The eight interconnected short stories in Daniyal Mueenuddin’s In Other Rooms, Other Wonders describe the lives of the family, employees, servants, and acquaintances of aging landlord K. K. Harouni. These stories are set in the Punjab region of Pakistan and explore the state of feudalism and its influence on modern life.
The manager of the wells on K. K. Harouni’s farm in Dunyapur, Nawabdin is a master at rigging the meters to cheat the electric company. Nawab is a tireless worker who takes on many odd jobs to feed the thirteen children whom he has with his wife. Nawab’s status increases after he convinces his master, Harouni, to provide him with a motorcycle and gas allowance to get around on the farm.
One evening as Nawab attends to his work, a poor traveler stops him on the road that leads from the city and begs a ride. After some consideration, Nawab submits. But while riding, the man points a gun at Nawab’s back and demands that he hand over the motorcycle. Nawab fights for his precious possession, and the man shoots him in the groin. The noise from the gun alerts the nearby villagers, who come to Nawab’s rescue and shoot the robber with a rifle. Both men are taken to the village’s clinic, where the attending pharmacist treats Nawab but pronounces the imminent death of the robber. On his deathbed, the robber begs Nawab’s forgiveness, but Nawab considers that the man would have left him to die in the road and refuses to pardon the robber. The man dies, and Nawab is happy that he fought for what is rightfully his.
Saleema comes from a family of addicts and criminals, so she offers her body as a sexual object to obtain opportunities. When a seemingly worthy suitor comes into her village, she leaves with him and goes to Lahore. There she becomes one of the maids of a wealthy man, K. K. Harouni, while her husband falls prey to amphetamines. Almost immediately, Saleema begins sleeping with the staff cook, Hassan, in return for special treats from the kitchen. When Hassan tires of Saleema and gives her the cold shoulder, she feels that her life is hopeless—until she catches the eye of the senior driver, Rafik. Although Rafik is married with two sons and is many years older than Saleema, the two begin a love affair. Saleema gets pregnant and births the couple’s son, whom they name Allah Baksh, the God-gifted one. Then one day Rafik’s wife sends him a letter saying that she and the boys miss him, and she comes to Lahore to live with Rafik. When Saleema is sent back to her drug-addicted husband, she is distraught. When Harouni dies, his daughters decide to sell the estate and provide new jobs for only the most senior staff. Saleema asks Rafik if he will look after her and their son, but he denies her. Saleema moves away and turns to heroin to ease her troubles. She dies, and her son is left to roam the streets.
After a string of bad investments push him into serious debt, K. K. Harouni begins to sell his land in Dunyapur cheaply to anyone who will pay. His land manager, Chaudrey Jaglani, oversees these affairs. Jaglani himself never lets an opportunity pass him by. Jaglani has padded his pockets over the years and bought land unbeknownst to Harouni; he has become a leading man in Dunyapur.
One day his driver, Mustafa, asks him to employ his sister Zainab, who has left her husband in the city. Jaglani agrees and keeps Zainab on staff because she is a good cook. Over time, he finds affection for Zainab, who attends to his every need. Jaglani insists that Zainab divorce her husband and move into his home as his second wife, and when Zainab refuses, Jaglani makes the arrangements anyway. After the two are married, Jaglani falls in love with Zainab, but he knows that she does not feel the same about him. A year passes, and Zainab realizes that she is infertile. She asks Jaglani to give her the youngest daughter of his son Shabir. Jaglani submits.
Eventually, Jaglani falls ill with bone cancer, and his doctor gives him only six months to live. Mustafa relays the news to Zainab, and she knows that her husband will not provide for her after his death. Jaglani only cares that his son be given his political power, and the politicians in town promise to see that Shabir be voted into Jaglani’s position. Jaglani dies, cursing Zainab for never having loved him. Shabir is eager to step into his father’s influential position but is ousted by the others in the government.
“About a Burning Girl”
The unnamed narrator of this story is a sessions court judge in the Lahore High Court. His wife is a hard woman, yet surprisingly she allows one of their servants, Khadim, to go on an extended vacation to visit his ailing mother. Two days later, Khadim’s brother calls and says that Khadim has been arrested for murdering his sister-in-law. Life in the judge’s home is difficult in Khadim’s absence, so the judge decides to see if he can find out the details of the case.
The judge learns from Khadim’s brother that his wife stole money from someone in a neighboring village and that she committed suicide to avoid being caught by the police. The brother attempts to talk the judge into seeing that the case is tried on its true merits. The judge reminds him that there is always a cost. Khadim’s brother attempts to use the name of K. K. Harouni to further his cause, but the judge does not respect...
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