' perspectives. (Jahanara's family is Muslim.)
  • Next, Jahanara encounters her other brother, Aurangzeb, who is mean, sullen, remote, and vindictive. Like, if you looked up "bad guy" in the dictionary, he'd probably be pictured there. (*Cough* foreshadowing *cough.* Ahem. Sorry. Something in our throat.)
  • Jahanara and Aurangzeb needle each other for a bit until it breaks down into a wrestling match.
  • Mother and Nizam put the kibosh on that real quick and take the two of them outside the harem, through the Red Fort, to go see their father.
  • It's a big deal that Jahanara and Aurangzeb's father—a Muslim—is the Emperor of Hindustan in a time of prosperity and peace. Not too long ago, the Muslims and the Hindus had incessantly battled each other.
  • Jahanara's mom is pretty amazing. She's gorgeous, wickedly smart, and generously caring toward everyone, especially those who are most disadvantaged or ailing.
  • So, Mother leads Jahanara, Dara, Aurangzeb, and the two other brothers who haven't merited much of an intro into the throne room, where their father sits on the Peacock Throne. There are nobles, servants, officers, and soldiers all gathered, waiting for their turn to talk to the Emperor…and all of them basically start drooling over Mother upon her entry. She's kind of a big deal.
  • Before Father can take a break to chill with his fam, there's one urgent matter brought up before the "court" by a noble who has accused his neighbor of stealing. Father asks his wife to make a ruling, and it's here that we get to see the extent of why Mother is so revered. She smoothly, diplomatically solves the whole situation to the satisfaction of all parties (which is no easy feat), all while showing Jahanara how to do so alongside her. She's masterful.
  • Aurangzeb, as usual, is the only one unhappy with the outcome, and somehow he blames Jahanara. Sheesh.
  • Later that evening, the whole family is resting under a pavilion erected alongside the Yamuna River. They are entertained by a troop of Kathak storytellers, dancers, and musicians who dramatically reenact stories from history.
  • Mother and Father praise Jahanara for her role in the court ruling, and she's flattered by their approval.
  • Jahanara contemplates the rarity and wonder of the true love between her parents.