Hey, Beneath a Marble Sky is all about the events that led to the construction of the Taj Mahal—considered one of the great wonders of the world—so it's no surprise that art and culture are a big deal for the characters in this book. The arts have long been respected by Jahanara's family: her father is an amateur poet, whose love for the genre exceeds his talents; her brother is a devotee of cultural cultivation; and her lover is an architectural visionary. One message is hard to miss: Art appreciation is crucial to civilization.
The deterioration of Hindustan can be directly tied to Aurangzeb's rule and his disdain for cultural advancement.
Hindustan is way better off once Aurangzeb takes over, because those namby-pamby artists leave and stop wasting the kingdom's money.
Revenge is kind of like quicksand: once you grow up, you realize it's much less of a problem than you thought it would be. In books, however, revenge can be a pretty big motivator for protagonists and antagonists alike.
In this book, revenge plays a huuuuuge role. People are getting revenge on each other back and forth. In Beneath a Marble Sky, it's tit for tat and tat for tit, over and over, and all that revenge has ramifications that seem to echo throughout the characters' entire lives. Some people like to play the long con, like Ladli, and others get their gratification through more immediate, violent methods—we're looking at you, Aurangzeb.
The immediate, violent kind of revenge is the most satisfying.
Although it may be less immediate gratification, Ladli's type of revenge—stealthy, secretive, and long-term—is way more satisfying in the long run.
What'd Sinatra say about love and marriage? That they go together? That you can't have one without the other? Well, this book certainly proves that one wrong. There are many different types of love in Beneath a Marble Sky, but one thing's for sure: there's no love in the arranged marriage between Jahanara and the disgusting Khondamir. In fact, let's just say their marriage ends with a devious twist on the phrase "'til death do us part."
And yet, some marriages in the book do work out. The marriage of Jahanara's parents has gone down in the history books for its awesomeness, after all, and it inspired the Taj Mahal. But for the most part, this couple is the exception to the rule. When Jahanara does find love, it is outside of marriage—with Isa, duh—and Ladli and Nizam have their own unconventional arrangement later in life as well.
Love is one of the biggest factors in Jahanara's decision-making process throughout the novel.
In Beneath a Marble Sky the men are the true romantics.
Duty. It's no coincidence that it's a homonym for doodie, because sometimes it can be a real pain in the butt. It's also a major driving factor for Jahanara throughout Beneath a Marble Sky, leading to various issues like imprisonment, an extremely unhappy marriage, and extended separations from loved ones.
An overdeveloped sense of duty makes Ladli sign on for a life with the terrible Aurangzeb, and it motivates Nizam to do a number of difficult things in service to Jahanara's family. It certainly doesn't help that she keeps making deathbed promises to people. Come on, Jahanara, get some self-control?
Sometimes duty is a wonderful plot device, but it wouldn't hold such strong sway in real life.
Some people feel more strongly than others about the importance of duty.
The Indian subcontinent has always been a melting pot of different religions—sometimes a happy melting pot, sometimes a not-so-happy melting pot. In Beneath a Marble Sky, we see a simmering undercurrent of tension that stems from the conflict between the two main religions in Hindustan: Islam and Hinduism.
On the macro level, there is the unrest within the city of Agra due to the fact that Muslims are ruling over the Hindu majority. There are also frequent battles with neighboring Hindu kingdoms. Then there's the struggle within Jahanara's family to reconcile their different thoughts on religion—take the conflict between Dara's broad, scholarly acceptance of all religions and Aurangzeb's extremist adherence to Muslim superiority, for example.
Basically, it's a big mess, and the conflict between these philosophical viewpoints serves as a background for all the events that unfold in the novel.
The philosophical battles between Dara and Aurangzeb colorfully illustrate how religious texts can be manipulated to support very different, even opposing views.
This story could not have been told without discussing religion and people's attitudes toward it.
Ugh, time. There's never enough of it, it goes by either too quickly or too slowly, and it's always slipping away from us. It's troublesome, this concept of time, and Jahanara is all too aware of it, whether she's regretting time spent away from her loved ones or reflecting on all that has passed in her eventful life. Beneath a Marble Sky is, after all, the story of that life, so it'd be pretty hard to avoid thinking about time and the effects it has on all of us. Milestones, aging, death, memory—it's all here.
Jahanara sees time as the enemy: she's always combating its effects and its inevitable passage.
Time is inevitable, therefore there's no sense trying to fight it. Jahanara is resigned to its whims.
Boy howdy, is there a lot of scheming and plotting and wheeling and dealing in Beneath a Marble Sky. Jahanara's mom, Arjumand, is the original schemestress, and she teaches Jahanara that the only way to get through life is by being smarter than everyone else. Oh, and by then using what you know to manipulate everyone around you—there's that, too.
So what do we get? Assassination plots, empty threats, false accusations, and matchmaking schemes that make you wonder just where Jahanara's priorities really lie. Hey, all this intrigue definitely keeps things interesting, at least…
Manipulating other people is one of the only ways women can get ahead—or even survive—in Hindustan in the 1600s.
Manipulating other people is one of the only ways noblewomen can get ahead in Hindustan in the 1600's. Everyone else was kind of up a creek.
Families almost always have their fair share of conflict. Like, who doesn't have that one relative you always hope will no-show on Thanksgiving? But it's safe to say that the main family in Beneath a Marble Sky is more melodramatic than a Saturday-afternoon telenovela.
There's the battle over the right to the Peacock Throne; there's sibling rivalry taken to a whole new level (as in, threaten to kill your brother and then actually do it); there's love affairs, illegitimate children, and romance. All this book needs is a crazy bruja, and it would be a real blockbuster on Telemundo.
If there were stricter rules about who inherits the Peacock Throne, then all this sibling rivalry stuff could have been avoided.
Jahanara is more loyal to her father than to her lover and child.